Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sale alert: Summer leather

If you wear leather, in a word: summer. 

You can pick up some terrific buys now that make an expensive material nearly a steal. Ignore the high temps, think fall, think investment. (I still wear wear some leather pieces bought ten to twelve years ago.)

You've got to pick and choose among the offerings from the Canadian mall chain, Danier, but when they restrain the urge for embellishment, they provide items at a fraction of the cost of designer leather. 

And when Danier have a sale, there are leather bargains indeed.
The lambskin leather t-shirt was my go-to garment of my fall through early spring. It's on sale, $79 from $229. You can't order online, but there are phone and e-mail options here. Fit is true, back of tee is a heavy double-knit; a small hidden side zip provides more hip ease if you need it.

Web site lists sizes as XXXS-XL, but who knows what's available till you call or e-mail.


If you like your leather in luscious caramel, this classic lambskin blazer is also greatly reduced, $269 from $449, in sizes XXS-XL.

 

If you are in the S-M-L range, you could have a hip leather t-shirt dress for fall; was $299, now $149.


I'd also pick the popping patent shopper, reduced from $149 to $99; available in black and turquoise, too. 



Lafayette 148 take leather way beyond basics. I saw this supple suede draped front jacket in a boutique last spring, now it is far less on the web site, $269 from $898, in quite a few sizes.




This is not all leather, but cut me some slack, it's a drop-dead jacket, the Ports 1961 Taureg Utility jacket with leather flaps and belt. On sale from $1,250 to $529 at Saks. Probably overpowering on petite women, but on average to talls, a shot of tailored drama.

Do you notice a lot on sale now? 

Stores are careful to not send out desperate signals like they did in 2008, but I see 50%-60% off signs everywhere.

The days are already shortening, the stores slowly filling with fall looks, and leather will be wearable before you know it. For the right item, I like 60% off and a short summer vacation for the new purchase in the back of the closet.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jewelry: With bells on

I've been eying Paul Morelli's temple-bell jewelry for a year or so; a bell charm set with yellow and green beryl and various colours of tourmaline is $5,260 at Ylang23. At 7/8 inch, in 18k gold, this "Meditation Bell" is a luxe bauble for well-heeled meditators, indeed.
Morelli Meditation Bell

There's a considerable setting work here, but given that so much fabrication is done in parts of the world where labour is cheap (I don't know about Morelli, though), the stones (not costly gems to start with) look a little pale in the photo, and this is for only the charm, not a chain, my overpriced-alarm is clanging. If cost were no object, I'd love to wear multiple Morelli bells on chains, as shown in his ads– but it is, so let's keep looking.

(Before I get another comment about promoting copyists: last time I looked no one had copyrighted bells, and I'm looking for a mood, not an exact replica.)

Chickrocks' bell necklace

It's neither gold nor precious, but Etsy's chickrocks made a piece with brass bells, a white lily flower and a yellow glass drop that looks fresh and joyful, for $35. Just the thing to wear with pearls, a favourite chain or on its own.

Coral, brass beads, bell
Another Etsy piece that I would have bought on the spot were it not for the 16 inch length, too short for me. Coral beads strung on brown waxed linen, smaller brass beads, and yes, the bell! Just $22 from brasslady.


She also offers a brass necklace with many 6mm bells, again 16 inches, for $13, less than a buck a bell. Her designs are pretty; I'm going to convo her to request more length.
Indian silver, onyx and turquoise
Here's a seriously gorgeous piece that leaps into the 'real' category, but still at less than a tenth of Morelli's charm: a vintage Indian silver, onyx and turquoise necklace with a set of five rows of bells, $360 from LantanaArts. (Measurement given is 11 inches, which is the drop; the circumference is 22 inches.)

Diamond and gold bell and chain
For those with silver allergies or a fine jewelry jones, Alex Woo makes a truly elegant Thai bell, set with diamonds and garnet beads, nearly twice the height of Morelli's (1 1/3 inches); price ($1,978) includes a fine 20" 14k gold chain.

