The jewels we gift ourselves
I am hopelessly romantic about jewelry. I am also an avid self-purchasing woman and have been for over 20-some odd years and have also written articles on the topic for approximately that long. But since I first saw the inkling of women confidently buying their own jewelry, I have also witnessed a boom of modern and antique jewelry retailers, auction houses, trunk shows, pop-up shops and direct website sales targeting women with disposable income, a passion and the spending power to buy on their own. Mae West was quoted as saying “I have always felt a gift diamond shines so much better than one you buy for yourself,” I believe that all jewelry a woman purchases for herself shines just as brightly and suggests that she is independent and self-sufficient.
As a single woman in and out of long-term relationships I have learned that there is a special feeling that comes with having the freedom and confidence to go into a store and buy your own ring, pendant or earrings. I felt that way, particularly after years of being given my fair share of jewelry that ranged from sweet, girly pavé hearts of all sizes to hard-edged skull and crossbones concoctions. I found that the guys with whom I was involved were buying adornments for how they envisioned me — not for who I was.
Pre- Valentine’s day, I wrote a story on certain romantic pieces—in the shape of various historical hearts that would make lovely presents—and I wholeheartedly believe in gifting jewelry. At the same time, it seemed that Valentine’s days was the perfect day to relate the stories of other antique and modern self-purchasers like myself, who revel in a good chase — the challenge to find the or many jewels, which keeps us going. These are the pieces that are meant to be — those we see and take home right away, those we might have let go but somehow found their way back to us, or those we got to know as we wait patiently as they courted us slowly (read: as we waited out our layaway plans). These are the jewels to which we commit, the ones above all others that we feel matched in personality and style, whose presence and character we have grown attached. These are our keepers. And these are the jewels we bought for ourselves. This post is dedicated to these pieces ad the happy endings where the girl gets the pendant, charm, fob, bracelet, locket or ring of her dreams.
Wendy Smith, @gemsatourguide
A bright spot of orange in a small antique shop window caught my eye from across the street one day in Rome, many years ago. I felt compelled to go see what it was. A stunning carnelian and gold ring awaited me and I knew I had to try it on. I had been in Italy about three weeks at that point and had already seen so many beautiful ancient carnelian intaglio rings in the museums there that I was really hoping to find a piece for myself that would reflect the beauty of these pieces. In the small, well appointed antique shop, I tried on the ring and fell in love instantly; the heavy engraved gold ring fit perfectly on my index finger and I couldn’t believe how comfortable it was and how perfect it looked on my hand. In most cases this would have sold me but I still had several months left in Europe and what if I came across a better ring, one that was actually an antique? This one was fully hallmarked Italian and vintage, probably from the 1970’s. The “what ifs” started playing in my head. “I should wait”, “I won’t have the money to buy another ring, if it comes along. My heart was set on antique!” Then I started to look at the ring in another light. I saw that it was a modern day take on an ancient intaglio ring, which I thought was a really cool aspect. It was Italian. It was beautifully made. I loved it and it fit! And, so I bought it. If I hadn’t, it would have haunted me until this day. I wear it more than any other ring in my collection and it feels like a loyal friend, comfortable and perfectly suited to me. And that’s not easy to find.
Jamie Joseph designer, Jamie Joseph
I had found this Australian black opal at the Tucson Gem Show and couldn’t resist buying it. I knew I wanted to create a ring that would show the stone’s brilliant fire for the jewelry’s industry big trade show, Couture in Las Vegas. I created a very simple bezel style and put the ring on my finger at the show and wound up not taking it off or selling it. Once I wore it – I knew I wanted it for to keep for myself. That was five years ago and I still haven’t let it go. My husband Jeremy and I call it the flashlight opal due to the way it glows like a light in the dark. I don’t keep many of the pieces I design for myself — if did, we would not be able to have a lucrative business. What I do keep has to be extremely rare and this was one of those pieces. I have a list of customers who ask me to buy it, or if I find something similar to then create a ring for them. But it’s too special; I’m not sure I will ever find one like it again. It won my heart and my right hand. Jeremy, my husband still has my left.
Alison Barry Duvenay, Owner, Duvenay
When I saw this incredible ring at antique dealer Lenore Dailey’s booth at a jewelry show, I did not have one moment of hesitation. I did not consider my bank account. I knew when I saw it that I wanted it to be mine. It had everything going for it. My first name begins with A and there was my initial in rose cut diamonds. I love early jewelry and the regal feeling of blue enamel and old mine cut diamonds are one of my favorite combinations. I did not buy it on impulse, but rather, with the extreme calm that comes with knowing you’ve seen a rare piece, one with your name on it, so to speak, and you will not see it again.
