Jewellery: Helping someone delight, not just get 'er done

Tell it, Nicole Cliffe, who eviscerates the December issue of Town & Country on Twitter with the brutal honesty of A. A. Gill when he dined at L'Ami Louis.

She reserves 100-proof vitriol for this Oscar Heyman brooch:




That Heyman honker is an easy target, but I have seen more jewellery-purchase mistakes made in December than any other month, snowmen or not. Panic is the driver. I've made some desperate December 24 lunchtime shopping trips with men. It's always a certain kind of man, well-intentioned but lost; women shopping for women are both more knowledgeable and less prone to 'just throw money at it'.

The jewellery counter salesperson lives for such moments, a bewildered buyer who seeks only assurance that "she will love it" before flopping down the plastic. That assurance comes from selling the 600th identical piece, so the loved one ends up with a generic item. I'd rather get a good chef's knife.

So I stand at his elbow, and I channel her. I see her clothes, other jewellery, lifestyle; her colouring and build. I think about what I've heard her admire. (One man had no idea whether his wife of twenty years had pierced ears. Sheesh, Mike!) I park my own taste.

In the interest of rescuing anyone from hearing the double-edged "You shouldn't have", some pointers presented as a quiz: Why warn someone off these pieces? (All prices in $CDN and do not include shipping.)

Left to right:
1. Pandora 'starter' bracelet, sterling silver and three charms; price, $145.
2. Roberto Coin 18k white gold and diamond pavé paw pendant; price, $2, 230.
3. Pendant of moldavite, Mexican fire opal, tourmaline, watermelon tourmaline, moonstone, copper by Etsy seller who shall remain anonymous; price, $390. 

Reasons:
1. Pandora: Manufactured, soulless and ubiquitous. Maybe OK if given by someone under twelve. If given by an adult who plans to absolve himself from thought for the next twenty years by buying more charms: not so good.
2. Overpriced, manufactured and juvenile even for a dog lover. Just because something has diamonds on it does not make it worthwhile.
3. A hot mess of bad design for almost $400. Handmade does not equal well-made.

Now let's take the same budget and try this again.
Question: Why buy these pieces instead?




1. Modernist silver bracelet, from Etsy seller VintagegoldandsilvCA; price, $108.
2. Scottish silver citrine greyhound brooch, ca. 1960s, from Etsy seller soulfulmoon; price, $238. (She's getting a brooch instead of a pendant, because I really like brooches.)
3. Multistone pendant of Swiss blue topaz, pearl, moonstone, druzy, peridot, Mexican opal, iolite, amethyst, sterling silver, from Etsy seller SusansEstatejewelry; price, $212.

Reasons:
1. Charm bracelets are... well, charming, but unless you know that would produce a squeal of delight, I'd go with a modernist design that is unusual, but not demanding to wear. (If collecting charms, those from the 1920s-1960s are the sweet spot for craftsmanship.)
2. The Scottish piece delivers nostalgic, country-manor charm; imagine it on a tweed jacket or the shoulder of a sweater. Even the box is magical.
3. A multistone pendant in a more coherent design, without lumpy wirework. Price nearly half of the fugly one.  

I went to the secondary market, looking at vintage and antique pieces. You won't find these in department stores or at branded jewellers' shops; however, order in time to examine a piece. Ask questions about condition, size, etc. before ordering. For big purchases, check the return policy to make sure you have enough time to get an appraisal from a qualified appraiser. 

If you're helping someone, head first to a fine jeweller who handles vintage pieces, or look at the sites of these sellers or similar ones. A treasure is within reach of every budget, for just a bit more effort than going to the mall. Chose it for someone special, or for yourself, like reader Maureen, who recently bought an enchanting diamond, sapphire and platinum Art Deco pendant in memory of her mother.  

Your anxious friend might say, "But what if she doesn't like it?" When you order, ask the vendor if she will allow exchanges; most will do so.

