Jewelry: Who looks?

Russell Smith, the Globe and Mail's style expert, was recently asked "Do men care about or even notice the jewelry a woman wears?" In short, he replied, no. Exceptions: Checking out if she is wearing a wedding ring, or noticing a necklace–his eyes are en route to her cleavage anyway. (Full article is here.)

Commenters displayed a range of (male) sensibilities, including a few who say they not only notice, but enjoy buying jewelry as gifts. Perhaps as men mature they gain an appreciation of art and design.

Many thought jewelry a status symbol worn by women to impress other women. Though there are women devoted to carat contests and logo-flashing, I suspect that these men project their own status-seeking behaviour onto women and are blind to a primary reason for jewelry: its aesthetic delight.

The majority don't get that a woman will wear a bracelet for her own pleasure, even though she might be alone in her house! 

I always notice other women's jewelry. Do you?

It's fun to look, and looking doesn't imply a covetous nature. Usually, I leave diamond engagement rings out of my gaze; they more or less look alike. Exception: an 8 ct. emerald cut on the hand of a six-foot, young French woman in a local boutique. We had a short chat abut her upcoming wedding.

Given Smith's depressing assessment, you might as well buy your own and please yourself, perhaps with one of these summery sweets: 
Pippa Small mixed-hue green tourmaline Sea Urchin earrings set in 18k gold; price, $2,075 at TwistOnline.

Cathy Waterman 22k gold juggler charm with four diamond accents, on an 18-inch chain; price, $4,160 at Barney's New York.

Six-strand pool-blue aquamarine bead necklace with 14k yellow gold clasp; price, $262.50 (18-inch length) at Ross-Simons.

Summery multi-colour agate and pearl drop earrings, set in 18k gold, 3 inches long. Price, $495 at Beladora.

Notice anything new, dear?


I've wanted to post on the experience of living, for almost exactly a year, in Montréal, and last week the "new life" became not only newer, but noisier.

The continuing student strike is a feature of daily life. Initially concerned with a graduated increase in tuition fees, the protests have now been joined by non-students and those who have other issues with the government.  

If interested in "What the hell is going on in Quebec?", Cory Doctorow's article published on BoingBoing gives a good snapshot.

On May 18, the government of Quebec passed an emergency law, Bill 78, that restricts organized public rallies, among several other aspects. The law, with its implications for civil liberties, upset many more people.

The protesters then borrowed a tactic used in Latin America since the '70s, cazerolazo, literally, "stew pot action". It is a form of protest initiated by women in Argentina against the military dictatorship of the 1970's and 1980's which murdered and "disappeared" numerous people, and in Chile to protest shortages, among other grievances.
Nightly street-filling marches of clanging cacophony, on the stroke of 8 pm. for every evening since the law's passage last week, in both downtown and neighbourhoods, signal disapproval through disobedience of the new law. (Legal challenges to the bill are underway as well.)

All ages march and at least where I live, the protests are peaceable. Below, son Etienne "casseroles" from our balcony. (He was a dinner guest.)

Listen a few moments; this video was shot nearby:

There's also a tradition in New Brunswick called le tintamarre, which dates back to the mid-'50s, when the Archbishop of Moncton encouraged Acadians to make noise for several minutes with whistles, bells, car horns, toys and pots at an event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Expulsion of the Acadians, to remind the authorities of their presence. The present-day tintamarre is usually practiced on August 15 on National Acadian Day in proud celebration of their heritage.

Another guest, our friend Alyson, recalled that the tactic was used by women even further back, in France, Italy and other European countries centuries ago, and known as a shivaree or charivari. They would stand outside the house of an abusive man and clang to protest his behaviour (among other acts that drew the community's disapproval). 

Remember the custom of tying tin cans to a newlywed's car? A variant of the shivaree.

That was also the name of the famous now-closed New York boutique (later in several locations). Charivari made its big noise by vacuuming my wallet regularly in the late '70s to early '80s. Then I had a family and would no longer mortgage myself for a jacket. (Photo from Jessica Gold's blog Truth Plus, which features a history of the Charivari boutiques.)