The site specifies that "all work is done in the US" for her pieces. The bell is also available in white gold with topaz.

Adding an element like a bell updates and revives your collection, whether you spend $22 or $2,000. If you want the bell silent, slide a bit of wool into the bell's top to invisibly reduce the clapper's mobility.

Or let it ring, warning songbirds that you are sneaking up.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Coupland's dictionary: Blank-collar worker

A friend laid off in Jan. '09 has started her own business and e-mailed me to discuss her money woes during its shaky start.


"I can't afford the gym anymore", she wrote, "let alone the week that Paul and I always took at Arowhon Pines. Those days are gone for good." It occurred to me that she's joined the ranks of blank-collar workers.

Douglas Coupland coined that term, along with others.
If you have not read his A Dictionary of the Near Future, it is here, now.

Blank-collar worker: "Formerly middle-class workers who will never be middle class again and who will never come to terms with that."

What if one did at least begin to come to terms?


That would mean questioning why your coffee and a friend's returns no change from a ten-spot. Means learning to do your nails, change your oil and stain your deck yourself, after decades of outsourcing it to someone who doesn't speak your language.

Means asking your kids why they can't use both sides of a page of computer paper. Wondering why people call you to ask what kind of fax machine you use when you never told them you had one in the first place. Finding MagiCuts kind of expensive.


"How much does this go for?" becomes a question you ask again, and if recently downsized, feel embarrassed about. You don't buy pet treats, pets are a treat. You wonder how the heck you thought two cars were a required minimum.

Since when did personal trainers become "physique managers" you pay a buck a minute for watching you do a situp? Maybe it isn't normal to eat raspberries in February.

I'm lucky to have had a head start. For 25 years, working for ourselves, the two of us have swung between prosperity and peril, parsimony and plenty. That's the freelance way– and if you have half a brain, you prepare for the famine and never, ever feel entitled to the breaks you get when the phone rings.


And yet, this downsizing has its subtle gifts. I look for and prize moments of situational disinhibition, the state he describes as "social contrivances within which one is allowed to become disinhibited, that is, moments of culturally approved disinhibition: when speaking with fortunetellers, to dogs and other pets, to strangers and bartenders in bars, or with Ouija boards."

Perhaps the slide from middle class will disinhibit, eradicating have-a-nice-dayism, conversations about TV shows and recitations of desired cruises.  In the last two years, I've had some remarkable, colourful conversations with thrifters, idlers, contract workers and newly self-employed.

I love it when someone gathers herself and speaks her mind, knowing her job no longer rests on toeing the party line.


Adjusting down is no fun, and I am not suggesting she give up her business goals. There are glimmers of work appearing, so she will likely work hard developing a clientele, until her husband reaps his indexed government pension in three years. But those are vanishing too.



Pensions, I mean–but sometimes husbands too, so women are wise to plan their own financial security.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Showing my age with words

Below, highlights of a exchange with a 24 year old corporate communications professional I'll call "Shelly", whom I mentor. Her messages are in italics. She of course is texting; I'm e-mailing from my laptop.

Got doc, thx4 reaching out!!!!

Did not reach out; contacted you, wrote, dropped by. Arms still at sides metaphorically and literally.

K. Else? To be honest need yr help.

To be honest with you adds nothing to what you're saying. If you tell me you're being honest, I'll wonder why you need to reassure me.

Lunch Jen & I? U cld use break.

Jen and ME. Me, me, me, me, me.

LMFAO! boomers into yrselves!  Old ppl!!! 

We did go for lunch–and laughed about the three-generation workplace. Nearly forty years between us and I'm feeling every one. 

Do you show your age (or generation, at least) when you communicate? I still can't bring myself to say 'sick' instead of 'cool' and use 'awesome' only when referring to natural wonders of the world or the realm of spirit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dinner with a Secondhand Rose

Just before I moved, I met a woman I'll call "Marina" for dinner. 

