Buying jewelry: "Curieux, intrigant"

One of the reasons why I so enjoy living here: in early winter, this poster was taped to a phone pole just steps from my door.

It reads, "Tell me. Has something bizarre, curious, intriguing happened to you? Phone 514-819-0203 and leave your message anonymously."

Go ahead, call! Here's my story.

Several days before my W., my former husband, and I married, I gave him a small, 18k gold pin, a replica of Flash Gordon's rocket ship.

I'd found it in a boutique run by an exotic couple who wore wafty semi-robes and seemed to have but fourteen exquisite things for sale at any time: some jewelry, a few objets, silver, a painting. The place shuttered less than a year after opening, which wasn't surprising; with so little on offer, how could they survive? W. wore the pin on his jacket lapel; when we parted, he left the pin behind.

I threw the piece in a jewelry box, where it lay for a good 15 years. One day, browsing an outdoor art show, I noticed that one of the artisans, Mr. S., had an identical pin on his vest. "Oh", I said, "is that one of your designs? I bought one many years ago, but in gold."

Mr. S. looked at me closely and said, "I only ever made one in gold; it won a prize, but then was stolen from my studio. Could you describe the person you bought it from?" I had no trouble remembering the sloe-eyed man in robes. "I knew it was him!" the artist said, "but I could never prove it."

I phoned Le Duc and asked if he would retrieve the pin from my jewelry box and join me at the show; within the hour, the stunned artist held, once again, his prizewinning piece. I wouldn't accept payment, but he insisted I choose a pair of his earrings.

I almost wish that I still had the pin, but returning it felt right. If I were buying a bijou curieux today, I might choose one of those below. Every jewelry collection, from modest to major, needs at least one unusual piece. Nearly always, I find they are antique or at least vintage.

Vintage German Art Deco ring; $388 from Etsy seller TheLovelyJumble

Vintage silver cat and mouse pendant by Joanna Lesley Thomson; now sold; from Etsy seller BeautyandtheBeadsUK

Antique Victorian diamond and enamel snake ring; $1, 450 from Beladora

Mark Davis vintage Bakelite and pink sapphire bracelet; $2, 390 from Twist

You might also find an idiosyncratic and charming treasure for much less.

A few months ago, I found a curieux, intrigant necklace when I strolled past a small consignment store. The proprietor said it had been bought in Geneva by a traveler, but because of the hieroglyph carved on the blue wooden bead and the characteristic materials (copal, carnelian, agate), I am guessing it is Middle Eastern.

Then there are the jumble sale or thrift scores; readers and friends have found striking silver and amber, turquoise or art glass pieces for a few dollars. I haven't shared their luck yet, but it's always such fun to hunt!

Every now and them though, I see a serious jewel of such originality that I just bow down before its idiosyncrasy. And so it is with this ca. 1950s diamond compass ring. What is the story here? Who made it?  I'm swept into its spell. (Price, $25, 500 from Fourtuné, on First Dibs.)


CK said…
You most assuredly did the right thing by returning the pin. And you got a great story from it including the coincidence of stumbling on just that person! What are the chances?
fmcgmccllc said…
Love the story and of course returning the pin was the best thing. I was shocked you did not show us the earrings, I would love to see them.
What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing.
Susan B said…
What a lovely story! I'm so glad you were able to return that piece to the creator.
Madame Là-bas said…
C'est une histoire intrigante! Isn't the world a funny place! Last year, when I was in Shetland, one of my mother's cousins gave me a pocket watch that my grandfather had sent home to his mother 95 years ago. It had passed through three generations of safekeeping in Shetland and finally I brought my grandpa's watch home to my mother. My grandfather had been at sea before he married my grandmother in Vancouver. We know little about his voyages but the watch had been purchased in Philadelphia.
If those pieces of jewelry could speak! It was good of you to return the pin! Thank you for sharing your story.
rb said…
Jewelry from exes has cooties anyway. I thought I'd wear the vintage sapphire brooch my ex gave me but every time I start to, the cooties stop me. You did the right thing.
What a kind gesture of you to return it to the designer...such an amazing story!
Vintage treasures are the best...please go peek at my daughters wee etsy shop thethingfinders she has a keen eye for jewels and is also on Instagram as two have gems in common!
Duchesse said…
fmcg: The earrings were very tiny 18k hearts, which I later melted down because they were not the right scale for me.

Mme: Almost a century, what loving caretaking. Wonderful story, thank you.

rb: I was not given this piece, it was the opposite: I gave it to •my ex•.

hostess: Thanks for the link.
SewingLibrarian said…
What a great story! I wonder if all the pieces in the wafty semi-robed couple's boutique were (ahem) acquired in the same way? I've never bought anything as intriguing as the pieces you show, so the most unusual piece I own is a silver medal my grandfather won at school that I wear as a pendant. It's quite large and detailed - school prizes were quite beautiful back in 1890's Scotland!
Susan said…
What a bizarre story! And yes, I think the ever changing 14 pieces were probably all stolen merchandise!
Duchesse said…
Sewing: You wonder! But you kind of wonder about the risk of so openly selling stolen goods. I'll never know. Your medal is exactl ythe kind of unusual object of which I write. If there is one thing I would like to nudge women to do (besides of course the pearl thing), it is to wear such objects, whether family or not. Top girl!

Susan: When I think of the odds of that happening, it's remarkable. Now if only my mother's portrait, which vanished during a move 29 yrs ago (think I put a box in the trash by mistake) would turn up.
Bunny said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bunny said…
Great post! I wish we could have similar luck. My MIL had an incredible scrimshaw charm bracelet, real whale teeth from when it was legal. Each charm was a head silhouette. a male or female child, specifically engraved with the name and birth date of each grandchild and child. It was beautifully executed. It was very expensive and we had it custom made obviously. While on a vacation, her home was broken into and all her jewelry was stolen. We never saw the bracelet again and it truly troubled her. Who would want something so distinctively not theirs? I have dreams that one day it will pop up at a sale of estate jewelry. Or, perhaps it will be a story like your wonderful rocket ship pin. Fingers crossed.
Duchesse said…
Bunny: A police officer once told me, "They just scoop it all up and get out of there". Many readers have had burglaries, and lost jewelry, and say it's the sentimental pieces that hurt most.

Another remarkable story is my brother's college class ring, stolen out of his locker in a hospital, when he was a surgical resident. Some years later, a fisherman found it on a riverbank in another state, took it home and kept it in a box for about 30 years.

A year ago, the man had a health scare and decided to put his affairs in order. He thought about that ring, as he went through the box. He contacted my brother's university. Since bro had his initials in it, and it was an unusual stone, when he read in an alumni bulletin that a ring from his year had been found, he could claim it, 51 years later.

That ring had a great deal of meaning to him; he is one of those avid alums. (Go, Irish!)
Mardel said…
That is a wonderful story. I have a pendant made from a brooch that my husband found in a button box at an estate sale somewhere. It is a silver oval showing a lion in the woods. He knew I would never wear the brooch so he had it made into a necklace. Unfortunately the necklace was made in a way that was both interesting, but difficult to wear, as it often comes unclasped and falls off. I was just thinking that I needed to have something done so that I could wear it more reliably.
Duchesse said…
Mardel: If the necklace sits well, securing the clasp should be a minor repair. Definitely worth doing and, ooooh I would •love• to see it.

The posts with the most