The Sentimental Value of Jewelry

Posted on March 29, 2015 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

The Sentimental Value of Jewelry  | BMJ Blog

One my grandmother’s glamour rings—missing a few rhinestones but an eyeful nonetheless.

Summers in North Carolina could be oppressive. High humidity coupled with intense heat made playing outside a brave undertaking—unless there was a sprinkler involved, of course. But for a few weeks each summer, my father and I would escape the thick, Southern air to visit my grandmother in Dallas, Oregon.

As soon as we’d step out of the airport in Oregon, we'd be surprised anew by the clean, crisp air distinct to the Pacific Northwest. The memory of that beautiful climate often entered my waking and sleeping dreams when I was miles away from this second home.

Among the ways I entertained myself at my grandmother’s home was spending hours in her bedroom trying on and organizing her large boxes of costume jewelry. Most of it was fairly gaudy, and all of it was too big for my small frame—but I loved it nonetheless. 

When I was quite young, the jewelry was simply fun. As I got older, however, I started to wonder what the pieces told me about my grandmother—the kinds of questions wouldn’t make sense to ask aloud (or so I imagined at the time). Mostly, I wondered what the jewelry symbolized. Beyond images of glamour too large for her small town, did certain pieces having romantic significance? Were they worn on dates with the grandfather I never knew? Were they given to her, or did she buy them herself? Were they worn at large parties? (Were there large parties in Dallas?)

As I became increasingly introspective and absorbed in literature, my curiosity about the jewelry only increased—along with my attachment to it. I knew that she no longer wore this jewelry. During the time that I knew her, she mostly wore her wedding rings, a simple gold watch, and sometimes a necklace. The elaborate boxes in her bedroom came to represent a bygone era, the boundaries of which were never solid. Sometimes, I’d feel a breeze come through the window, and in that woodsy air, I was sure I could feel a time before my own, if only for a moment.

After my grandmother died, I brought her cases of sparkling jewels back to North Carolina where most of it still resides in my childhood bedroom. Over a decade has passed since her death, and I still have more questions for the pieces. What defined glamour for my grandmother? Did these pieces (mostly painted brass with glass stones) suffice? Or were they the ersatz substitutes for the kind of jewelry she probably saw in Vogue? (I knew she subscribed to Vogue since I she made note of it in her carefully kept spending journal.) And to what extent have these questions—and my notions of her younger life—inform my own idea of femininity? After all, I identify with a kind of embellished self-presentation that certainly didn’t come from either of my parents, two casual academics whose idea of luxury is simply a good cup of coffee in a quiet place (don’t worry, I share this worldview, too).

Were my grandmother still here, I might discuss these things with her, but since she’s not, I can only return and return to the boxes of jewelry, which can transport me back to one of the favorite places of my life: to her home, to Dallas, to the northwestern air, to her bedroom, where it always seemed to be morning—and to her. What is intangible the jewelry makes tangible, momentarily. 

And for this, its value is profound. 

 The Sentimental Value of Jewelry  | BMJ Blog

An antique cameo found in one of my grandmother’s jewelry boxes. I plan to lace it around my wedding bouquet this May. This is the best “Something Old” I can imagine.


What do your favorite pieces say about your life? 


Photos: Mary Hood

Posted in creative, gem lore, jewelry, jewelry stories, sentimental value



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