Marina is a petite, slim, glamourous woman in her mid-fifties, divorced, with two young-adult children and a high-profile career in public service. I appreciate her mordant wit, ready opinions and devotion to her family.

A suit like Marina's by David Dixon
Marina, who had come from work, wore a fitted, pea-green wool suit with simple, chic tailoring, and pointed-toe black flats: think Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's", but with tumbling auburn hair.

Marina then told me, "I buy all my clothes secondhand". And I thought, of course. She's so smart, in both senses of the word. 

Let someone else take the gaspingly high-priced hit on a Celine suit, wear it for a few years, then it's yours for a fourth or fifth of the price. Marina knows what she likes and how to put it together. "I always look around, and think 'I'm the best-dressed woman here'", she said, matter of factly. And she's right.

I've heard many reasons for buying new: I'm too big/tall/short; I don't have time to prowl the racks and (strange to me, but she said it) "Who knows who owned this before me?" I replied that I'd sage the dress to excise any evil vibes.

Gently-used Gucci
If you are truly a hard to find size, you can still score bags, scarves, sunglasses.  (Shown, vintage Gucci equestrienne bag from Rice and Beans Vintage, $375.)

YSL tortoise heel

Look at these vintage YSL navy linen shoes with tortoiseshell heels, in excellent condition, size 6-6.5, for $175 from Rice and Beans!

If time is short, online vintage boutiques (many list on Etsy) often offer more attentive service than bricks and mortar shops; many now offer video clips so you can see clothes from all sides.

Unlike Marina, not much of my (now severely edited) wardrobe is secondhand, but some of my favourites are: a yellow crocodile framed handbag, a French spring coat in burnt orange, a soft grey cashmere tunic.

If I were a more standard size, I'd shop mostly in such places. I like the idea of recycling and the pleasure of owning something well-made for less.  
t
Courrèges dress, Enoki.com

I was annoyed to hear a woman complain about the price of high-quality vintage at my favourite Toronto treasure, Thrill of the Find. She expected a mint-condition Courrèges dress to sell for far less than $375, which I consider a great price. Designer vintage/consignment is not thrift; if she can find Courrèges at Value Village, she's incredibly lucky, but if paying someone else to do the picking, she ought not expect it for $75. 


I would rather own that secondhand masterpiece than the wobbly-seamed, plastic-buttoned-and-zippered dress on offer most everywhere these days for the same price.

Marina and I strode into the night, saying goodbye at the streetcar. She wore a trench that looked soft and spectacular, and had lived a life before hers. Why not?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Face It: Beauty, aging, identity, peace

I've just fnished "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" by Vivian Diller, Ph. D. and Jull Muir-Skukenick, Ph. D.  

The authors, both former models and psychotherpists, promise to lead women distressed about changing physical attributes out of their funk. They are not against surgical and non-surgical treatments, but prefer us to know what we're doing should we erase life's experience from our faces.

A picture is worth a thousand words: Helen Mirren, 66 next month:


Nicole Kidman, 44 next week and admittedly an easy target:



A few quotes from the book:

"We are buying–and buying into– an anxiety-producing cultural imperative to look younger than we truly are. And we are terribly uncomfortable as we succumb to the siege of internal and external pressures tugging at us from so many places."

"In adolescence, we are letting go of our youth and fearful of growing up. In midlife, we are letting go of the last vestiges of youth and fearful of growing old. 

In both, we sometimes find ourselves holding on too long, for fear of moving on. Yet the more we hold on, the less comfortable we feel in our own skins."

The authors explore the two main strategies the culture hands us:
1. Deny:
"Your looks shouldn't matter. If they do, don't let anyone know. Stay true to your real self; let your looks take their natural course as you age".

2. Defy: 
"Your looks should matter, and don't you ever forget that. Buy products, work out at the gym, and defy aging whatever the cost, any way you can. And be sure to make it look natural."

