Grant me, if you will, that we all have our weaknesses. Mine is jewellery, an unquestionable frailty and a scornful affectation. Whether as an attempt to excuse my extravagance or to palliate my grudging self-reproach (the incongruity does after all prompt a raised eyebrow), I retail my gusto for jewelry as a fondness for metal. However both the excuse and the palliative are a deceit. I am at heart an unapologetic swaggerer, a shallow materialist intent upon brazen adornment and exhibition. In defence – and to quell supercilious opposition – I hasten to add that unlike many others my absorption in jewelry is not for the gems, rather it is only for the metal (platinum, gold, silver and even bronze). I nonetheless compound my imperfection by shamelessly conceding that the heavier the metal, the better. I have for example an instinctive disdain for hollow pieces (unless they compensate in size for the loss of weight). A bracelet I had made weighed almost a pound:
My first recollection of jewelry as a foible goes back to when I was approximately ten years of age. My younger sister and I had come into possession of a collection of costume jewelry (probably through the estate of a great-aunt in California), ornate rings decorated with multi-coloured rhinestones. Though the sparkle of the rings and my curiosity no doubt compelled me to try on at least one or two of them, my instinct was not to wear the jewelry but rather to give it to girls whom I knew and liked. This combination of jewelry and beneficence continued until later in my life when I ordered silver jewelry from Tiffany in Toronto to give to a girl friend. Apart from that infrequent and minor generosity, my focus on jewelry was strictly a private affair. There is no question that I relish my obsession, the same way automobile aficionados gloat over their shiny cars.
Early in my jewelry career I identified that it was gold that I preferred. The initial expressions were confined to 10K gold, for example a fine 10K gold necklace from Birks on Sparks Street or a 10K gold “ID” bracelet from Alyea’s also on Sparks Street. Obviously the purchase of jewelry in my early years was strictly limited by expense. My mother apparently picked up on my interest in jewelry. One Christmas when I was at boarding school and she lived in Stockholm, Sweden she sent me an 18K gold signet ring with a black onyx made by Georg Jensen. This introduction to targeted gift-giving likely inspired my suggestion years later to my mother that an appropriate gift for me when I graduated from law school would be a diamond ring set in a Tiffany-style claw setting (which she in fact gave me). I maintain that a diamond pinky ring is like one’s obituary; viz., something every gentleman should have.
On one of my Labour Day Weekend visits to Provincetown, Cape Cod where I routinely scavenged the local antique shops in that historic Portuguese fishing village I purchased a Tiffany-style claw setting ring with a mine-cut diamond, possibly the relic of a venerable New Yorker no longer whinnying among us. By then I had already exchanged the law school ring for something else, an exercise I have since repeated with the habit of an addiction. I subsequently sold the mine cut diamond ring to a friend, who in turn lost it in Europe somewhere.
I began a pattern of having pieces made to order, usually either a “pinky” ring or a signet ring. When we kept a pied à terre in the By Ward Market, Ottawa I went to a boutique called “Marigold” owned by Marilyn Christine Zind whom I commissioned to make a ring in the likeness of a swirling, heavy piece similar to one made by Georg Jensen (whose outlet in Toronto I frequently visited). In an effort to maintain some dignity in this phobia I generally avoid startling examples of artistic novelty and prefer instead to gravitate to the more traditional examples of ornamentation. My keenness for the right piece has taken me as far afield as Asprey’s in London, England where I ordered a custom-made signet ring. The apogee of my fixation was through Birks where I ordered a custom-made signet ring complete with engraved family crest on the bezel.
The model for the Birks ring did not come from either Ottawa or the main branch in Montreal. When the popular models available for the setting in the Birks display counters failed to intrigue me, the Manager consulted an ancient boutique jeweller on Yonge Street in Toronto (coincidentally named “Chapman Bros. Ltd. Jewellers”) where he uncovered an iron mould of an antique-style setting (tiered oval bezel, fluted shank).
We used that mould to create an enlarged rendition of it for me. Because of my particularity, the ring was cast no less than three times before I would accept it (a privilege afforded by Birks’ policy of “30-day return no questions asked“). I was so pleased with the result of the commission that I subsequently returned to order a pinky ring (bloodstone). Once again the first cast was unacceptable. When I insisted upon speaking to the craftsman in person, the Birks Manager hesitatingly confessed that the manufacturer was a local firm on Sparks Street named Dixon Jewellers. I ended by telephoning Mr. Dixon and expressed to him the precise details I wanted. He ended by producing one of my favourite pieces.
