Pamela Harris

Not My Mother's Jewelry December 7, 2012

There was once this blue chip art dealer who used to schlump around her home in a frumpy house coat and slippers while wearing a million dollars worth of jewelry. She was my idol.

My thing with beautiful jewelry started after 9/11 - literally, days after. I was roaming up Prince Street looking for nothing, simply getting out to get out of my home and head. The wind had changed direction and my neighborhood was filled with a smog of white ash and the few of us out wandering stopped for brief hello's even though we didn't know each other. After a few blocks I was ready to turn around and absently stopped outside a jewelry store, Reinstein Ross. In their window they had postcards of their jewelry leaning on tiny stands, showing dainty and carefully made gold and beaded rings and bracelets, and I just stood there, staring. Their jewelry was charming and sweet and, maybe because of how little it meant in the big picture it suddenly meant a lot.

Over the next few years, if I found myself midtown with time to kill I'd roam into Bergdorf's and look at their jewelry counters, then walk down Fifth Avenue and bang out Tiffany and Van Cleef's windows. I still do that and once in a while I even go online to look at what's coming up at the Sotheby's or Christie's jewelry auctions. What I've discovered is I don't envy or covet or lust for these things; it's more, there's something about the perfection of beauty that lets me clear my head, shake out a demon or two, let my thoughts mindlessly roam.

I'm quite happy flopped on the couch, fishing around in my pants for nothing in particular, Joe sitting next to me mining a pint of ice cream as we stream tv episode after episode like a couple of crack heads. When I'm on a deadline, like I am now, I become a real bore since all I can think about or see is the thing I'm working on. Zoning out on a tv show or a Lorraine Schwartz bracelet is the pause that lets me reset.

Usually when I'm working like this I don't go out much, but this week I said yes to everything. I had a concert, a quiet dinner, a dinner party/game night, a birthday party (great drag queens), a lunch and a book party. My friend Pam shares a similar love for jewelry and she invited me to the book party because it was being held at Verdura, which meant good jewelry ogling.

Pam first needed to make a pit stop at Taffin, James de Givenchy's jewelry showroom, a jeweler high on my ogle list. By the time we got there most of his inventory had already been put in the safe, but he led us around his showroom before the rest went in. I found myself staring into a glass dome that held an exquisite diamond bracelet that had half-inch long bronze colored eggs hanging from it. The eggs were elegant, studded with tiny diamonds, and I couldn't figure out what they were made out of. He took the bracelet out of the case and fastened it onto my wrist and surprisingly, despite the size and number of eggs, the bracelet weighed nothing. I looked closely at the eggs, still not able to figure out what their material was.

"It's an AK47," he said.

"You mean the gun?" He nodded. "You're repurposing AK47's?"

"It's a new material I'm working with." He pulled out a 4-inch egg, also studded with diamonds. Small squares of metal overlapped to create a surface that stayed cool despite my hand being around it. Maybe I was cool to it; magnified to this size, the egg felt like a grenade. It got me thinking about a piece of jewelry's history, how it moves from hand to hand, auction house to auction house, mother to daughter, friend to friend, father to son, the meaning it imbues and embeds and carries. James de Givenchy seemed quite respectful of the material, and though I later read about this collection being an agent of change and of being about new possibilities, I got the sense that he had removed it's history and was in the process of simply making the metal his. Is that what we all do with history?

After Taffin we went to Verdura and once Pam said her hellos (she does PR for a publisher) we wove through a few rooms, ogling this and that. I love Verdura's old-school cuffs and jewelry from the '40's, especially the over the top tacky pieces. Verdura I would pile on, and as the rooms got more and more crowded that's what women were doing. I've never been to a book party where guests were that interactive with their surroundings, but then again I've never been to a book party that was catered like this one was. Whoever did the food was killer -- fried sage leaves, yellow pepper mousse in parmesan spoons, salmon wrapped in crepes with chives, filet with a red pepper coulis, arctic char on a puree of fava beans -- all of it bite-size and beautiful. After Pam and I had our eye fill of jewelry we found a nice couch to sit on where waiters brought tray after tray of these gorgeous little snacks, and since no-one else was eating our couch became food central. I stuffed my face and would've knocked over a few Gulf Stream socialites to palm a few more of those sage leaves if I had to, that's how good they were. After an hour I was ready to go home, as was Pam, and though the waiters were sorry to see us go we happily rolled on out of there.

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