Their six-step process, which includes examination of our relationship to Mother, earliest experiences of beauty-tending, and the masks we adopt, take the reader beyond the realm of appearance, into deeper psychic territory of self-concept and identity.

The last chapter, "Say Goodbye to Say Hello" explores the attitude shift the previous sections work toward: mourning what's lost, and then "allowing a new definition of beauty".

Finally, the outer and inner signs of aging are honoured rather than despised, and the body and face therefore receive as much care as we choose, once we realize that the interventions won't bring back 20 or 30 again. (Diller and Muir-Skukenick do not condemn surgery or injections, but lead you to your own conclusions.)


"Face It" goes wider and deeper than physical appearance, addressing self-empathy and compassion not just for body issues, but for one's entire being and that of all females, regardless of age or appearance. The authors aim somewhat higher than self-help clichés and indict the culture of youth worship. 

The book would be stronger without examples of actors and media personalities, who face very different demands concerning appearance than most readers. You can skip through the long case studies at the end for a free anecdotectomy.

If the authors can deliver wholly on their stated objective, "Finding balance, satisfaction and pleasure  as your appearance changes with age", the book will outsell "Gone With the Wind".

As for me, I'm using Mirren's tactic: disciplined maintenance while letting the lines come– and wearing a pair of stunning earrings!






Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When friends suffer

I've lost several friends over the past two years, to fatal illnesses, and several more have recovered after harrowing treatment.

I've just read an essential article in The New York Times (Sunday, June 12) that I wish I'd had then; I hope it will be useful to you, too.

Bruce Feiler's "You Look Great and Other Lies" tells us Six Things You Should Never Say to a Friend or Colleague Who's Sick and Four Things You Can Always Say. 

Brilliant, a must. (I've said at least four of the Never Says.) We say them with good intentions (plus fear, anger, embarrassment and a swirl of other emotions) even as we know there must be a better way to express our love, caring and hope.

More comments about the role friends can play is in this short clip of the Canadian journalist June Callwood, (about 8 min.) in an interview with George Stromboulopoulos a short time before she died in 2007. These few minutes illuminate her wisdom, humour and strength even as she faced the end. Her remark about squash soup is etched in my mind, among more profound comments about marriage, the hereafter and the gift of life.

In 1987, Callwood wrote "Twelve Weeks in Spring"  a clear-eyed account of how a group of friends about cared for their ill friend; it too offers much about how to be present. Nearly 25 years years after being written, Twelve Weeks remains an illuminating description of how friends, and even those unknown to the ill person, can support her.

We still have a ways to go with home hospice care, but with more of us aging, it's on my mind and on my 'activist list'.


"In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."
- Mother Teresa

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June pearls, past and present

Pearls from the last century to last week, from the evocative to edgy, bank-breaking to budget, all for my lovely flaneuses. Pearls are June's birthstone, not that you need a reason.

Seed pearl sunburst
Ca. 1910 Seed pearl 10k pendant/brooch. Freshwater seed pearl one-inch Edwardian brooch that can also be hung as a pendant. Grace personified; price $175 from Erie Basin.

Wild abalone ring

Natural wild abalone pearl ring, rare and intense. A simple setting for an organic gem. Pearl is about 12mm x 14mm. Price, $1,275 from Kojima Company.
Freshwater pearl and leather bracelet

Freshwater pearl double-wrap leather bracelet; price $44 from Etsy seller thewatersedge. Would make a charming gift for a friend or June grad.

Victorian bangle

Ca. 1890s Victorian 14k, pearl, mine-cut diamond and turquoise bangle. Let's pause to admire the exquisite workmanship of the era. Price, $4,850 from 1st Dibs seller Stella Rubin.

One 10mm grey South Sea pearl on a black cotton cord, beautifully set. All you need in the neckline of a blouse. Price $85-$150 depending on metal. From Kate Hines Jewelry.