Yes, I've segued from the political to the superficial. I discuss the strike every day, sometimes for hours, and don't intend to debate the issues here, as well.  

The dissent will, I hope, enable more lasting change than that carried on the evening air. As Molly Ivins said, "The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."

Jewelry: A rose by any other name

In honor of their 175th anniversary, Tiffany have, with much fanfare, launched the Rubedo line, made from an "entirely new metal alloy" which they say glows like gold, is malleable like silver, and is lightweight.

Much as I salivate over the quality of their stones (and a few of the designs), I'm leery of this marketing monkey business.

An element analysis conducted by, a New York gold refinery, found that Rubedo was about 31 percent gold and nearly 55 percent copper, along with silver and a smidgen of zinc. In karats, that comes out to roughly a measly 7.5 percent.

The gold content is not specified nor offered by Tiffany. (For instance, a piece marked 14k is 58.5 percent pure gold; 18k is 75 percent.) Considering the material, you're paying a whopping premium to celebrate the brand's anniversary, which may be the reason why Tiffany have decided to clutter the pieces with hallmarks, creating a status billboard.

Rose gold is often combined with other golds or silver. Tiffany's entry is a 25-inch long interlocking circles necklace of rubedo and silver links. Undeniably a pretty, light piece, but worth $8 grand? 

Back to Beladora, where we find the eye-catching Italian chic of Pomellato    necklace with a jet charm. For twenty inches of 18k rose gold links, the price, $4,650, is better value than the Tiff trinket, and label girls can put Pomellato up against that T&Co any old time.

Rose gold has charmed for over a century, as shown by this Victorian Art Noveau rose gold locket with its ornate repoussé front and JR monogram. The price, $995 from Etsy seller aawsomblejewelry, is a smidge high but might be negotiable.

The richness of high-karat gold is indisputably beautiful, so I'd choose real rose gold, not plate. The Retro gold band below was probably once a wedding ring but could be worn as a handsome stacking piece today. Price, $395 from Beladora2; size 6 but easy to resize.

Before literally buying a brand's marketing campaign, head to a fine vintage jewelry shop or site like Beladora and do a little comparison. And if you fall in love with a unique piece there, so much the better.

(I receive no compensation or even kisses from any vendor featured here.)

Dressed for Friday

Now that I've retired, I've gradually lost the rhythm of the week: the reveille rat-tat of Monday, the downhill slope of Thursday, the melancholy late Friday afternoons when I wanted to leave, but an extra hour or two would leave the work in good shape for the inevitable... Monday.

I can feel the progression still, especially the fizz of Friday, when each rider on the bus seems eager, arms full of weekend treats, phones buzzing with plans. "Bon weekend", everyone says when I shop.

People dress a little more cheerfully then, perhaps going out after work, or just relieved to have mustered another week.

At twilight, restaurant terrasses beckon, houses warm with cooking, menorahs glow, two-fours clatter into the fridge, men hoist cuboid toddlers out of car seats. Passing me arm in arm, a seventy-something woman asks her friend, "Shall we eat before or after the play?"   

Whether you spend your day in an office or not, an easy dress signals   palpable relief and enjoyment, and skips out after a long week with singular grace.

Kate Spade "Chessa" knit shirtdress, $388 at Nordstrom. 

Oversize, dove-grey fine cashmere dress by Claudia Schiffer, $895:

 Shirred linen sheath in merlot, Land's End, $110 (in Petite and Plus, too).

 Blue and white print crepe shirt dress by Anna Scholz, £195:

Elie Tahari navy Tess Dress with trapunto-detail belt, $348.

One last dress. I'm entranced, and admit it implies an arty office from which to to exit, or perhaps one's Alfa. College printed georgette shirt dress by Duro Olowu, $1,580.

New jewelry: Update and explore!

Much as we hope for eternal wear when we drop big bucks, we can't cheat the current of innovation.