When I was still in my thirties I began cultivating an interest in gold watches (an intoxication I later discovered was shared by many other men). My first was a 14K gold Rolex with a crocodile strap, the Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master. This watch appeased my interest in the metal, the weight and the size of the article. The Rolex was however eventually trumped by an 18K gold Breitling (with a 44 mm bezel), that is at least until three successive models of it began popping their pins on the gold wrist band. This (and successive heated conversations with Grigorio’s, the Toronto distributor who gratuitously advised me that Breitling watches “do not grow on trees”) ultimately precipitated an apology from the Swiss President of Breitling and a confession that there was a manufacturer’s defect.
I willingly replaced the Breitling distortion for an 18K gold Cartier Santos 100 which disappointingly also popped a pin on its bezel. To my horror the jeweller purported to fix it with “lock-tight” glue!
Then in a moment of utter frustration it was back to an 18K gold Rolex with matching strap.
All these watches are now gone, replaced by three heavy, intricate and amusing (but comparatively inexpensive) Bulova Precisionist watches.
I also recently acquired a Casio G-Shock sport watch which effectively makes a mockery of my watch fetish because it is not only completely reliable (and astonishingly cheap) but it also automatically changes the day and date without manual adjustment. I believe the perpetual calendar is good for 99 years!
Back to the jewelry. There followed a succession of custom-made rings, necklaces and bracelets, all exceedingly heavy and made of either 18K yellow gold or platinum. Just when my collection was at its height I decided to unload it all. My trinkets evaporated at an auction in the Windsor Arms Hotel, Toronto on a cloudy weekend in June, 2011.
Needless to say the market value of the stuff was piteously tempered by the unforgiving hammer of the auctioneer. I was abruptly chastened. My declension was complete!
Contemporaneously following my purge of jewelry, and as I approached the possibility of retirement, we sold almost everything else of value we owned, real estate, Steinway grand piano, brass, crystal and porcelain accessories, numerous Oriental rugs and art work (Frederick S. Coburn and Henri Masson). Although some might be inclined to imagine we suffered a pang of regret at having done so, the opposite is in fact the case. It was an uplifting experience, an expiation of years of profligacy, the seed of a new beginning.
So enthused was I by this awakening that I fashioned that a symbol of celebration was necessary to consummate the experience. I therefore entered upon an earnest engagement with Dixon jewellers who had made one of my favourite pieces years before (an 18K gold ring with bloodstone). This time however I dealt with the jeweller’s son as the father had since retired. To my delight, the son was as committed as I to the project, another Tiffany-style claw setting pinky ring for a diamond (this by the way is where I was introduced to Moissanite instead of Cubic Zirconia). The ring was distinguished by its size and weight. The Moissanite stone qualified as an unmitigated “disco ball”! Its combination of brilliance and registration at 9.25 on the MOHS hardness scale (compared to diamond at 10) ensures it is a hard act to follow and at one-tenth of the cost.
Because I then had a new pinky ring (on my left hand) and the old signet ring (on my right hand) I decided I had enough. I liked both rings and I couldn’t abide discarding either for anything else. I no longer sought to extend my repertoire of jewels. That is, not until I stumbled upon a retailer (“Silver WOW”) from England who was importing heavy, solid .925 silver jewelry from Bali. Because the promises were so compelling, and the prices were in my opinion highly affordable, I bought three articles on-line from this distributor. Importantly the purity of these items was so authentic that there was never any contamination by inferior alloys (some of which traditionally impart a green tinge to sensitive skin).
I was not let down in any of the purchases. In the meantime I had discovered a line of British silver jewelry (“Links of London”) being sold through Holt Renfrew which supplemented my burgeoning attraction to silver.
My latest dalliance is yet another Bali source being touted on Pinterest, “Buddha to Buddha”. With some deliberation I was able to connect with the sole Canadian importer (Nicole Séguin) of the Dutch retailer and as recently as several weeks ago I traveled to Montréal (and endured the horrendous press of automobile traffic) to collect a silver bracelet from her at Turcot Jewellers in the Marriott Château Champlain Hotel.
I have of course visited Tiffany, Bulgari, Asprey and Cartier on Fifth Avenue in New York City. One of my fondest discoveries was a boutique counter at Bergdorf Goodman’s. Regrettably I declined to exercise my yearning on that occasion and therefore missed the opportunity to buy what was an exceptional piece.
Lately a carefree and indiscriminate passion for jewelry as a mere accoutrement has led me to purchase some very inexpensive and Bohemian creations usually marketed in tourist shops or folk artisan outlets. These however hold my interest for a limited time only and are eventually either discarded or relegated to a bottom drawer.
The conclusion of this passion is that I am content with what I have. I am decidedly now equally pleased with both silver and gold. Jewelry stills nourishes something in me; it makes a happy day brighter; it completes my look and it brings me joy. I want for nothing and my further ambitions are sated. I think.