Hope Springs Eternal

About 6 hours before sitting down to write this post, I was extremely fortunate to receive my first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. My husband, Andy, and I both became eligible on the same day and were lucky enough to find two open appointments at the same time at the United Center arena.

The site, where thousands of Chicagoans are vaccinated each day, is run by FEMA and the National Guard. Walking up to the expansive array of white military tents, it felt very much like we were going to a concert or a basketball game—which we’ve done countless times there in the past—but the anticipation and excitement was even greater. Funny how going to get our shots together felt like our first real “romantic” date in a year.

The uniformed soldiers who registered us and administered our shots had a calm air of jadedness, undoubtedly because the novelty of the experience wore off for them long ago. But for us, it was thrilling. Deeply moving even. We subtly fist bumped after the deed was done, then took a selfie outside because we know this is an occasion we will not soon forget. As we left the scene, feeling so empowered and relieved, masked ushers shouted, “Thanks for coming out today!” as if we hadn’t been counting the minutes until this momentous day for months.

The day we landed our appointments was one of my happiest in recent memory. Happy in a giddy, uncontrollable laughter and dancing kind of way. Relief mixed with excitement and anxiety and adrenaline and joy and thinking about the future and also sorrow for the people who never got to see this day. The feeling I settled into after the initial ecstasy passed reminded me of the way I felt when each of my kids slept through the night for the very first time: suddenly, the clouds part and you feel optimistic for the first time in months that the future is going to look a whole lot brighter. In a word, it is hope.


Spring has always been my favorite season because of the hope and potential it embodies. Early spring flowers break through the ground when the air is still chilly because they are certain warmer days are coming, and they always do come. Summer is fully realized bounty, but spring is the promise. And this spring, as the vaccine rollout expands, that hope is even more palpable and urgent.


To commemorate the arrival of spring, I’ve gathered my favorite spring jewelry that sings with bright colors and floral motifs. I can’t believe that in just a few short weeks, I may be able to wear this jewelry out to dinner with friends, something I’ve longed for and fantasized about so much during the past year at home:

Red BonBon Earrings, available on Etsy here ($31).

Lele Sadoughi Tarte Buttercup Button Earrings, available here ($95).

Gorjana Sylvie Earrings, sold out at Nordstrom, available secondhand here ($55).

Kendra Scott Ophelia Earrings, available secondhand here and here.

Colorful “vintage” necklaces from the early 2000s. Similar here and here.

J. Crew Floral Hoop Earrings, available here (colorful version available too) ($65).

Rainbow resin drop earrings. Similar here and here.

J. Crew Crystal Earrings, similar available secondhand here.

Hope you all get to enjoy these early spring days while they last! Soon enough we’ll be lamenting the summer heat…

Chapter 7*

*This is a fictional excerpt from an imagined autobiography of a well-known fashion journalist.

On an unseasonably balmy fall day in October, I returned to New York from Paris Fashion Week, ten pounds heavier (thanks to my insatiable daily cravings for Nutella crepes and fresh butter croissants) and one Matthew lighter. I didn’t expect to leave him behind in Paris, but I had absolutely no choice after the way our final days together unfolded. I couldn’t ever be seen with him again.


Not seventy two hours earlier, Matthew and I were seated next to each other in the front row of the Lucien Boulle show, flanked by Marguerite Frost on one side, with her signature red talons and head-to-toe black ensemble, and Tarragon Haas on the other, decked out in his oversized sunglasses, hair spiked to the heavens, and obnoxiously loud neon green track suit.

I was avoiding Tarragon because he had slighted me after the François Portier show the day prior, breezing past me without even so much as a “bonjour,” so that he could be first in line to kiss the ring of Sabine, Portier’s latest muse and the keeper of the realm. Haas knew better than to play like we hadn’t grown close after years together on the fashion circuit. One time, I had even given him my last emergency Xanax backstage at the Du Toit show when he spiraled into a panic attack after calling Gloriana Fabrizio, the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, by the name of her disgraced predecessor. How quickly he forgot his once dear ally—moi—when the opportunity arose to ingratiate himself to Sabine.

“Ugh, Matthew, this seat next to me is reserved for Tarragon. Switch with me so I don’t have to talk to him. He’s such an obsequious little twit,” I whined. Matthew obliged, swapping chairs and allowing me to cozy up to Her Royal Frostiness instead.

“Hello, darling,” Marguerite said breathily from between clenched teeth as I scooted closer to her. “You’re looking . . . robust,” which I rightly took as a thinly veiled dig at my weight.

“And you’re looking like a frigid old bitch,” I retorted, not batting an eye.

After but a momentary pause, she erupted with laughter, I followed suit, and we did not exchange another word for the duration of the show.

Fashion: it’s a nasty business.

Tarragon took his seat next to Matthew thirty seconds before the lights went black over the runway, marking the start of the show. Haas’s tracksuit glowed in the dark. His mere presence two seats away from me was irritating.

The music started with a boom that made me jump out of my seat. It was a militaristic drum beat with an overlaid Gregorian chant. Suddenly the lights flashed on, revealing the first resplendent look. Lucien Boulle was known for his unique, controversial, post-modern, ultra-meta feminist perspective on fashion. He made beautiful, yet completely unwearable, clothes for women that rendered the wearer utterly helpless. His work was intended to drive home the idea that, without women, society would crumble.