Just like a jacket, a piece of jewelry will flash its edge for a year or two, achieve acceptability for a good while longer, and then saunter out of style. When? Usually within ten to fifteen years for contemporary pieces, a decade or less for very fashiony items. A fine antique piece earns its keep into succeeding generations, but only if exemplary from the start.

Flat-link gold chains, doorknocker earrings, most diamond ERs older than 20 years, all that Tiffany gra-doo (hugs and kisses, Return to Tiffany, dogtags, beans) and pretty much anything with a logo you can read without a loupe have seen their best moments.
If interested in updating, research what's current, then save for one perfect piece.

Some choices I'd consider:

1. A bracelet of new and daring materials

Monique Péan makes starkly beautiful peices with unconventional materials. This bracelet is made from wooly mammoth beads, opalina, pearls and pietersite. See the tiny diamond set in the hook clasp? Price, $2,575. 

I'm reading your mind: perhaps something more affordable? Consider Jane Diaz' silver, copper and brass Tri-color metal loop bracelet, which could mix with your bangles or live on its own. 7-inch length, price, $102.

2. Striking beads

A strand of semiprecious beads is my #1 choice for longevity, but the material must be lively. Ideally, I'd like a rope of tumbled emerald beads, but I'd also be happy (okay, not as happy, but happy) with this F Frank sea glass bead necklace ($125.)

Modernity with pearl: Gabrille Sanchez' necklace of dégradé pink tourmaline  and sunstone beads with a big Tahitian pearl and 18k clasp. Makes you realize how dated 97% of the pearl pendants out there are. (And an idea not all that hard to adapt if you have one to reno.) Price, $1,155.

3. Modern hoops

Many women rely on tubular gold hoops, the Ry-Vita of the earring world, lovable but safe. Jane Diaz small (7/8 inch) hoops are gold vermeil; price, $77. Note the small gold balls on the bottom curve; that's the detail we want.

Annette Ferdinandsen coral stick hoops are a welcome change from stolid circles, organic and graceful in matte silver. Diameter, 1 1/2 inches; price, $275.

4. A big ring

I mean, sister, a ring that says you're livin' it up.

Even if you have short fingers, ditch the small stuff–bitsy rings won't lend length. Try on designs where the stone goes south, not just north toward the nail. You'll see this really makes a difference.
Deszo coral ring with polki (Indian-stye uncut) diamond on 18k rose gold band, $968.

The chalcedony ring by Jamie Joseph shows a luscious big (and semiprecious) stone with an inset small diamond. Price, $726. Shown as example; currently out of stock but may be reordered.

This is a brilliant way to use a small diamond that was lost on its own. If embarking on a reno project, note that the reno should look absolutely current; this does. (Some jewelers create a new piece with a passé look because their design skills got stuck some years ago.)

What to do with the dated stuff? 

For semi-precious pieces, how about donating or gifting? Spring's church bazaars or other good-cause sales are both sources for donation and good places to browse as long as you don't end up with someone else's out of date baubles.
Precious jewelry
You could hang on and wait for it to become stylish again, but I can guarantee that you'll no longer be charmed. You might eventually bequeath it to someone, and hope by then it will be a desirable antique, an iffy strategy unless someone has expressed interest.

Renos are my preferred route for serious but out-of-date pieces; a modest investment can result in something sublime. Make something that makes you swoon, like Ann Sportun's Diamond Verve cocktail ring! (Ann redesigned a piece for me; she's a wonderful jeweler.)

When the design is undesirable, dealers or auction houses are not interested, and private buyers, unless you find someone with specific (and stale) taste, won't want it either. You can sell it for scrap value, but shop around for the best price.

Meet Becky, who's wearing a white shirt and slim navy pants. She's also wearing this gold curb-link necklace with pavé diamond accent, bought in 1983 with a year-end bonus when she was a corporate lawyer wearing skirted suits. She loved it till sometime in the 1990s. Then inertia set in, so she wears it anyway.

