Clothing Stories: Trading Diamonds for Bread

There is something really comforting and beautiful about a piece of jewelry. Maybe it’s the fine craftsmanship, maybe it is our magpie like sensibilities that declare “Oh shiny!”, or maybe it’s the knowledge that in a desperate pinch we can trade it for a loaf of bread or a can of beans! Whatever the case, precious metals and stones have proven their worth as a valuable commodity. They are also the stuff heirlooms are made of.

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From the Iconic Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Prince belting out: “D to the I to the A to the M O to the N to the D to the pearls of love, jewels have been the stuff stories and epic proclamations of love are made of (not to mention what wars have been fought over). .

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As of late, due to increasing financial instability, people are trying to find some form of stability, and reliability. We cling to things that are reminiscent of a bygone, seemingly more stable, era. There’s comfort in being able to see and feel what your money has bought you. It’s a physical reminder that you actual have something, and it is much more appealing than wearing your stock portfolio printout as a paper chain. Jewelry is an aesthetically pleasing reminder, that even if the worth of the metal and gems plummet, at least you have a beautiful piece on your hand (that can potentially be used as sparkly brass knuckles).

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Mess you up, and realign your chakras.

Today’s reality is that gold and gems still carry high value. In the current market there has been a rise in gold prices. In fact it’s been happening fairly consistently over the last 10 years. Gold has proven so stable as of late that some predict a US move back to the gold standard within the next 5 years. Craftsmanship is also still being valued. Older design houses like Harry Winston, Tiffany, Cartier are still kept in high regard and are getting great prices at auction.

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A lady definitely aware of her jewelry designers.

So many memories are associated with jewelry. I can look at some of my mother’s pieces and remember vague early memories of her wearing a particular ring or necklace. They were her signature pieces. I can’t dissociate her from them. And that kind of story and association adds an even deeper wealth. The more a piece of jewelry is passed down more stories it collects, and the richer its history becomes.

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Literal signature piece. The old Afghan ring at the top is an example of a signet ring used to sign and seal letters. Below are necklaces from designer Pyrrha that use 19th century seals for their contemporary designs.

Jewelry carries a story, and has both aesthetic and material worth. All valid points, but how can a regular person be expected to afford something like this?

For that, let’s take a lesson from grandma.

My grandma is the master of resourcefulness. After immigrating to Canada from Ukraine after the second World War she spent much of her life working as a cleaning lady for the school board. Despite her humble job post, she had a definite love for the finer things in life, including: fur, opera, clothes, and above all jewelry.

Her strategy was twofold: estate sales and lay away. Even now, in her late eighties, she manages to pull out and wear pieces from her collection that none of us have ever seen.

As she has gotten older, she has decided to start giving out her pieces to family members. She wanted to avoid any possible tension after her death over what was promised to each loved one. So for Christmas I would often hold my breath for that little box from grandma. One year I opened it up and found this:

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…and these

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When I asked my grandmother about the earrings and ring set I didn’t get the standard estate jewellery story.

My grandmother reluctantly left her home in Ukraine at age 16. Her older sister and brother in law were leaving and my great grandmother pleaded with her and convinced her to go with them. Ukraine was flanked by two warring sides and Germany seemed like a safer place than Bolshevik-run Russia.

As added incentive, my great grandmother gave a ring and earrings to my grandmother. It was a secret that she even kept from her older sister. The ring and the earrings were not just bribery but a way for her family heritage to live on through these heirlooms. They were also security in case my grandmother was in a desperate situation where she might have to bargain for her life. That ring and those earrings made their way in secret through the war, sewn into the inside of my grandmother’s coat. Like a more subdued version of the wrist watch story in Pulp Fiction my grandmother recounted all this to me. I know it’s a major symbol of pride to her that those pieces were never lost or stolen.

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A sense of pride... and severe discomfort.

Her collection may have started in Ukraine, but it definitely continued to grow, even in war-torn Germany. As a Slav, my grandmother was made to live in a work camp and work in a kitchen that fed Italian soldiers. Access to food was a huge advantage. As the living conditions got progressively worse people in kitchens like these were placed in good position to barter. My grandmother bartered for pieces of jewellery that I have to this day.

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Necklace from WWII Germany.


All this jewellery is now insured and much of it is hidden away. Safety deposit boxes are the main place. But for a woman who hid jewellery by sewing it to the inside of her coat, a jar of dry bean or the bottom of an old shoe is just as good a hiding place.

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Found in an old shoe in my grandma's basement

 Enduring worth is never based solely on an aesthetic. You can have metal and diamonds, but it’s the art of it all, and the story that goes with it, that stops it from being melted down. And that hard work and patience of acquiring a piece that truly feels like you, that you actually want others to hold onto as a remembrance of you, can be worth it.

But the main thing I think about when buying jewelry comes from an experience I had at Sotheby’s:

I was showing a woman a $300,000 diamond bracelet and she said: “Yes, but I just don’t know if it goes with anything I have.”

About olexpruchnicky

The biggest problem in my life is trying to decide on one particular area, one particular part of life to focus on, to totally immerse myself in. So I've decided not to fight it, and like a whole lot of everything. I become interested when there is creativity, innovation, a bit of controversy, and a deep passion. A little bit of the random crazy and more than anything something that will raise or furrow my brow. Lines on my forehead... worth it. I work in politics, visual arts, music, and photography.

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