This particular show was titled “Damsels in Distress.” The looks had a distinct Scarlett-O’Hara-just-survived-a-car-crash aesthetic.  The models didn’t walk down the runway, because they couldn’t. Their hoops skirts were insanely wide at the hip and uncomfortably tight at the ankle, preventing them from being able to take even a single step without falling. Instead, they were carried by strapping, shirtless male models smeared with soot and pig’s blood. It was a breathtaking statement.

After the final model had been carried off the runway, Lucien Boulle appeared onstage in the arms of one of the handsome porters. He waved with a smile as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. To this day, I still consider this show to be one of Lucien’s finest.

Matthew and I made our exit without having to acknowledge Tarragon’s neon track-suited presence. Thank God. We scurried backstage in the hopes of catching Lucien before he departed the show. I saw him standing in the corner, surrounded by a flock of his adoring fans, and made my way over.

“Darling, I can’t talk now. You must come to my atelier tomorrow morning to tell me how much you loved my show,” Lucien shouted to me, in a heavy French accent. I agreed, then blew some air kisses in his general direction before grabbing Matthew by the arm and dragging him out of the backstage circus into the fresh Parisian air.


The next morning, Matthew and I enjoyed a delightful continental breakfast at L’Hôtel Lutetia. Matthew, who was lactose intolerant, received sniveling looks from le garçon when he politely ordered an oat milk café au lait because, apparently, in France, dairy alternatives are viewed as extremely American and thus extremely uncouth. Following breakfast, we made our way to the black car waiting out front to transport us to Lucien’s atelier in the Eighth Arrondissement.

Once inside the atelier, we found Lucien perched on a Baroque brocade chaise in his studio, still in his nightgown. Though he had invited us the day before, he seemed less than thrilled that we were disturbing his morning respite. He begrudgingly stood and kissed me and Matthew on both cheeks, a heavy sigh with each movement of his head. I could tell right away: he was in one of his infamous foul moods. We must not do anything to upset him.

I knew how to flatter Lucien by showering him with the type of praise about his collection that made his ego swell. “Oh Lucien, I’ve never seen models look more pathetic! They were completely immobile! Such a spectacular display of helplessness! If you dropped those women off in the desert, they wouldn’t even be able to crawl to find help!” He was glowing.

I realized that I hadn’t seen Matthew in a few minutes. I spun around nervously to find him pacing in the opposite corner of Lucien’s studio, a look of consternation on his face. Before I could ask what was wrong, I saw a look of terror wash over him. In about 10 seconds, I understood what had happened.

I can’t bear to write it out.

He had, as the French might say, passé le gassé—right there in Lucien’s studio. RIGHT NEXT TO LUCIEN’S MAGNIFICENT CREATIONS.

If there is one thing everyone knows about Lucien, apart from his unique fashion philosophy, it’s that his biggest anxiety trigger is the thought of his beautiful textiles absorbing bad odors. It’s why he insisted that hospital-grade ventilation systems be installed at every venue before his shows, and instructed his ushers to turn away any audience members with overtly obnoxious perfumes or B.O.

I knew that the dark cloud of Matthew’s making was mere feet away from descending upon Lucien. There was nothing I could do by way of damage control. It was too late.

Lucien, who was mid-sentence explaining that his next collection would feature shoes that were fused together to prevent the models from being able to take steps, stopped dead in his tracks.

Quelle est cette odeur horrible???” He asked, with a look of terror and disgust overtaking his face.

“I’m so sorry, Lucien. I think my oat milk café au lait must have had cow’s milk in it.” Matthew admitted, sheepishly. “My stomach is in knots.”

“YOU DARED TO ORDER AN OAT MILK LATTE IN FRANCE? AND THEN UNLEASH IT IN MY ATELIER?!?” Lucien screamed. “GET OUT….NOW!!!!!” He boomed.

Matthew and I fumbled to collect our handbags and coats and raced out the front door, nearly tripping over ourselves to exit before Lucien slammed the door in our faces.

Never before and never again in my life, have I been so mortified.

That is, until I looked up and saw none other than Tarragon Haas standing before me on the sidewalk. He was about to enter Lucien’s atelier and find out what fresh hell my associate had unleashed in Lucien’s sacred space.

I knew then and there that the only way I would ever salvage my relationship with Lucien, and thus preserve my standing in the fashion world, was to completely turn my back on Matthew and publicly disown him in Tarragon’s presence.

I turned to Matthew, shook my head slowly with a look that conveyed both disappointment and pity, levied some cruel and biting words at him (loud enough for Tarragon to hear, of course), then left Matthew standing there on the sidewalk in front of the atelier, never to be seen by me or anyone else in the fashion world again.


Looking back, I am not proud that I contributed to that young man’s career demise over an unfortunate bodily mistake. But as I’ve said before, fashion is a fickle business. One must learn to suppress all bodily and emotional outbursts to preserve one’s dignity. Matthew just didn’t have what it takes. He made his choices and had to live with them. Call me cutthroat, but Matthew learned an important lesson that day: there is no room for unbridled lactose intolerance in fashion.