Lisa Shuler, Owner, A Pocket of Rocks
I have been a collector of antique jewelry for a long time. But, an authentic “lover’s eye” ring eluded me. I pined and searched for one for years. I was so taken by the history and the sentiment behind these rings. Then, on a day that seemed quite ordinary, I was visiting one of my very favorite spots for antique jewelry, a place that I stop by often, and there it was, sitting in a beautiful box. I was in shock. As any collector or dealer will tell you, authentic lover’s eye jewelry is extremely rare and hard to find, especially in ring form. Not to mention the price that they command. When I inspected the ring, I saw that it was particularly special as it had the first name of one of my favorite aunts inscribed on the back. It was definitely calling to me. But for some reason I left it to have a walk around and to think. I don’t know why—the chase was over–I could finally have what I had desired for so long. I’m not sure if I was thinking clearly or if I was just so taken by surprise. But, after a few minutes walking around, I went back and I quickly purchased it. And now, three of us — my lover’s eye ring, my husband and I coexist very happily together and I have no regrets.
Leslie Kerr @travelsandtreasures
My dream piece with a happily-ever-after ending is this Art Nouveau basilisk locket from Trademark Antiques. Some of my favorite motifs are mythical creatures. The most common ones are dragons and griffins (according to those I have seen in my time as a collector) a basilisk is a deadly cross between a bird and a snake that is not often seen in antique pieces. Not only did this locket have a rare jewelry motif, but also it was in amazing condition. Unfortunately, I did the math and didn’t think I couldn’t afford it at the time. Every week or so, I would go online and peek at the site with apprehension, expecting it to be sold. Almost a year after starting my weekly visits to the locket, it went on sale. I calculated that the locket was now within my price range. Unlike so many pieces that I have admired and let get away, I believe that after all of this time — this one was meant to be with me.
SUSAN COHEN of CIRCA 1700 @circa1700
A shark tooth by any other name wouldn’t be as breathtaking. This fossilized shark tooth set in 15k yellow gold is in a class all by itself. I purchased this Georgian shark tooth with an abundance of symbolism (the floral motif symbolizes both everlasting love and passion) over six years ago. I then promptly sold it to a client and immediately regretted it. Like seriously, regretted it. I spent years trying to find another one like it. And with no other option at my disposal, I hounded the client, who fortunately for me was a good friend, to sell it back to me. This beauty cost me almost three times the original price (because she didn’t want to sell it), but fortunately, it involved a trade. In the end – it was totally worth every penny getting this gem back. She is truly one-of-a-kind!
ALEXIS KLETJIAN OF ALEXIS KLETJIAN JEWELRY
I have always enjoyed buying myself jewelry, and at this stage of the game, my husband prefers it also. I have amassed most of my personal collection through self-purchases. I have many I’d love to share, but one I have never shown (until now) is a present I bought for myself for my 40th birthday. Ok, one of the presents I bought myself! (That I forgot to tell him about) When Platt Boutique posted this stunning locket on Instagram, I pounced. I don’t normally do that, I truly prefer to ‘find’ my own pieces, but it was just the right combination of rare and highly detailed craftsmanship that I like to collect. A late 19th century Russian antique in the combination of yellow and rose gold with diamonds – she fits right in with my treasured personal collection, and the jewelry that I design.
PRATIMA SETHI of SETHI COUTURE
My favorite self-purchase item is this multi color diamond signature ring by Alex Sepkus. This ring has different levels of meanings for me. I had been eyeing this ring for a couple years and would always ooh and aah over it. I tried it many many times any time I saw Jeff Feero, president of Alex Sepkus at a trunk show or if I was at a retailer that carried the line. In February of 2011, I finally committed to the purchase at one of our big industry trade shows. The ring has a special meaning for me because I had just found out that I was pregnant with my second daughter so it was my purchase in celebration of our new addition to the family and the ring itself was made using natural color diamonds supplied by my father’s company Manak. The signified the continuity and connection of family as well as my appreciation of the Alex Sepkus’s unique artistic design form. And altogether, it made this purchase extremely special.
