Updated: Jun 20, 2019
One of the most enjoyable things about my job is listening to the stories my clients tell me when they bring in their heirloom jewelry. Sometimes an actual piece is of considerable value; other times not so much. However, the sentimental value is as irreplaceable as the look of tenderness they show towards their collectable. As much as I enjoy hearing their stories, so am I honored that people choose to entrust me with their precious family heirlooms.
Having several jewelry heirlooms myself, I am no stranger to them and their extremely personal significance in my life. One of my favorite pieces is a gorgeous yellow gold beaded, double-strand necklace with a lovely round intrical filigree pendant. I remember finding this necklace strewn (literally) in the drawer of an antique French Empire marquetry commode in my family home in central France. At the time, I had returned to the Loire Valley upon finding out that my 96 year old grandmère, Solange, had fallen and broken her hip and had to be placed in a nursing home.
Belonging to our family since 1850, this house has always been a treasure trove of precious finds. Our home is filled with antiques and, at the time, was littered with the most wonderful finds. As a child I would play in the attic and find bayonets from World War I, my father’s fencing gear, an old gramaphone (that still worked), dresses from the time of Napoleon and random, petite antique shoes in soft green, white and pink silk. The shoes looked as if they were made for dolls but, in reality, were worn by dainty nineteenth century French ladies . During this particular trip, I continued, as I always had, to forage around to see what forgotten treasures I could unearth. This time, thrown in an empty drawer, was the necklace. Upon finding it, I couldn’t believe my eyes and immediately brought it to my father to see if he could tell me its history. He was so surprised to see the necklace since he had not seen it in decades. Apparently, it was a piece that, when younger, my grandmère used to wear all the time. Being the only granddaughter, and only child, I was fortunate enough to inherit it.
Back in the United States, I was looking through a stack of papers, that I had brought back with me, with gorgeous, scrolled calligraphy dating back to the late 1800s. These papers were family documents that my grandmère had referred to as the papiers d’Aste (or d’Aste papers - referring to my Italian grandfather’s side of the family). Tucked inside this yellowed folder was a simple yet stunning black and white portrait of my grandmère from the 1940s. Dressed in a simple black dress, to my joyous surprise, she was wearing THE beautiful gold necklace: the exact same one I had randomly found a few years before. Grandmère had passed away at this point, so it felt propitious that not only had I randomly stumbled across her necklace, but that I had a beautiful portrait of her wearing it. To this day, this necklace is one of the treasured pieces in my collection. I, of course, love it for its beauty, but it is particularly precious because of the serendipitous way I found this beautiful piece and the portrait of her wearing it. In my own romanticized way, I believe this was her way of saying goodbye. Such is the power of jewelry and the importance of it being passed down through generations. Even though I have two sons, I am making sure they learn to appreciate the history of the collection they will one day inherit. My grandmère’s spirit is ever present each time I wear her necklace as I take a piece of her history into this brave new world.