Love It, Couldn’t Wear It

I recently joined TikTok to see what all the fuss is about (as if I needed one more social-media platform to consume whatever little remaining appetite I have for more screen time). I was pleasantly surprised to find not a mere time waster, but an all-you-can-eat buffet of funny, thought-provoking, heart-warming, and even, at times, rather educational content (shout-out to @ohheyitskelseyrae for the stellar parenting tips!). I haven’t created any videos yet. For now, I’m happy to remain a connoisseur of the Tiks (Toks?), and to share the best of them at an annoying frequency with friends and family.

One of my favorite viral trends in recent weeks involves people showing off cute outfits they couldn’t wear because of the pandemic, while an audio track of a high-pitched voice with a Spanish accent (originally spoken by a creepy cat with superimposed human lips and eyes) repeats “I love it, couldn’t wear it,” with each changing outfit. If you’re not familiar, the way TikTok works is that you can re-purpose other people’s audio for use with your own videos. People have incorporated this crazy cat audio into videos of themselves, their children, and even their pets rocking over-the-top outfits.

Here’s the original:

@lorenapages

I ❤️ what everyone did with my previous AUDIO so I made another one 🤗 can’t wait to see 👏 #catmom #funnyaudio #funnypets #fyp #loveitcouldntwearit

♬ original sound – Lorena Pages

…And here’s a cute kid getting in on the fun:

…And here’s a wiener dog named Wilson serving lots of looks:


The sentiment of the #loveitcouldntwearit trend hits close to home for me. It’s frustrating that I have nowhere to wear all the fantastic jewelry I’ve purchased over the past year because, frankly, I never change out of sweatpants, nor do I ever leave my house for anything other than mundane errands. Sure, I can wear the stuff at home, but what fun is that? As many women will likely agree, we really dress for other women, and besides my mom, I’m not seeing many of those these days.

So, I’ve decided to use this forum to share some of the things I love that I couldn’t wear [out of the house] this year. This includes new jewelry and the fancy clothes I keep buying for unknown reasons (especially considering that, even when I do return to the office, we have a casual dress code…).


First up, we’ve got chunky gold hoops and a lovely faux emerald choker, both from Etsy. The choker is now sold out, but here’s a similar option. (I was inspired to get this necklace by my fave Italian fashion influencer, Chiara Ferragni, who has a similar one shown here.) The bright animal print sweater helps me channel my caged-lion-at-the-zoo energy.

Love it, couldn’t wear it.


Next, we have vintage faux pearl studs from Etsy (similar here and here), sparkly glasses from Zenni, and a purple and pink tweed headband from J. Crew (now available on Poshmark here). So preppy, so chic, so wasted on the hermit life.

Love it, couldn’t wear it.


For my punk-glam look, I’m showcasing beautiful mini chandelier earrings from Nadri and a rhinestone-studded sweatshirt that is basically jewelry in and of itself.

Love it, couldn’t wear it.


Moving along, for the lady-who-lunches-somewhere-other-than-her-kitchen-island look, we have a John Hardy yellow gold dome cocktail ring from Poshmark (similar here and here), Georgian hoop charms from designer Shan Adams, and simple yellow gold huggie hoops from Zoe Lev.

Love it, couldn’t wear it.


Next up is an edgy Kalessi necklace from Vanessa Mooney and sparkly swirl earrings of indeterminate brand that I bought from a local boutique during one of my rare in-person shopping stops this summer (similar styles here and here).

Love it, couldn’t wear it.


And in closing, this “Goldie” ring with mystic quartz from Joy Dravecky, juxtaposed with a sterling silver druzy statement ring from Etsy, and three yellow gold stacking bracelets that I actually do wear out of the house because they tuck nicely under a sweatshirt sleeve (see paperclip chain, bead, herringbone).

Love it, couldn’t wear it (all together).


If my pandemic buying habits stick, I’m destined to come out of quarantine looking fancier than I ever was before. Sure, sweatsuits have their charm, but nothing makes you feel more “together” than slapping on some lipstick and sparkly jewelry. Until that glorious day when this nightmare is truly over, I’ll just be over here, at home, makeup-less and disheveled, but so so comfortable.

Aunt Sew

My mom’s family is full of collectors. Collectors of art. Collectors of natural objects. Collectors of impossibly specific categories of memorabilia (e.g., 1933 World’s Fair commemorative merchandise; pre-Colombian pottery from the banks of the Mississippi River; antique miniature canoes). I once saw a sign at an antique store that read: “We Pay Top Dollar for Old Things,” and that resonated as a potential credo for my family.

