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:

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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.

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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.