The allure of Beauty in its many guises

Much has been written about the historic magnetism of jewellery. The sometimes apocryphal accounts cover the period of Cleopatra’s rule and the Egyptian pharaohs to the current day of rappers and the nouveaux riches. None of it in my opinion more succinctly and cleverly captures the competing elements of the draw than the casual observation of Debbie Berling in a recent email to me. She wrote,  “The allure of Beauty in its many guises”. And she ought to know.  She is the former owner of a family business of luxury jewellery.

In 1981 she moved to Hilton Head to help her parents open a second branch of the family business, Forsythe Jewelers.  In the spring of 2000, Debbie bought out her parents, expanded and renovated the Sea Pines Center store, and added the top jewelry brands in America today, including Roberto Coin, David Yurman, and John Hardy.  During her tenure as owner, store sales doubled.  Two years ago she sold the business to a trusted employee and retired.

Forsythe Jewelers

No doubt it is Debbie’s Liberal Arts education (the Yin) combined with her subsequent financial and oratorial experiences (the Yang) which have enabled her to make this astute observation. When writing about jewellery, the author normally descends instantly to a vernacular of limitless praise.

Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

To unite external form with inner smokescreen is hardly the usual equation. Yet to someone like me who has spent a lifetime devoted to the retail allure of jewellery, and having as regularly suffered the ignoble consequences of its enchantment, the coalition of beauty and disguise is no misnomer. Indeed my acquaintance with numerous jewellers, bordering at times upon intimacy, has forced me to reckon with this identical conclusion.

Cleopatra’s legacy survives in ancient and modern works of art. Roman historiography and Latin poetry produced a generally critical view of the queen that pervaded later Medieval and Renaissance literature. In the visual arts, her ancient depictions include Roman busts, paintings, and sculptures, cameo carvings and glass, Ptolemaic and Roman coinage, and reliefs. In Renaissance and Baroque art, she was the subject of many works including operas, paintings, poetry, sculptures, and theatrical dramas. She has become a pop culture icon of Egyptomania since the Victorian era, and in modern times, Cleopatra has appeared in the applied and fine arts, burlesque satire, Hollywood films, and brand images for commercial products.

The paradox of jewellery is for me however no obstruction to its lingering appeal. Quite apart from the arid business model of the product, I insist upon the more fertile psychological and substantive recognition of its features.  Granted I have simultaneously learned to remove myself from the threat of appearing like a Jewish widow; which is to say, the delicacy of the commodity and the strength of its depiction are not to be trifled with. Oddly the posture is reminiscent of my evolving culinary talent evident in the adage, “Less is more!” There is too the pragmatic theme that exotic jewellery (especially when adorned on elderly people) is an unwitting invitation to the criminal mind.  Here I have no hesitation accepting the alleged pretence of the display because very often jewellery is no more than the vulgar proclamation, “Look at me!” I have on occasion laughably sought to avoid this derision by attaching an elastic band about a singularly heavy gold bracelet so as to keep it hidden beneath the cuff of my shirt.  Regrettably the destiny of many of my other pieces was no more imaginative than a drawer.

I will spare my dear Reader the tedium of my personal fascinations with jewellery except to say that I have no doubt every current or anticipated owner of the stuff is vitalized by sometimes remarkable associations. I shall therefore continue to endure the prophetic words of Ms. Berling.