For those who love drama, this ring is sensational: 2.5 inches of undulating abalone shell holding an 11mm natural colour pistachio Tahitian pearl, set in silver. Notice anything new, dear? Price, $650 from Kojima Company. Whoever said pearls are boring can go slurp a mollusk.

One or a strand, old or new... June (along with eleven others) is the month for pearls.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Simple isn't easy

Found on Amazon
Someone's blog had a comment about a book called "Simple Isn't Easy" by Olivia Goldsmith and Amy Fine Collins. Several people cited its wisdom, so I tracked down a cheap used copy and flipped through it in an evening.

Goldsmith wrote "The First Wives Club" and other novels; she died in 2004 during cosmetic surgery, as a result of complications from anaesthesia. (The book contains one unsettling line about the possibility of finding a cosmetic surgeon– "a good one".) 

Fine Collins, fashion and design writer, is very much with us, and adheres to her manifesto, maintaining a slightly-retro pixie-cut image over several decades. (I'd say she inspired Kate Spade.)

Amy Fine Collins today
The writing is flat, the advice direct as an Eastern European bra-fitter. To recap:
1. Find out what works on you.
(Try on everything in front of the mirror with a critical eye or better yet, with a stylist or image consultant.)
2. Develop a uniform
(Not one outfit, but "your look".)
3. Get rid of everything else
(You closet will be drastically pared. She quotes a French architect: “American closets shock me. So much, too much. No one can dress well with so many clothes.”)
4. Shop only for what you need, with a list
(Never shop for entertainment, therapy or as a reward.)
5. Be fastidious about fit and grooming.

That's it.

Over and over, I'm hearing 50+ women say they don't want so many possessions, including clothes. Goldsmith and Collins were a few decades early with their book.

The authors advise that you patronize one designer: "Find who makes the clothes that look best on you–and stick with him."  They cite Diana Vreeland, who wore only Mainbocher's suits; Goldsmith, who bonded to an (unnamed) boutique, and Fine Collins, then a YSL devotée.

This is my dream, too but where is my main-street Mainbocher?  

A strict nirvana
Ça va de soie are a contender. They make quiet, intelligent clothes in fabrics like Egyptian cotton crepe and Italian cashmere in nonstandard neutrals I crave. Problem is, they make mostly tops. (And a few dresses, too small and short for me, a "major minimalist".)

A now-defunct Belgian company, Anvers, was another, as is Dries van Noten, if I could ante up. Maybe I'll find The One in Montreal, home to Ça va de soie.

Here's a shot of the first purchase made in my new city, the Alain Weiz jean pencil skirt with studs, and if you don't think it takes guts to post your derriere, you try it! Weiz is a plus line (in France, that can begin at US 10.) Tant pis, it fits perfectly, length just at bottom of knee. Finding a designer who cuts for your body is as important as finding an aesthetic.
Dark denim and pyramid studs
Have you found the maker or designer whose clothes are 'you'? Please tell us who they are, even if it's a local source.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Restyling jewelry, Part Two: Design ideas

Part Two concerns design, and how to work with a jeweler to create a piece you enjoy.

New life for a Victorian ring

Antique ring
One of my rings began life as a Victorian three-stone ring, similar to that shown, but with a pigeon's blood ruby flanked by two diamonds.

The delicate platinum filigree setting was not a pleasing proportion for my finger and it always twisted.

My jeweler at first didn't want to touch it, because the antique setting was so finely-wrought. She eventually saw that I was not wearing the ring, and did not wish to sell it.
Tension setting
Her partner reset the ruby in an 18k true tension setting; it is now a simple, dramatic modern piece.

The cost for the resetting was $2,400; there is a lot of gold in that ring.

This is an example of a "iffy" decision; the ring was not ugly or out of date, but I wasn't wearing it. When a piece is in that category, it can sit in your box forever, while you dither. I saved the setting and side stones so it can one day be returned to its original version, if desired.