No one’s collections speak to me more than those of my dear Aunt Sue, who is my mom’s middle sister:

Image may contain: Sue Ayres Roberts, smiling

Aunt Sue is one of the most creative and crafty people I know. Her passion for sewing earned her the nickname “Aunt Sew” when I was a kid. Her house holds many wonderful treasures, not the least of which is an actual English pub in the basement where my Uncle Tom watches football games and helps himself to PBR from the built-in tap. She also has a small powder room covered in drawings of pin-up girls from the 1950s, and a giant vintage Double-Mint gum box in her kitchen. But her best treasures of all are her hundreds of pairs of earrings. And that’s no exaggeration. Here’s but a small sampling of her inimitable collection:


I interviewed Aunt Sue about her incredible collection. Here’s what I learned:

  • Her jewelry is all costume jewelry, and 90% vintage. She’s not interested in the fancy vintage brands, like Miriam Haskell or Weiss. Instead she prefers earrings of the kitschy variety. (Note: she has a ton of vintage brooches, too.)
  • In my observation, she has never worn the same pair of earrings twice around me, and her earrings always match her outfit impeccably.
  • She had never previously counted her earrings until I asked her to estimate how many pairs she owns. She counted 370 in her personal jewelry chest, but she also has a separate stash of jewelry she purchased specifically to re-sell (she frequents estate sales in the Quad Cities, where she lives, and often scores unbelievable deals on vintage items that she then sells through her Etsy shop–check it out).
  • In terms of storage, she organizes her earrings in the plastic trays that come in boxes of chocolates. Before returning to graduate school later in life to become a special-education teacher, Aunt Sue worked at a popular candy store in Rock Island, Illinois called Lagomarcino’s. While working there, she realized that the chocolate trays the store threw away were perfect for earrings, and so she started saving them.
  • She has never had pierced ears and has never wanted them. All of her earrings are clip-ons or screw-ons.
  • [My favorite tidbit:] She keeps a spare pair of earrings in her car for times when she forgets to put them on in the morning. She admits to returning home many, many times in the past when she has forgotten earrings and was without a spare pair. She “feels naked without them.”
  • Early on during the pandemic lock-down, she eschewed earrings for a while as she wasn’t leaving the house. Now that her grandson (my awesome cousin, Xander!) is coming to her house daily for remote schooling, she has resumed wearing earrings so he will “respect [her] as his teacher” and not just see her as Granny Sue.
  • In college, she wrote an ode to her favorite pair of snake earrings.
  • When I asked where her love for jewelry originated, she recounted this memory: “The family two doors down from us growing up had a flashy mother. The daughter and I went up to the mother’s bedroom one day and checked out the jewelry she kept in a bureau under the eaves. I vaguely remember taking something. Maybe I put it back. I don’t remember whether the daughter took something too. This experience made me want jewelry and to have my own drawers full of it.”

So it seems that extreme love for jewelry runs in my blood. I can’t wait until the pandemic is over and I can not only see Aunt Sew again, but also rifle through her drawers to marvel at her amazing collection in person.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling
The Crazy Collector Crew.

Glow Up

When Andy and I were looking at diamonds for my engagement ring years ago, I fell in love with my current stone because it is sparkly, crisply white, and a well-proportioned oval. I remember our consultant mentioning in passing that the diamond had some fluorescence. When I pressed her on the implications of that, she explained that fluorescent diamonds can sometimes look “oily” in bright light (whatever that means). I didn’t think much of it at the time. But for years thereafter, when I would glance at my ring in full sun, I had a nagging feeling that its fluorescence was somehow a flaw–even though, had I not known, I never would have thought a thing of it.

Fast forward to this year. I was recently scrolling through Instagram and saw an ad for Luminous Diamonds, which are marketed as being extra fancy because they are fluorescent! Somewhere along the way, this unusual property has been elevated from a less-than-desirable characteristic to an actual selling point:


So what exactly is fluorescence? According to the Luminous Diamonds website:

When conditions are just right, the nitrogen atoms in natural diamonds form patterns of perfect triangles, or ‘N3 centers,’ which reflects light in a truly unique way. Rather than being transparent in UV light, diamonds with sufficiently high quantities of these ‘N3 centers’ absorb and transform invisible UV ‘black light’ into a beautiful blue glow.

The way to test fluorescence is to shine a black light on a diamond and see if it glows (side note: it’s interesting that so many things that are invisible to the naked eye magically appear under black light–I’m looking at you, gross hotel rooms!). Simple as that.

Here is a demonstration with my very own engagement ring that shows its medium fluorescence:

Naturally, I was curious to test my other diamond pieces, as well. I discovered that, of the 17 individual diamonds on my eternity band, 3 are fluorescent–one extremely so (see below)–and 14 are not at all:

The center stones in my diamond studs, featured in this post, are not fluorescent at all, but some of the supporting diamonds in the halo are:

If you’d like to test your own jewelry at home, you can purchase an inexpensive black light here (and when you’re done investigating your diamonds, you can look for bed bugs and dog urine around your home. How exciting!).

Photo showing the intensity of diamond fluorescence described as: None, Faint, Medium, Strong and Very Strong under UV lighting (top) and under normal lighting (bottom).

So, does fluorescence affect the value of a diamond? According to this source, it depends on the underlying color of the stone and the strength of the fluorescence. For diamonds with a hint of yellow, blue fluorescence can actually make the diamond appear white or colorless. So very strong fluorescence in a diamond with color I through M (where D is colorless and the closer you move to Z the stone becomes yellower) can increase the value of the stone up to 2%, whereas the same fluorescence in a colorless diamond can decrease the value by 3-15%. Read more here and here.


Who knows whether Luminous Diamonds will have real sticking power or be a (glowing) flash in the pan. In any case, I’ve come to appreciate my fluorescent diamonds as exemplars of a pretty cool and unique scientific phenomenon.