Flash forward six months: Becky sold it after asking us what we thought. She's semi-retired, and doesn't want that "power look" anymore, either. She chose this Roseanne Pugliese 38-inch Modern Link necklace of silver and 22k gold, which she can wear long or doubled. (There are three gold link sections.) She did something noble with the leftover cash, don't press me.

See the difference?


Recommended: Bully

This is not "entertainment"; in fact, Le Duc and I both cried through the documentary "Bully" (director, Lee Hirsch). My first words as the lights came up were, "This is an important film"–an important film that will break your heart and galvanize you.

Everything I'd say has been stated eloquently in a review by Mike Lasalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here is his final paragraph:

"..."Bully" makes Oklahoma look like one of the most awful places to grow up in the United States, though I have to admit one person in this film shook my urban bias to the foundation.

I'm talking about Kirk Smalley, whose little boy shot himself because he was afraid to go to school.

"To my ignorant eyes, Smalley, tall and rail thin, looked like something out of the dustbowl, like someone about to be photographed by Dorothea Lange. And then this man started talking into the camera about his son–and later to a group of people on the subject of bullying–and every word out of his mouth was pure, true and unconsciously eloquent.

I could sit at this keyboard and write for a month, and I'll never be able to come up with words so full of feeling, and yet so dignified and so elevated by a concern for others. That's an extraordinary man, and this is an extraordinary picture."

There are few films that aim to save lives and change the world; "Bully" is one. Edited to finally earn a PG-13 rating, "Bully" will now be shown in schools. Every child, parent, teacher and community member should see it.

Even if you're out of the world of kids and schools, you will be served by the film, because bullies grow up to abuse outside the playground. Viewing the type of behaviour which contributed to the suicides of children as young as 11 will be difficult and intense, but you'll discover new resolve and heart for addressing a complex issue which affects every community.

Here's a start, the trailer:

We are amused: Diamond Jubilee scarf

First thing I've bought in a year–since the move–that I don't really need, but just waaaanted.

When I saw English Eccentrics Diamond Jubilee scarf–fuchsia and teal Union Jack, with the Queen's coat of arms framing her swan-necked coronation portrait–I fell hard. When I became a Canadian citizen, I took an oath of loyalty to her, not that she's taken me up on it. Could this be the moment?

The scarf is 24 inches square, good tucker size for spring. (Also available as a 35-inch square and in several other colourways.) Price, £85 plus extortionate shipping, but in this rare instance I was beyond caring.

Among contemporary images of the Queen, this is my favourite, by Canadian photographer Chris Levine.

Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl

 What acquisition has been irresistible for you?

Pick of pretty pearls on sale

Two pearl posts in a row, a record! That's because some stellar sales are on for a limited time.

"Inception": more than a movie

This "Inception" Chinese freshwater pearl (CFWP) necklace above was created by implanting a pearl as the nucleus for culturing, rather than a piece of tissue or a bead. But what's most significant is the range of natural colours with their rich metallic iridescent lustre.

A funkier pearl than you usually see from Pearl Paradise; price, $234 for the 16 or 18-inch necklace of lavish 12-15mm gems.

For a $30 supplement, you can choose a 20-inch strand. (I'ld contact them and ask for a strand with the most intense colour, or order two, one softer and the other more intense, and see which you prefer.)

Pearl Paradise have discounted the necklace 40%. I can't compare prices with my usual certainty, as this type of pearl is new to the market; however, given the generous size and the quality of the products I've seen from them, I'm calling it a terrific deal. (Also available as a triple-strand version.)

Elegant essence of classic pearl

For those who prefer a quiet glow and classic whites, the 7.5-8.0mm Freshadama pearl bracelet personifies grace. Freshadama is the best grade Pearl Paradise offer in freshwater pearls; they look like AA Akoyas (which cost five times as much.) Therefore, this 7.5-inch bracelet (price, $149.50; regularly $180) is a good buy!

An even better discount (35% off) is the present price for the 6.5-7mm version, $97.50, a terrific buy if you are petite or are giving it to someone under twenty-five or thirty. Otherwise, I'd spring for the larger size.