If you have a beautiful setting, be sure that it is not damaged in the retrieval of the stones and ask for its return, intact. When she was in her mid-20s, Barbara inherited a Cartier ring from her aunt and made it into a pin. The jeweler kept the setting and credited Barbara for the platinum. (This explains how a ca. 1920s Cartier ring with inferior stones that the house would never have used might enter the market.) Is she sorry now!


How to find inspiration

Opal inspiration
Look at current jewelry sites to see what's being made, and build an inspiration folder. I've saved this photo of Jamie Joseph's boulder opal ring as an example of a setting I like that uses silver and gold. (Price, $848 from Twist.)

The materials you have may limit what you can do, but don't forget that you can add stones, change the colour of the metal, or migrate one piece into another type. For example, a brooch can become a bracelet, or a ring can become a pendant.

Locket clasp
You can combine your pearls and an unworn ring, using the stones in the ring to make a unique clasp.

Here's an example of an enameled locket used as a clasp.





Bangles
One client took a fussy necklace of small diamonds, harvested the stones, and now has a stack of eighteen 18k thin gold bangles sprinkled with the stones.
 

Diamond gyspy-set cuff
Here's a silver and diamond cuff, a 25th (Silver) wedding anniversary gift from Le Duc; you can just see him in the background.

Mine was not a reno, but the design could easily be adapted for odd-sized small diamonds or other stones. Whether made in silver, gold or platinum you'd have a tailored, wearable piece.


Working with the jeweler

Some jewelers thrive on the challenge of restyling, others would far rather sell you a piece from their case or take an order for the same thing they've made for years. Be sure you find one who's passionate about restyling.

Some jewelers will not touch pieces they have not originally made; others have no qualms about revising other artisan's work. A jeweler might not have the skill to undertake certain techniques; if one says it can't be done, get another opinion before abandoning your idea.

If you haven't dealt with the jeweler before, bring or send photos of your favourite pieces, so she can see what you are wearing now. Though you may want a complete departure, your current favourites show your preferences. Talk, take your time, and trust your instinct when you see a design you love.

Finally, accept that you're in the mysterious world of custom work. Find someone whose work you love, then step away and let her create. You can respond at the drawing and wax model stages. Do not try to control every tiny detail, because that drains the animating spirit of the artist. (I can't tell you how many men have shown me a ring that they are so proud to have designed themselves, and most of them are utterly boring or downright messes.)


When not to restyle

Restyling is worth it if you like elements and are interested in giving them a new life. But if you're not a cameo woman, for example, no amount of restyling can make you love that, so pass it on to someone who does, via a sale or a gift.

Vintage Tiffany aquamarine ring
In general, I would not restyle pieces
- signed, from renowned houses (have them authenticated)
- of historic provenance, or
- made with magnificent workmanship. Some techniques are no longer done today, and it's a shame to tear down such a piece for a few modest stones.



Time for a new look!
Restyle Aunt Jo's plain 7mm pearl necklace with the flimsy fish-hook filagree clasp; sell the busy bracelet you got from an ex.

Restyling an out-of-date engagement ring is a great way get a gorgeous new piece; I've provided some ideas for using diamonds here.



Halo Ring
Shown, a fresh idea for the stones from a typical 1970s engagement ring, yours or someone else's. (This elegant band is Annie Fensterstock's Halo Ring from Twist; price, $11,000.) 

Finally, think of restyling as a responsible way to use resources, to enjoy what you already own.

Restyling reduces consumption; it's a luxurious form of recycling, but recycling all the same.  

 I'd love to hear of any of your projects, past or planned.


 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Restyling jewelry, Part One: Where your money goes

Lonely in the jewelry box?
Do you have a box of dated, too-tight or odd pieces of jewelry, perhaps something like the orphaned earring shown, and wonder if it's worth it remodeling?  

I gave boxes of abandoned pieces to a church rummage sale before the move, but others are earmarked for renos. Remodeling is only worth it if you end up with a piece you love so much you'd sleep in it.

Today, some considerations about the cost of restyling; tomorrow, design and ideas.