Confessions

The final post of 2020!!!

Now that this craptastic year is almost dunzo (don’t let the door hit you on the way out!), I feel compelled to lay bare my jewelry sins of the past twelve months so I can start the new year with a fresh, clean conscience. In no particular order of egregiousness, I confess that:

1. I created a second Gmail account so I could receive the “first-time subscriber” discounts from my favorite brands a second time (it’s not my fault they don’t cross check their lists for duplicate names and addresses!).

2. After binging Selling Sunset on Netflix, I bought a super sparkly, somewhat tacky heart pendant just like the diamond one villainess Christine Quinn wore in almost every episode and still haven’t worn it out of the house once (PS: Christine was my favorite!).

3. I purchased an antique sapphire and diamond ring from an Etsy shop in the U.K., paid extra to have it resized, and paid even more for expedited shipping, only to discover I didn’t really like it when it arrived. So I sold it, at a small loss, through Facebook Marketplace (note: this is the ring at the heart of my earlier diamond detector story):

Image may contain: ring

4. Speaking of Etsy, the company froze my account at the beginning of the year for unknown reasons, though I suppose it was because they suspected fraudulent activity due to heavy traffic (it was all me!). So, I used my new Gmail account to create a secondary profile, and we’re back in business.

5. When a women located in another state was struggling to place an order for one of my rings on Facebook Marketplace and couldn’t figure out how to process her payment, I blocked her so I could sell the ring to a different woman in Chicago who offered a higher price.

6. I bought this custom necklace from BaubleBar and waited over a month for it to ship. The day I received it, I accidentally dropped it in the washing machine before running an extra hot, extra soapy cycle. The clasp is now completely tarnished, but everything else seems to have survived (the “E” sort of looked like a “B” even before the washing):

7. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know I unwittingly sold a woman a fake gold ring.

8. A few weeks into the pandemic, I started showering and getting dressed for the next day at night, because my kids always wake up first and, once they’re up, there’s no time or ability to do anything for myself. So, I now regularly sleep in my outfit–and full jewelry–for the next day. Don’t knock it until you try it!

9. More than a few times, I blogged during work conference calls. (SM, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)

10. I purchased a ring from a woman on Facebook (yes, I do occasionally buy as well as sell on the Marketplace). She eagerly shipped it to me that same day, but failed to put the ring in any sort of protective box or padding. Instead, she just dropped it in an envelope and sent it off. Who could have guessed it (!), but the ring arrived severely misshapen. Using two sets of pliers and my countertop for leverage, I carefully bent the ring back into shape. I must say, it looked pretty good! But I didn’t feel the same about it, knowing the trauma it had endured. So, I sold it on Facebook Marketplace to someone else:

No description available.

11. Throughout this pandemic, shopping for and buying jewelry has become therapeutic for me, probably to an unhealthy degree. I spend a lot of time mindlessly browsing jewelry websites, adding things to my cart to get that momentary shopping high, then forget about them as I quickly move on to the next thrilling find. I suspect many of us have developed coping mechanisms to get through this year. It’ll be interesting to see what habits stick once this craziness is over. I, for one, seriously need to work on reducing my screen time in 2021…


To end on an uplifting note, I wish everyone health, happiness, prosperity, and love in the new year. May your 2021 be exponentially better than 2020! We’re so close to being through this nightmare – don’t give up now!

Year in Review

As this year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the roller coaster that was 2020. So much changed, literally overnight, and the future is still so uncertain. In thinking back on my jewelry acquisitions from the past year, I realized that they pretty accurately reflect the mental state and life events I was experiencing at the time of purchase. Revisiting each quarter in turn:

Q1: We were so naive.

As of January / February 2020, we heard rumblings of the “novel coronavirus” sweeping through Wuhan, but we convinced ourselves that it would never hit the U.S., and that even if it did, it would be gone in just a few weeks. In other words, we were idiots. I distinctly remember joking with my colleagues about how we were going to start selling black-market hand sanitizer, and I’m embarrassed to admit now that I harshly judged people who got on the crowded morning train wearing masks, which, at the time, seemed unnecessarily performative. Little did I know that just a few weeks later, my paradigm would completely flip flop, such that anyone not wearing a mask became a pariah.

In those early, blissfully ignorant days of 2020, I bought this magnificent, Georgian-inspired, pear-shaped pendant on a gold swivel dog clip from jewelry designer Shan Adams:

It is razzle dazzle to the max. It shimmers, it shines, it screams “glam.” It is completely incompatible with the sweats, messy buns, and makeup-free looks I would soon be rocking for the foreseeable future. It is a reflection of the optimism I still held onto at the start of 2020, naively believing I would be attending cocktail parties, weddings, or really any social events at all, in the coming months. It is the embodiment of delusion about what was to come.

Q2: Sh*t hit the fan.

Late March through June was, as you are so painfully aware, a time of lock-downs, fear, rising Covid numbers, suffering, social unrest, police brutality, and disillusionment with just about everything. Days felt like weeks, and the news was a never-ending source of fresh anxiety. It was a rough go, to say the least. (In no way do I intend to trivialize any of this by pivoting to talking about jewelry. However, this is a jewelry blog, so true to form, I will now take a frivolous turn.)