I don't love that clasp but it can be changed. A graceful gift for birthday (pearl is June's gemstone), graduation, or just to say "I love you, honeybunch". 

Tahitian temptation

Congratulate yourself for being a great mum, great aunt, friend or just fab all-around woman with Tahitian studs: besides the rockin' 9-10mm size, you get to chose the overtone (peacock, silver or green). Not such a remarkable reduction as the other pieces, but PP price was already excellent– and you'll like the heavy 14k posts and backs. Price, $316.20 (a 15% discount.)

The Pearl Paradise sale is on till May 14; use code PEARLS4MOM. (Note that some items might sell out before then.)

Luxe meets leather 

A casual, cool three-pearl leather choker of South Sea baroques delights women like my friend Suzanna who didn't think they were 'pearl types'. Price, $271 from PurePearls for the 18-inch length with three 10-11mm pearls; excellent value. The pearls are available in rose, silver or cream overtones. Oyster kiss to Pure Pearls owner Amanda Raab for offering this in lengths from 16 to 22 inches, to fit various necks.

It will look prettiest sitting just at the base of the the collarbone, a most alluring spot. Remember the dialog between Ralph Fiennes and Julian Wadham in "The English Patient"?

Count Laszlo de Almásy (Fiennes): This... this, the hollow at the base of a woman's throat, does it have an official name? 
Madox (Wadham): Good God, man, pull yourself together. 
Almásy: There is no God... but I hope someone looks after you. 
Madox: Just in case you're interested, it's called the suprasternal notch.

Cheap pearls don't turn out to be a bargain, but when you find quality pearls at an excellent price, life is sweet. These reputable sellers offer 30-day full refunds.

Pearl chocolates

Chocolate pearls are having a high-calorie moment. They've been on the radar for at least a decade, but I'm seeing more of them at all price points– and a lot of misinformation. So, time for another pearl tutorial, possums!

Chocolate Tahitians

Ninety-nine percent of Tahitian pearls are treated to get the 'chocolate' colour; the usual method is to chemically lighten a black pearl. (The treatment should always be disclosed by the vendor, who uses the term "treated" or "enhanced" or a phrase like "treated by a proprietary process".) Freshwater (FW) pearls are dyed in shades that range from deep brown to coppery-gold, and the term "dyed" should be disclosed.

But once in awhile there is a rare exception: natural coloured chocolates.

The Tahitian pearls shown above (now sold) from Kojima Company are those natural colours: the oysters made this sumptuous assortment. Besides the lush chocolate, I saw glints of pistachio, khaki and aubergine. Very different from treated or dyed pearls, full of organic life.

These banded (or ringed) off-round and semi-baroque shapes will read as less formal and 'lady' than perfect spheres.

The price was $720; if you contact Kojima Company, the most helpful Sarah Canizzaro might be able to find more, if you are patient.

Pearl Paradise have begun to carry chocolates; theirs are enhanced Tahitians, and tip of the oyster to Jeremy Shepherd for fully disclosing that. Here's an 18-inch, 9.4-10.5mm Tahitian chocolate necklace; notice the more consistent colour and round shape. Your choice of four gold clasps. Price, $2,995. Nice necklace for the woman who wants a big cocoa splash. (And a May Mother's Day special gives you 10% off regular-priced items till May 14.)

Freshwater chockys

Freshwaters will always be cheaper than Tahitians, and they can be fetching if the lustre is good and size generous. (I'd rather have glowing FWs than tired  Tahitians any day.)

Here's the detail on a 64-inch strand of 7mm dyed freshwater potato-shaped chocolate pearls on sale at Macy's for about $115 (and I wouldn't pay more). No worries about wearing on vacation–pearls like this, cheap and cheerful, are  still superior to fakes with their too-sharp, dead surface. 
HinsonGayle offer a strand of 10-12mm chocolate FW baroques complete with breathless copy that says "Beautifully-toned chocolate brown baroque pearls of this quality are extremely hard to come by." They do not say they are dyed, but they are. Clasp is silver, free shipping; price, $799.