Brie Zabierek, Stephen Russell Jewelry
When my father passed away, my mom gave me a ring that he had given to her many years before. There was already so much sentimental value to the ring but the fact that emeralds are my favorite gems and this was set with one as a center stone made it even more special and for me. However it wasn’t exactly my style and there were two diamonds missing. So I decided that I should re-create the ring with the emerald into a piece I would wear all of the time. There had been an Edwardian ring I had seen and dreamed about but couldn’t figure out how to afford. Then I realized this ring which had the added bonus of being handed down with an deep emotional connection could be set in way so as to have a similar feeling to the antique ring. But in order to design a piece that was more personal and slightly more contemporary feeling, I chose pink sapphires as well as diamonds to offset and accent the beauty of the emerald. I love the combination of these colors and stones. It was passed down to me, but it is my favorite piece and the one I wear constantly. I think the emerald brings me luck and the story behind it brings with it a magical feeling!
Lisa Stockhammer Mial, President, The Three Graces
Approximately twelve years ago, I found this strangely divine locket in London. It is designed in the form of a carved rock crystal walnut shell with exquisite gold and silver work. I adored it, but was just beginning my business and with trepidation, sold it to a client. It is certainly not the most valuable piece that has passed through my hands, nor is it studded with precious gems and diamonds. Yet this mysterious locket remained in the back of my mind year after year. While we have many return clients, some with us since the beginning, we lost touch with the customer I sold this locket to many years ago. Recently, I was rifling through our very old photographic library and archives, and saw pictures of it buried away. My regret surfaced again. Why had I sold it? Who made this and why? Walnuts possess a depth of symbolism; did a family have it custom made? So many unanswered questions went through my mind. The very next day, we received an email, asking if we might buy something back that was bought from us. The name was vaguely familiar. It was so long ago, I personally searched, not just our usual administration system, but deep into our past records. Yes, you guessed it. It was the person with this very locket. I purchased it back of course for myself. Passing on beautiful objects brings forth such reward and joy, often times even more than possessing a piece. But in this instance, it was kismet that this unique jewel belonged with me.
Marcia Moylan, Co-Owner, The Spare Room Antiques
I have been a dealer for an extremely long time, seeing many wondering pieces, rare and unusual over the years. My partner Jackie and I purchase earlier jewelry as well as a large selection of charms and fobs. I have also looked and discovered many pieces with people’s names that have asked us to go out and find them, yet in all the years I have been doing this—I could never find one with my own name. Then, one day, a few years ago in London, while we were scoping out shops at Portobello, we stop at one of our favorite dealers to have a quick look in the case. And there it was. The fob was lying on its side in a way in which you could read it (although you have to know how to read backwards) But I did and the name was Marcia in the exact same way in which I spell my name. And, so my years of searching for the particular piece were over. I had found it at last. Of course the dealer could have doubled the price if she knew how long I was looking but I never let on.
And, my own story…
My mom always had something to say about my love life, as did my grandmother.“When the timing is right—that is when it will happen” – my mom had always told me about finding the right guy. And however cliché the line, it has definitely been the case in my experiences with jewelry.
During my time as an antique collector, I had come across two similar versions of a bracelet from the Victorian era. But each time I found them—I could not come close to affording one and would let them go, becoming enamored with a different piece and allowing me to forget for a time.
The bracelet, which was always in the back of my mine, artfully closed up into the shape of a miniature book with turquoise cabochons on the ‘binding’ and a chased and engraved front and back cover. It unfolds–gate links open like pages, pierced and carved into one letter per link, which when completely open, spells out the word ‘souvenir’. In the mid 19th century, souvenir in French was often used as the translation for “remember” or “token of love” and pieces like these were created as mementos. When my book If These Jewels Could Talk was released, I was at an antique show and while walking the show, spotted the perfect version of the bracelet in a case and immediately asked to see it. I had other book jewelry in the form of lockets. My favorite of these was given to me by a friend and was engraved with the title of my first book. By the time my second book came out, I created a charm bracelet of book lockets, which I purchased for myself and others that were gifted, in celebration of what I had achieved. The timing was finally right: this was the piece to commemorate a book that told the stories of some of the world’s most iconic collector’s jewels, made by the most renowned houses of the 20th century.
After spending so much time with these amazing stories, I was ready for a new one of my own. Simon Teakle from whom I purchased the piece and I knew and interviewed during his time at Christie’s before opening his own shop, gave me a deal that was too good to pass up and my mother’s advice finally rang true: the right one came along at the right time.