Growing up, I used to love playing in MamaSharper’s jewelry box. Jewelry was more than just beautiful, it was grown-up, and sophisticated–the things I aspired to be.
My mother always had gorgeous jewelry, thanks to my stepdad. A man of outstanding taste and style–like Tim Gunn, only straight and a hulking ex-football player–Dad has a crow-like affinity for sparkly stuff. When they first got married, he gave Mom his mother’s ring, which was nice, but relatively modest. They were both recently divorced and had young children–me and my stepsister–and didn’t have money for anything fancy. But later, when Dad’s business took off and Mom got a job with a higher salary, that wedding ring was sent off to the jeweler to be tricked out with a new, larger, heart-shaped stone and a series of small rubies around the band. Every birthday, Christmas and anniversary, my mother gets a new piece of jewelry–mostly gems and colored stones, exquisitely tasteful and well-designed. The ladies at the Neiman-Marcus jewelry counter at Tyson’s Corner and at Turgeon Raine in Seattle are on a first-name basis with my stepdad. My parents aren’t flashy in any way–they drive Volvos and live in a small three-bedroom house–but MamaSharper has some lovely jewelry.
That love of jewelry has stuck with me. I was practically swooning with delight when I went to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show this year with BFF Elizabeth. Room after room and building after building full of fancy stones! Sparkly! Polished! Glowing! Calling my name! I came away with an amazing, deep-blue strand of Afghan lapis and several cut and polished loose stones that I’m having made into jewelry.
It’s not just about the sparkle, though. Jewelry also taps into my love of stories and history. On our last trip to London together, MamaSharper and I trolled Bond Street for my favorite kind of jewelry: antiques. MamaSharper has a bracelet from an English antiquarian jeweler that I absolutely covet: a suffragette bracelet made of pearls, amythyst and peridots. Suffragette jewelry of purple, white and green stones were worn by British society ladies of the early 20th century as a sign of support for the women’s suffrage movement.
I was determined to find a suffragette piece for myself, but none of the estate jewelers had any. I found something better, though–a necklace whose pendant is a tiny gold book, about the side of a postage stamp, with tiny gold pages. The front cover of the book has a tiny Star of David with an even tinier ruby in the center. The back “cover” of the book is inscribed with the German words: “Unforgettable Days.” It looked as though the pages were meant to be inscribed with dates–weddings, children’s birthdays, etc–but they were all blank. The antiques dealer didn’t know much about the gold book, only that it was made in the early part of the 20th century, and had been made for a German Jewish girl, probably as a birthday present. I bought it immediately. I have no idea who its owner was, or what became of her–I hope she died in London of old age–but I couldn’t resist the connection to that woman, whoever she may have been.
Now, despite my own crow-like affinity for shiny goodies, I’m not into plain old bling. I could care less about the great big white diamonds set in platinum whose only purpose is to telegraph “Hey, I’m loaded. Check me out!” Whether you’re P. Diddy and his Jacob the Jeweler ice or a Manhattan bride flashing her emerald-cut Tiffany solitaire, that shit is just tacky. Engagement rings especially have become a kind of arms race for women. I have seen too many perfectly intelligent, sane professional women turn into Gollum over a diamond engagement ring, even sending their fiances back to the store to buy bigger stones.
This is the ugly side of jewelry–the materialistic obsession with jewels as a status symbol or proof of love. It always struck me as being a massive priority FAIL. When I was talking marriage with my Older Lover, I made it perfectly clear that while I loved jewelry, I didn’t expect–or want–him to drop a bunch of cash on an engagement ring. He had a big mortgage, child support and credit card debt to take care of, and I wanted him to spend his money on those things–y’know, the things that actually matter–instead of on THE PRECIOUSSSSS. If he’d had a bottomless bank account, sure, I would have taken a ring. But he didn’t, so I didn’t.
When that relationship ended, still smarting and grieving over the breakup, I bought myself some diamonds. I wear them on my middle finger–a big fuck-you to all the people who told me I should have settled just for the sake of being married. The ring was not cheap, but I was not poor, and I figured that by not taking on a debt-ridden husband and a stepchild, I had ultimately saved at least twenty times the cost of the ring. I call it my Disengagement Ring, and it’s my favorite piece of jewelry–the story behind it is my own.