There seems to be a chocolate premium here; compare against this strand of grey 12-13mm baroques from Ross-Simons for $175. You would want to see the necklaces; both provide full-refund 30-day return policies. 

A mixed box

I also like this 72-inch rope of mixed chocolate, peach, mocha and white freshwater pearls. Dyed, yes, but the mix is subtle and sprightly. Size of pearl not specified, but they will, I'm guessing, be smallish (3-6mm) and that's fine for this very long scatter-strung rope, which you can wear so many ways. From Blue Nile; price, $85.

Honora are usually not a vendor I feature because they sell average pearls, often dyed weird colours like turquoise and red. They do not use the d-word, though, "Honora has developed a process for infusing colors into pearls that have never been seen before." (Let's hope they infuse better than they write.)

I say, Don't choose a colour that doesn't exist in nature; like dyeing a poodle mint green, it's just wrong.

But this mixed 36-inch chocolate rope of ringed 9-10-mm FWs for $240 has a lively mix of tones. Lustre looks good, but again, with a 30-day limit on full refund (minus $8 handling fee), you can examine them without obligation.

No chocolate, please?

What if the mocha-to-malt palette doesn't suit you? This was supposed to be an all-chocolate post but I keep going back to gaze at these, thinking especially of certain readers. (Three letters, begins with L.) Seventeen-inch Silver Pearl Princess necklace of 9-10mm platinum, pistachio, blue and dove greys.

Oh baby, these are gorgeous. A little more classic, but very "Wait a minute, let me see your pearls."  Also from Kojima Company; price, $1,957.

Jewelry: Secrets

May Day! In this merry month, the Passage will offer an array of of jewelry posts, for reasons which may reveal themselves to me. 

Sometimes a statement can be subtle, sometimes a secret is the loudest song. I love jewelry with a secret message, charm or detail. They are nearly always handmade, idiosyncratic and personal.

This custom-made, hand-stamped aluminum bracelet can be created with any message, but I find the courtly formality of Mr. Darcy's declaration to Elizabeth in "Pride and Prejudice" especially touching: You Must Allow Me to Tell You How Ardently I Admire and Love You. Price, $20 from etsy sellers Kelly and
Stan Berkey.

A vintage 14k gold clasped-hand friendship ring is but one of Beladora II's treasures. Ca. 1965 but has a definite Victorian appeal. See how it opens to reveal a white gold heart? Price, $695 from Beladora.

A vintage silver "purse" pendant  (on an 18 1/2-inch chain) opens to reveal a small compartment. A mysterious little piece to mix with your pearls or beads. You might put a dab of fragrance on a bit of cotton to wear inside the bag. Price, $52 from etsy seller FourSailAccessories.

Gemma Redux make an envelope ring, with your choice of message for the customizable gunmetal plate insert. Shown, in rose gold plate over brass, and available in many colours and finishes. Price, $137.

"Regard" acrostic ring

The Victorians encoded messages by choice of gemstone; the acrostic ring or bracelet used the gem name to spell a message. This is a "Regard" ring (Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, Diamond) but they were also made to spell names or initials. This one, from The Three Graces,  is sold.

My friend Peg wears a three-stone ring made in pearl, emerald and garnet.

Brown rough diamond

Another kind of secret is in the use of the material, for example, a diamond that does not read as such. A Diamond in the Rough (TM) ring, features a brown natural rough diamond (certified conflict-free), a 1.89 carat secret. I love the setting. Price, $4,600; from Neiman Marcus.

Secret symbol

A last secret! Hidden Meaning Symbol jewelry is an ingenious cipher that allows any message (in all languages using the Roman alphabet) to be interpreted within the piece, which comprises all letters and numbers (from 0-9) within what the creator calls the Meridane Symbol. The design, which reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, is available in a variety of materials and pieces: charms, pendants, rings, bracelets. 

I like the 14k gold pendant ($525), though pewter, at $27, would be a pleasing gift, too.

Secrets are made to be kept, but I've had fun sharing these with you!