During those months when it was hard to see a way out of all the despair in this country, I drowned my sorrows in hours of scrolling through photos of beautiful things online. Jewelry, of course, but also travel destinations, fashion editorials, gourmet recipes, even makeup tutorials. I often landed on Etsy, which seems to be a truly bottomless source of treats for the eye.

It was on Etsy that I found this green onyx and gold necklace, made by Irish designer Jane Asple under her brand EMMABYJANE:

The necklace shipped right away, but I realized after a few weeks had passed that I hadn’t received it yet. I checked the Royal Mail tracking number, and it showed that the necklace was still sitting at Heathrow Airport in London. More weeks went by, but no movement. Finally, nearly two months after it shipped, the necklace arrived at my door unexpectedly one day. I later learned that the U.S. had closed its borders to parcels from other countries for a while. A true pandemic purchase experience.

Q3: The calm before the storm.

When the summer months arrived, things started to look up. Covid numbers seemed to stabilize, the weather was beautiful, small social gatherings could be held safely outside, and my own optimism was at its peak for the year. I bought this beautiful and cheery butterfly necklace by designer Joy Dravecky in August (my exact necklace now sold out; similar option available here). It captures that sense of hope that came with my brief taste of “normalcy” this summer:

Q4: Winter is coming.

The experts were right: the massive fall / winter Covid surge is upon us. We knew the summer lull couldn’t last, and yet it seems we are ill-equipped to deal with the long, dark, indoor months ahead. Thank heavens for the arrival of the vaccine! Seeing videos of healthcare workers receiving their shots brings me joy like nothing else. I am also deeply relieved to know that January 20, 2021 will mark the end of a very dark time in U.S. history. Things admittedly aren’t good right now, but there is promising light on the horizon.

For my October birthday, I requested and received from my mom this beautiful Jane Win pendant that says “GARDEZ BIEN” (meaning “KEEP WELL” in French) with a snake motif on one side and “PROTECT” on the other:

I’m fairly superstitious, so I like to wear this necklace as an amulet to offer me a little extra protection as I make my way through this uncertain world. To dress it down for my leisure-wear lifestyle, I put the pendant on a blackened silver chain rather than something shinier. It adds just the right amount of pizzaz to my décolletage for virtual calls.


Looking back years from now, 2020 will probably feel like a bad dream–a very long, surreal dream. One thing’s for sure: we won’t soon forget any of it.

Marketplace

I used to joke that the parking lot at the end of my block was my “office” because I had closed so many deals there.

Since last winter, I have run a side hustle selling my stuff on Facebook Marketplace. And I’m hooked.

I can’t remember how the impetus to start listing stuff initially came about. Most likely I went down to my basement one day and saw the piles of unused baby gear and household goods and thought I might be able to earn a quick buck. Once I started making regular sales, I began to look at things around my home with a new eye: Do I still like this? How often do I actually use it? What could it be worth? Many things I’d been hanging on to for years suddenly looked like fresh merch for my virtual store.

Then the pandemic hit and, at the risk of sounding crass, it was GREAT for business. People were staying home, staring at their computers / online shopping all day, and redecorating the living spaces in which they were suddenly spending every waking moment. Being home all day myself, I could meet people at all hours between Zoom calls to sell my wares. Hence the dozens of trips I took to the parking lot at the end of my block, which served as a neutral public place for me to meet my customers.


Selling jewelry that I no longer wear has proven to be the most lucrative aspect of my side business. There’s something sad about jewelry that just sits collecting dust. It wants to be worn and admired! By selling it, I’m not just making a little extra money, but I’m also performing the humane service of liberating the jewels so they can be loved by others.

I’ve had some interesting experiences selling my jewelry this past year. To name just a few:

  • I sold this rose gold band featuring pave diamonds, which I purchased during my last year of a law school, to a man who eagerly shared with me that he was planning to send it as a gift to his newly discovered 16-year-old daughter living in Mexico! Apparently he reconnected with a woman he had been in love with many years earlier and learned she had secretly given birth to his child.
  • I’ve swindled only one customer to date, but totally by mistake. I listed this piece as a 14k rose gold ring featuring a morganite center stone and diamond halo. The woman who bought it messaged me the next day to say she had brought the ring to her jeweler for cleaning, and he informed her it was 14k rose gold plated silver. I was mortified. I (truthfully) assured her I had purchased the ring believing it was solid gold, and did not mean to mislead her. I refunded her half her payment, and all was well in the end.
  • I listed this 14k gold ring, naive to the fact that when it comes to trading in gold pieces, people seem to care mostly about the weight. I must have gotten 20 inquiries asking “how much does it weigh?” or “I’ll buy it if it weighs at least 4 grams.” At that point, I realized if I were serious about selling jewelry, I needed a gram scale. Now I have one and weigh everything. I finally sold this piece to a woman who thought it was just a pretty ring and seemed apathetic to its weight (which is good because, full disclosure, it didn’t weigh very much.)
  • As described in an earlier post, I once had a buyer use a “diamond detector” machine to test the stones in a ring I was selling. Thankfully they passed the test, but not without a few tense moments for me.