What will it cost?

Few of us sweep into a jeweler's without regard for cost, so receive an estimate for the project, but also understand what's behind an estimate.


Restyling is rarely a cheap fix. Just like a house reno, you can smart choices to keep costs from skyrocketing. 

Actual costs are impossible to give you, because there are so many factors, but let's tackle the matter.

The costs behind the estimate

When you restyle, you're paying for things that might not be obvious:

1. Deconstructing the original piece

The jeweler must tear down the original piece without damage to the stones.

Diamond and pearl brooch
Resetting a solitaire is pretty basic, but taking a brooch like this and making a pair of earrings is requries extensive labour. If you are recycling metal, it has to be melted and sometimes refined.

(Shown, midcentury diamond and pearl brooch from Beladora2, $1,995. I'd wear this exactly as it is with supreme pleasure, but am showing it as an example of what you might start with when remodeling.)


2. New materials and repairs to the old

Diamond ring mount
If you want a stone reset in a stock ring setting, for example, you might pay $500-$1500 depending on the weight of the mount, plus additional costs if you are adding gems. Once you move into the realm of custom settings, the jeweler must complete many more steps to cast your unique setting, and costs rise.

If you bring in a necklace and want to create a bracelet and earrings, you can see how the labour escalates, and you may have to add stones.



Lucifer Vir Honestus jade ring
If you bring a photo of a ring like this Lucifer Vir Honestus jade and ask for "a setting like that", your jeweler has to attempt a near-copy, which she may never have done before. Even if she has the capability, there's an elusive artistry from the hand of the creator. I've seen so many copies fall short of a photo.

I've seen more successful restyles when the customer finds a jeweler she likes, and works within that aesthetic. 

Ask not only to see a portfolio of remodeled work, but also the actual piece when possible. This is not because you don't believe the photos, it's because feeling the piece in your hands is quite different from the photo.

Sometimes, you are better off to sell a vintage piece than to tear it down and remodel, sentiment notwithstanding, and a good jeweler will advise you that it's not worth it. (More tomorrow about this.)


3. The artisans behind the jeweler

Setter at work
Behind the jeweler is a small army of artisans; few jewelers do everything themselves. They typically employ or source work from designers, cutters, casters, polishers, stringers and setters. 

If you are remodeling an heirloom, the piece may have damage to stones that is invisible to the eye, but weakens the stones; they should not be reset in that condition. The stones may need recutting or repolishing. 

All of these considerations affect cost, which is why it's sometimes a shock to hear the price for restyling, when you thought "I already have the stones".

4. Jeweler's reputation

Just like clothing designers, 'name' jewelers cost more. When you fully understand the materials and labour costs, you can assess how much you are paying for the design.


Keeping costs low(er)

Just like your house reno, spend where it shows, and stay open to ways to manage costs.

Marcy owned a sapphire and diamond diamond cocktail ring that belonged to her grandmother. She wanted a modern ring that fit with her other pieces.

The 2 ct. round sapphire was in good shape, and needed only to be repolished. The side stones were badly damaged diamond trapezoidal baguettes. Replacing them with two custom-cut half-carat stones would cost $5,000. 

Marcy's jeweler suggested replacing the baguettes with pavé instead, which cost $1,000. He showed her the difference by making a wax cast and placing an old baguette on one side, the temporary pavé on the other. The pavé was a 'blingier', more modern look, which Marcy preferred. Total cost of the project was $2,500.

Using white gold instead of platinum, or casting a heavy ring so that the back is hollow reduces the cost of precious metal.

You might also reduce cost by using less expensive materials, such as tourmaline instead of emerald or ruby, white sapphire instead of diamond. Ask to see a range of gems in the colour you're using.


But spend to get it right

Imperial topaz
My friend Alice bought a magnificent set of imperial topaz stones chosen in Mumbai by her daughter.

