Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tales From the Jewelry Box

One of my ex-boyfriends pointed out that Sunday always seems the same; it never lets you down. I agree, because more often than not Sundays are peaceful, relaxing, sunny, and spent at home. They are a day to count your blessings.

This past Sunday I found myself truly blessed as I visited my family. My dad had done some re-workings around the house, so as he was showing me around we came across my old room. It is currently being used for storage. To my amazement, my grandmother's jewelry was everywhere. Pinned on corkboards were her long necklaces. Jewelry boxes overflowed with rings. She had so much jewelry, it took me a good hour or more to begin digging through the room.

Pictured above are the finds I treasured and took home. I learned so much about this woman, my grandmother, whom I thought I knew, just by looking through her pieces. She preferred costume jewelry over the real thing (though, I did find lots of real gold rings and chain necklaces). My grandmother volunteered at a thrift store for many years, so I am not sure how many of these pieces were originally hers, but I liked learning that my grandmother was a jewelry collector; a collector of other people's stories, tastes, and travels. My grandmother rarely threw anything away, and in most instances she kept the old jewelry boxes that accompanied the pieces they held. Among them: a white box holding a real pearl ring, the box reads: "O.M. Nelson & Son Inc. Jewelers, Established 1882, Madison Wisconsin." My grandmother was from Madison, so I am thinking this ring and box were both hers. Another jewelry box is from Fishers Jewelry in Pueblo, Colorado, another from a hotel in Tokyo, and then there's this key "Fashioned by Farrington" in Boston, Mass. I have no idea what the key is for or to, but I found a gold chain that it will look perfect on.
In this pink jewelry box (which is pretty cool in it of itself) I found a bag of pieces labeled "75
years or older." These pins intrigued me the most, because I dont know from when the 75 years is beginning, so they are probably even older than that. I also love that my grandma had pieces from around the world. My grandfather was in the Air Force and fought in WWII so I know he did extensive traveling and often brought back things for her. One of these sterling silver bracelets is from Siam, another from Morocco, another from Mexico, a pendant from England, a pin from Bethlehem, and a ring made from a Chinese coin. My grandma never left the country, but perhaps this jewelry made her feel as if she had traveled the world.
I took the pieces to my other grandparents who began examining them and pointing out what was real jade, real gold, ivory, and what was machine-made. I love how they know so much about jewelry; how they can look at a color, a weight, and guess its age and karat. It was then that I felt so lucky to have taken these pieces out, and bring them to life and light after so many years of being buried beneath dust, unworn and unknown.
And then the sadness truly hit me: I had lost my chance to ask my grandmother about the story behind all of these pieces. All I can do is guess, but I will never really know for sure; I can merely pick up items and imagine a story, a common thread, running through her years from living in Madison to marrying an Air Force cadet right before wartime, to ending up in my old room. My grandmother doesn't wear any jewelry anymore, she doesn't even remember me, or most people. She suffers from dimentia, and while she can recall the words to a classic song on a black and white movie, she would probably never be able to recall what rings were hers, where they came from, and how she wore them. I should have asked her years ago, but of course at the time I didn't have an appreciation for old things, or for jewelry. Likewise, she never told me. Our lives have eclipsed each other, and now that opportunity is gone.
But at least now I can carry her with me. I remember so much of what she has told me that I can envision her in these long pendant necklaces, always worn with clip-on earrings and brooches on her lapel. I will take care of her things, preserve them for her, so that I will never forget who she was, because like her, I am a collector of jewelry. And luckily, I am a teller of stories.
A great storyteller whose life was lived during my grandmother's time, John Steinbeck, once said "How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?" And today I have the answer. We live through others; through the people we entrust our stories to, the people we let in, the things we give away. And in many years we may not remember who we are or were, but as long as someone else knows, our story can go on.
This post is very important to me. I wanted to write it out on Sunday, but I was enjoying time with my family, as it became very clear to me that that is what's most important. And even though I am writing this a few days removed, I wish every day were a Sunday; I remember my grandmother telling me how fast time goes by; how every Sunday we would eat lunch with her; and how this woman I thought I knew has surprised me and inspired me so much, just by the things she wore. And when I pass her things on, mixed in with my own collection, I will be very careful to proudly point out which pieces belonged to my grandmother.
*A special thank you to my dad for allowing me to take so much away from his mother; to my other Grandparents who encouraged me to keep these pieces, and for teaching me about cleaning and sizing etc. And to this girl, http://www.seaofshoes.typepad.com/ for inspiring young women to love and embrace vintage.
** If you have any good tips for cleaning jewelry (real and costume) please send to me, as I embark on the tedious process of caring for and organizing all of these treasures. Thank you : )


  1. Such treasures !
    Thank you for sharing the sweet and sentimental story.

    Cleaning tip,
    soak the gold in windex,
    and use a soft brush and toothpaste on the costume jewelry.
    Dry thoroughly after cleaning with a soft fabric

  2. Thanks Paulette! I knew you would know a cool trick.

  3. Beth, this post really struck a chord with me as I could really relate the treasure of owning your Grandmother's jewelry, but also the sadness with the mystery and not knowing the story behind each special piece. I have my Grandmother's jewelry box as well and often wonder about the pieces inside...oh how I wish I could ask her about them!
    I picked up Jewelry Affaire yesterday and have enjoyed reading it cover to cover. It is full of exceptional jewelry. And your is fantastic! :-)

  4. Beth- your post touched my heart strings - I have some incredible pieces from my mom and recently had questions about a pin she gave me...alas she is in her eighties and doesn't remember. The pics of jewelry are awesome. The black cat pin looks incredible!

  5. Super sweet Post Beth. My Nana is a jewelry collector too. She recently gave me the coolest cuff. Solid silver, Aztec...belonged to my Great-Grandmother and is from the 20's. Super cool!

  6. Beth,
    What a treasured experience, and such a trove you stumbled upon. You just reminded me of a couple of pieces that belonged to my grandmother, and mother I've been saving to re-make into a special piece or two :) for myself.
    If you ever decide you want a "special" piece designed, I'd be honored and happy to. Something to think about--no pressure of course :)

  7. Your jewelry box looks like a dream :)