Through the years we've accumulated lovely jewelry from family when we were younger and then from our spouses once we married. Styles change, and some of it, frankly, no longer appeals now that we’re beyond age 50. It’s dated looking in some cases, too gaudy in others, too matronly, too youthful, or connected with sad memories.
Recently, we each surveyed the cornucopia of treasures in our possession:
Barbara’s 30th-birthday earrings from her spouse now look so traditional with their detailed ribbons of 18-karat gold wound into clunky knots, plus she doesn't want remembrances of their togetherness. A necklace with X motifs also no longer appeals. A big fat 18-karat gold cuff from a former beau is still stunning but that relationship ended on a sour note, and even some of her very colorful fun Bakelite pieces--bangles and pins, which she fell in love with after she wrote a story on Bakelite, an early plastic, seems so 1930 and 40-ish, which it is. What was she thinking, she now wonders, as she eyes in a local jewelry store her current favorites--a stunning classic choker of Tahitian-looking big pearls or a classic three gem ring of a pink ruby and two diamonds? Both are beyond her budget and lifestyle yet incredibly gorgeous. It’s fun to dream and admire.
Margaret’s sunburst 92-diamond encrusted antique brooch, a turquoise and sterling silver bracelet, pearl and gold bracelets--some with diamonds, several strands of real pearls with diamond clasps, and a variety of solid gold, sterling silver, and platinum rings covered with gems in a rainbow of colors also look too ornate and so old-fashioned.
We asked ourselves, how is it possible that we had turned our backs on these adornments and not worn some of them for so long or given them to those who might love them? Was it time to reevaluate why?
Truth is that neither of us is particularly materialistic. We love our homes, having a great coffee maker to start our mornings before we flip on our computers, some nice clothing when we dress up at night on weekends, and several pairs of fabulous shoes to feel sexy. Diamonds may have dripped from celebrity arms, but we’ve been fine for years with our bare arms, necks, and fingers. We are minimalists at heart.
So for years many of these old gems simply have gathered dust and memories in our jewelry boxes and bank vaults. For Margaret, jewelry was something to be admired from afar as her mother handed down her precious gems to her three daughters. Many of the pieces were made by her grandfather, a jeweler who learned his craft in Vienna, Austria, before coming to the U.S. and setting up a successful jewelry shop in Philadelphia. The intricate gold chain and the earrings with tiny fiery opals, a legacy from Margaret’s grandmother, became a sleeping beauty, boxed in its velvet bed. The diamond-encrusted watch, a stunner that her father bought for her mother, was wrapped in a shoe bag and abandoned. The solid gold knot ring with the large diamond in the center given to Margaret for her 50th birthday, sat in its plastic pouch. And when she took the lid off the box revealing all her jewelry in its splendor, she realized the lineup served almost as a timeline for her life before and after losing her spouse–a little gold bracelet given to her at age 2, engagement ring and wedding guard (age 22), pearl and gold drop earrings her late husband gave her on their 10th anniversary (age 32), gold lockets, charms and so much more.
Barbara grew up with a mother who preferred furnishings and art and travel over jewels. And several of her favorite pieces were stolen in a robbery decades before. Her late dad never even wore a wedding bad. Barbara had an orange jewelry box a childhood friend gave her for her 60th birthday and a large bag she never uses to hold more of her jewelry in a secret hiding place. Occasionally, she'd peek into the mix and see the double strand of pearls with diamond and platinum clasp her parents gave her early in her marriage, a beautiful pearl and diamond pin from her 1st anniversary and from a special Italian jewelry store, the wedding band with tiny garnets from that same Italian jeweler, and an antique looking diamond necklace her former husband gifted her on their 25th anniversary which she wore to their younger daughter's Bat Mitzvah. It was his last major gift to her before their marriage blew up.
What to do with all these precious gems? Meg's daughter ogled her jewels and whisked some away; Barbara's daughters still need to take some, though they've spoken in the past of pieces they love and might eventually want.
As gold was rising in value, Barbara sold a few pieces to have them melted down and used the funds to purchase gifts for her daughters' birthdays. More recently, the favorite jeweler that she knows steered her on a new creative path. The jeweler started a new business, Barbara Parker Fine Jewelry in Chicago, which includes new gems but also designing new pieces that promote the idea of redesigning existing pieces. It seemed such a great way to make use of her unused or unspoken for pieces.
Barbara took the diamond from her engagement ring that neither daughter wanted and will re-use it some how. She took the diamond from her mother's engagement ring and the baguettes and recycled all into a necklace Barbara Parker designed, since her mom didn't want to wear the ring anymore but wanted her to enjoy it. She also gave up some old beaded necklaces--with lapis, jade, and onyx--that had become so out of style and old-ladyish looking and asked Barbara Parker to transform them. Parker paired each with smaller, brighter, hipper semiprecious stones or silver. The costs were minimal, and the results a charming way to complement any outfit, fancy or not.
Margaret cannot repurpose her jewelry because it’s part of her family’s legacy. Many pieces have a back story--an initialed solid-gold ring made by her mother’s late brother under her grandfather’s tutelage. He died at age 21 and this was left behind as a golden memory. A strand of baby pearls given to Margaret when she was 5 years old as an incentive to stop sucking her thumb (it worked) and which she still wears because it’s so understated. A ring her father gave her mother to replace another ring she accidentally flushed down the drain, or the star sapphire ring worn by Margaret’s grandfather which her mother had embellished with several bands of diamonds so she could wear it with formal wear. Can Margaret and her siblings upend that history? No they cannot.
For now, when Margaret, whose mother passed away eight months ago, occasionally wears her jewelry (which sits in a safety deposit box) she feels like a part of her grandparents and mother still are with her. And perhaps her mother is watching from above and beaming, “I knew that one day she’d finally appreciate the jewelry and wear it.”
And Barbara has gained a few understated pieces from her new beau that she wears with pride and which they picked out together.
All that glitters can be gold and even diamonds, precious and semi-precious stones, but they can still sparkle in a new iterations, the gold melted down and the funds used for something we or someone else really loves, or simply stay the same until they are handed down to the next generation.