She took them to her jeweler, Don, who designed a stunning yet simple necklace. Alice's husband, Jean, unaccustomed to buying much jewelry, freaked out at the cost, so she asked Don  for a second design, using less gold.

The second design was pretty, but didn't show the stones' beauty like the first. Jean could see the difference and came around. The necklace is gorgeous on Alice, and she is thankful every day that she didn't cut corners.


And if it's not...

The right setting, at last!
Le Duc gave me a small princess-cut diamond 25 years ago. Though I loved his gift, I never really liked the setting, and five years later had it reset. That jeweler didn't scale the setting to the stone, and I was too inexperienced to ask him whether he would. The diamond looked lost, surrounded by too much metal.

Another five years passed; in a small jeweler's shop in Montreal (Bijouterie Arto), I saw a similar diamond set just the way I wanted. (Small stones can be more of a puzzle than large.) This time I got it right; my ring reminds me that mistakes can be corrected. Though I could almost have purchased another ring for the price of the two resets, that stone is sentimental–so it's worth it.

Tomorrow, Part Two: Design ideas and working with a jeweler












Thursday, June 2, 2011

Taking time, trying tunics

One of my favourite little books is "Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World" by the late Eknath Easwaran, meditation teacher.

Eknath Easwaran
He relates an anecdote about visiting his mother in India, joined on the trip by a number of his friends from Berkeley. In California, they would line up at the coffee shop, each ordering his or her choice: the skinny soy grande latte, the extra-foam cappucino, etc. The drink was precisely made to the drinker's unvarying specifications.

In India, his mother served a tray of chai, the same tea every afternoon– and each person loved it. Our preferences, Easwaran says, are only habits

We mistake our likes and dislikes for deep-seated values. Easwaran has other insights about the relationship between mindfulness and the senses, but during this move, I thought often of this story. At first I missed "my" coffee made from "my" beans, "my" stove, even "my" view.

Sometime during this second week, I realized that instead, the move offers an opportunity to release habits, and perhaps not acquire such rigidity with new ones.

Switching things up slows time, which is a positive effect when, at nearly 63, I sense the limits to my lifespan ever more keenly. 

That doesn't mean I've forsaken regular activities like yoga; but I feel grateful that a class serves my health, rather than automatically rushing there because it's 5:00 pm. on Thursday, "my usual" time for yoga, and then thinking about what we'll have for dinner during the class.

Easwaran asks his students to consider whether the choice simply meets a sensory pleasure (okay but superficial) or nourishes a deeper value, such as health, community or service.

Will all this be temporary? Maybe, but I hope the effects of a move linger.

And this new life is not all about matters of the spirit. There's also the freedom of easy dressing now that spring's fully here. Tunic-cut tops, easy, cool and polished when running errands, dress up in the evening with earrings and perhaps a change of shoe. Here are some I like. They're a friend to those who prefer not to show the entire arm, gentle with the waist, and good ones are cut well at the armhole to flatter the torso.

Poetica tunic
The Canadian textile designer Virginia Johnson offers soft, light summer tunics via her online site, perfect for lounging but not too sheer for casual wear. Shown, Poetica tunic in Mountain Pool blue; also available in grey, $248.

Tao tunic
I've always longed for anything from Brigitte Singh, one of the world's top block-printers. This Tao tunic, from Devotion, is £140; the site has other styles, and sizing is a 1/2/3 scale (S/M/L).
Embroidered silk
Day Birger and Mikkleson (I'm drawn to nearly everything they make) have a palest pink silk tunic with sumptuous black kantha embroidery. Could wear to a wedding or a brunch, graceful and at ease. $280 from netaporter.
Denim in a tunic

A departure from ethnic effects: MIH Jeans' denim tunic, cool over pants, leggings or a skirt. $225 from netaporter.
Posh by Soft Surroundings

Soft Surroundings Posh Tunic has a Palm Beach vibe and a bargain store price tag ($69.95); also in white with black trim, and colours; in Misses and Women's sizes.

Hope these ideas bring you ease and happiness.