My experiences as a secondhand jewelry salesperson have taught me some unexpected lessons:

  • Certain jewelry seems to hold its value and popularity better than others. Predictably, people clamor for the recognizable brands like Tiffany and David Yurman. But less expensive, popular brands like Swarovski and even J. Crew sell quickly and consistently, as well.
  • Hallmarks are everything when it comes to reselling nicer jewelry. Prospective buyers want to see pictures of a designer’s mark and the stamp indicating the metal type. 925 is sterling silver; 750 is 18k gold; 583 is 14k gold; and 950 is platinum. You might be surprised to find a 925 hallmark on what you thought was a gold ring, which indicates it is, in fact, gold-plated silver, a.k.a. vermeil (see above — the woman I inadvertently mislead sent me a photo of the “925” stamp inside the ring I sold her to prove she wasn’t lying about its lesser value).
  • People are generally pretty bad negotiators. I can’t tell you how many prospective buyers have started negotiations by asking: “What’s your best price?” or just straight up saying “I like these but I can’t pay [your asking price].” I will never negotiate against myself as the opening move. If you want to offer something less than asking price, go right ahead, but don’t expect a seller to magically drop their price. My favorite failed negotiation was with a woman who messaged me about a ring I had listed for $100, writing, in rapid succession: “$50? $40? Hello?” Sorry lady, but no.
  • Apparently my taste in jewelry resonates with teenage girls.

I sell lots of things other than jewelry on Facebook Marketplace, primarily art and furniture. I’ve started selling things for other people on commission, as well. My parents, for example, have hired me to help empty out their storage unit, which is full of antiques and collectibles. One of my favorite Marketplace experiences to date happened this summer when I sold my mom’s antique bamboo easel to an enthusiastic buyer who, days later, sent me a photo of its final placement in her gorgeous home. That easel never looked better! It felt so good to know it ended up exactly where it belonged:

The listing photo for the easel

The easel in its new home

One of the worst (and most comical) experiences to date also happened this summer, when I listed a pair of new Birkenstocks for a family friend. Birkenstocks are a pretty divisive commodity as it is, because many people seem to aggressively despise them. I suspect my family friend tried the shoes on before handing them over to me to be sold, because there were faint toe marks on the footbed (though the soles clearly showed absolutely no wear). I made the mistake of listing the shoes as “brand new,” which—in light of the toe marks—provoked the ire of half the population of the Chicagoland metro area. In a barrage of fast-flowing comments on my listing, people said horrible things about my character, accused me of being a liar, told me the photos made them physically ill. (Hysterically, in the midst of all the negative comments, one oblivious woman offered me $50 for the shoes.) It was truly awful, and my first real taste of the horrible toll that online bullying can take. I edited the photos to make clear that the shoes were indeed new, and the attacks stopped. But I was reeling all day from the abuse. Now I can laugh about it, but it was traumatic at the time.

The replacement photo of the offending shoes

Selling on Facebook Marketplace has served not only as a recreational outlet for me during these Covid times, but has also allowed me some unexpected, albeit fleeting, human connections that make the world seem a little more…normal. It feels good to bring joy to strangers by imparting to them jewelry and other things that have served me well but are no longer “sparking joy.” (But note: I now have a strict “no Birkenstocks” policy.) The extra money I make that goes toward buying more jewelry as source material for this blog doesn’t hurt either.



PS: I was out for a walk one morning when I came across this amusing ad posted on a schoolyard fence. Not the most efficient way to sell a piece of furniture (caption reads: “FOR SALE (Please leave contact for inquiries inside of plastic sheet)”):

Travelust

Among the many cancellations of 2020 was my planned trip to England, scheduled for this past June, with my husband, Andy, and a bunch of friends. We were going to attend the Cubs vs. Cardinals game in London and stay for a few extra days to see the sites. It was meant to be our first trip without kids since Sloane was born, and I was really looking forward to it. But alas, it didn’t happen, for obvious reasons. Like so many other plans for 2020, we just have to hope we’ll get the chance to take this trip another time.


It probably won’t come as a surprise that one my favorite souvenirs to bring home from every trip is jewelry made by local artists or procured at unique local shops. Not only does it take up very little room in your suitcase, but it also seems to capture the spirit of the place and provides a tangible memory of your experiences. I appreciate the uniqueness of my travel jewelry. I never encounter other people wearing the same pieces, unlike my jewelry from big-name American brands.

Here is some of my favorite jewelry that I’ve collected while traveling:


Greece:

I purchased this sterling silver and blue enamel ring on the Greek island of Mykonos. My parents generously took me to Greece to celebrate my high school graduation. It was heaven on earth. The views of the bright blue sea against the stark white buildings carved into the mountainsides were breathtaking. We ate fresh fish at seaside tables, toured ancient ruins on deserted islands, and aimlessly wandered the winding cobblestone streets of island towns. This ring came from a tiny, cavernous silver shop run by an affable proprietor. Even my dad, who never wears jewelry, bought a silver bracelet for himself because the shopkeeper was so compelling. I love how this ring reflects the coolness of ocean suds against the hot white stucco. I can conjure the mood of Mykonos just by looking at it.