Has Le Duc ever gotten it wrong? Only once, over twenty years ago, when his love of antiquity drove him to purchase a pair of very large petrified-wood earrings, set in gold. They looked like I was wearing wood chips from a walkway. Fortunately, they were from one of my dream jewellers and I had a wonderful time choosing the exchange, a pair of 22k drops I wear to this day.





Comments

Laura Jantek said…
A useful post—especially the explanations why. Would enjoy seeing more of same. That snowman reminds me of items I saw being auctioned off a few years ago— mainly 1940s pieces which were huge and slightly ugly but good sources of stones for a makeover!
The jewelry most praised that I own are all gifts from my husband!
sandra said…
The wire wrapped pendant shown here isn't elegant, but there are many wire wrapped pieces that are amazingly beautiful so don't write off the style because of this example.
Duchesse said…
sandra: I have in the past featured many wire pieces, most recently Alice and Leslie's pearl renos. Like any jewellery design, it takes a good eye. If you are thinking of specific pieces you like, perhaps you could link to them.
Duchesse said…
Laura Jantek: A number of men can make terrific choices so I have tried not to stereotype. But when I have seen mistakes, or heard from a recipient that it really is not something she likes, it has nearly always been a man, except for one woman whose mother-in-law was the giver of a truly astonishing cavalcade of large, animal-themed earrings, brooches and rings.

Tearing down jewellery for materials is what happens to most vintage fine jewellery and what jewellers look for at auctions. Not that many are planning to resell an intact piece unless it is exceptional. That is why so many persons trying to resell old jewellery are shocked at the offer a jeweller makes for it.
sandra said…
Good idea Duchesse... one of my favorites is Jakob Salix you can find his work on instagram @jakob.salix
LauraH said…
As always, I learn from your jewellery posts...as well as having a few chuckles. Anytime I've looked at pieces in a 'regular' store, they all look the same to me, lots of flash but nothing that stands out. There are plenty of places to look for a less mass approach - a studio, on Etsy, at a museum or art gallery shop, a craft show. And so much more fun to know it hasn't been cranked out by the hundreds...or thousands.

You are a good friend to make the time to guide the bewildered in the right direction. Would love to be a fly on the wall at some of those shopping sessions:-)
Leslie Milligan said…
Ditto what Laura H said. 😊
Jane in London said…
You are so right about some department store jewellery sales staff. And it can take a very brave woman to risk ruining domestic harmony by admitting that they are less than thrilled with an item and would prefer to leave it in the box and exchange it when the shops open again...

Also, thank you for reminding me of the brilliance of A A Gill - I used to look forward every week to reading his Sunday Times column. I remember reading a piece by him (many years ago now) describing his visit to a beach in Mykanos, and quite literally crying with laughter at his clever and rather naughty use of language. He is missed!

Jane
Duchesse said…
LauraH: I can't remember when I bought jewellery in a dept. store but I will look!

Jane: Now and then I say something acerbic here; in one case, that a woman's earrings looked like rabbit droppings. Oh, someone found that mean. It is then I think of A.A. Gill, who would have gone so much farther— the reader would have had the vapours. He used to have me in tears of laughter.
That thing that cost as much as a more than decent annual income looks like some "seasonal" crap from Dollarama.

I loved your alternative and much classier - and cheaper - solution for a doggie lady. It is always problematic if we have such loves (black cats, in my case) but don't want to look dotty or pathetic. I scrupulously avoid feline prints etc., though they wouldn't have the same mad catlady connotation for some other people.

I love reading elegant snark.
That thing that cost as much as a more than decent annual income looks like some "seasonal" crap from Dollarama.

I loved your alternative and much classier - and cheaper - solution for a doggie lady. It is always problematic if we have such loves (black cats, in my case) but don't want to look dotty or pathetic. I scrupulously avoid feline prints etc., though they wouldn't have the same mad catlady connotation for some other people.

I love reading elegant snark.
Unknown said…
Ha, ha Dollarama! I vote for the $20 snowman pin from Macys and giving the $42,000 to charity. The true spirit of Christmas. -Lily

The posts with the most