Argentina:

This colorful and organic magenta necklace came from a festive jewelry boutique in Buenos Aires that was bursting with color (I remember all the merchandise being arranged by hue). When I think of Argentina, I think of delicious food, evocative tango music filling the streets, and passionate, warm people. In my eyes, this necklace captures that zest for life and the vibrancy of the city.

Me on the colorful streets of Buenos Aires, with bangs!

France:

This sweet little ring features a Scottie dog, although admittedly from the right angle it can look like the Batman logo. After I took the bar exam, Andy and I went to Paris for a week before meeting up with my law school girlfriends in Spain. I bought this ring at my favorite Parisian department store, Printemps. I love dogs to begin with, and what says “France” more than a tiny, fussy, sparkly dog? I imagine that Sloane, who is showing signs of being a fellow dog lover, will enjoy wearing this one day.


Australia:

During my junior year of college, I spent a semester studying abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia. It was a transformative experience for me. I returned from Melbourne a more confident, outgoing, self-reliant person, with a wholly different outlook on life. One of my favorite places to explore in the city was the Queen Victoria market. It is an expansive, permanent establishment with hundreds of vendors selling antiques, clothing, jewelry, and exquisite fresh food. I visited multiple times per week for all my needs. I purchased this unusual pendant necklace there, which is woven from kangaroo leather. Believe it or not, kangaroos are considered pests in Australia and are culled for their meat and skins (which is to say, I didn’t feel too bad supporting the trade!). Though I rarely wear this necklace now, it is remarkable to think it came from the other side of the world.

Paragliding during a spring break jaunt to New Zealand

USA:

Lest you think I travel exclusively internationally (ha), I also enjoy making my way through the good ol’ U.S. of A. I purchased this turquoise and sterling silver ring a few years ago during a women’s weekend in Texas with my aunts, cousins, and mom in the B.C.–before children–era. The purpose of the trip was two-fold: to visit my cousin Andrea, who had recently relocated to Texas, and to check out the epic Round Top antiques fair. If you’re not familiar, this is a giant outdoor antiques and crafts show–a true vintage-lovers’ mecca–held annually in the countryside not too far from Austin. Since I couldn’t realistically transport home any antique furniture, I settled for this beautiful ring, a reminder of the western flair that permeates Texas.

The family women in a field of Texas bluebonnets.

(PS: I previously shared the tales of my Turkish ring and Argentine emerald ring in earlier posts.)


I haven’t even mentioned yet the treasure trove of jewelry my parents have gifted me from their many adventures abroad. Some of my favorite pieces include: a carved silver pendant from Morocco; a trio of beaded bangles made by members of the Maasai tribe in Tanzania; and a pair of carved floral cameo earrings from Lake Como, Italy:


Even though it feels impossibly far off, the day will come in the not-so-distant future when we can travel again. Until then, I’ll just have to live in my memories about all the wonderful places I’ve been so far!


Finally, just for fun, here are some silly photos of me in London from 1997:

Ring Redesign Part III: The Final Reveal

(If you missed the earlier parts of this series, catch up here: Part I, Part II.)

I eagerly awaited the CAD renderings of my new rings. When the email with the drawings from Andre finally arrived, I could not contain my excitement. As I clicked open the files and laid eyes on the images for the first time, my immediate thought was: “Oh no, I don’t love them!”

The bands were too chunky and wholly disproportionate to the width of the diamond. I disliked that both bands were about the same width. The bezel setting was flat and uninteresting. All told, the virtual appearance of the rings did not at all match my vision of them:

(As an aside, how amazing are these renderings?!)

After relaying my concerns to Andre, he called so we could chat over the phone about how to improve things. Both Andre and the CAD drawer independently concluded that the proportions we initially mapped out were way off. Andre made further suggestions about altering where the band met the crown on the engagement ring, and adjusting the bezel setting to have angular instead of flat side walls, which would expose more of the diamond face. I felt relieved and hopeful that the next iteration of renderings would show more promise.

The revised drawings arrived a few days letter, and they were much improved! The rings looked balanced, harmonious with each other and the diamond, and elegant:

I gave the green light to move forward. Andre explained that the CAD drawings would be used to create wax molds with a 3D printer, and that the molds would then be used for pouring the gold into the shape of the rings. This process–called the “lost wax process“–has been used to make jewelry for thousands of years.


About two weeks later, I received a text from Andre with this image:

The rings were ready!

I visited Andre’s studio again the morning of Halloween to pick up my new beauties. They were gorgeous in person, and everything I’d hoped and dreamed!

The one thing I hadn’t considered was that my diamond eternity band would look too white and pristine next to the blackened crown of my new engagement ring. I asked Andre if he could blacken the eternity band, too, and much to my delight, he performed the rhodium plating process while I watched! It involved “painting” the platinum of my band with a charged electrode dipped in black rhodium solution. Andre politely humored my 700 or so questions as he worked:

The final stack is absolutely stunning:


I truly cannot say enough positive things about how easy and wonderful it was to work with Andre on this project. He understood my vision, included me at every step of the process, and was able to provide exactly what I wanted at a super reasonable price.

In addition to working with clients to redesign their existing jewelry, he also designs original jewelry. Here are some of his latest beautiful creations:

You can reach Andre directly at andrelukawski@gmail.com.


Thanks for joining me on this exciting journey!