For a good many years, I half believed I would stop wanting more jewelry when I got my hands on my mother’s. She didn’t have a huge amount of it, but what she had was clearly special to her, and I was preoccupied with trying to figure out what she loved and why. The pieces she seemed to care about most came from her mother, who died before I was born and for whom I was named. (She was a Mildred. Mother wouldn’t have that, so she called me Marcia, a name I never liked.) Her mother seems to have been as remote to her as mine was to me.
Mother seemed to have a special fondness for her mother’s small circle pin with pearls and rubies—good rubies, she said, and nicer than the sapphires in the pin that went to one of her sisters. I have it now and never wear it, because who wears circle pins? And what if I lost it? And why does it still seem to be Not Mine? There was also a very good if slightly off-color mine-cut diamond, which Mother was given on the condition that she give it to her own daughter someday. More about that, doubtless, at a later date. It’s the locket at the head of this post that I want to write about now.
The locket was extraordinary because of the pictures inside. It surprised me that Mother would wear images, albeit hidden ones, of her husband and children. The group photo must have been taken around 1947; my picture is separate because I was born six years later. As far as I could tell, there was no way to incorporate the lone child on the left into the cuddly family on the right, especially since I had never experienced any of that apparent cuddliness. Who was this adoring woman? Where was that close family? The locket carried a secret I couldn’t unravel.
But it had another secret I could unravel. Mother gave me the locket a few years before she died, when she began parting with things I thought she’d hold onto forever: Even the most treasured objects, it turns out, can be surrendered without ceremony. She said it was from Georg Jensen, the famous Danish silver firm, and indeed, that’s what was stamped on the back. (There had also been earrings in the same iconic tulip design, but, being screw-backs, they’d gotten lost.) After Mother died, I brought the brooch to the Georg Jensen store in New York to see what they had to say about its history and value. The young woman behind the counter took one look at the hallmark and sniffed, “This isn’t Georg Jensen. It’s Georg Jensen U.S.A. We have nothing to do with that!” What on earth was she talking about? The young woman offered no further explanation. I think she didn’t have one, but I’ve never forgotten her snobbery.
Years later, an internet search yielded the real story. During the German occupation of Denmark (1940-45), Jensen silver was no longer exported to the U.S. But Jensen’s American representative, Frederik Lunning, hired American designers to produce jewelry “in the Jensen style.” He didn’t consult the home office in Copenhagen about this, and after the war, they were understandably miffed; there was a lawsuit. But the snippy woman in the store was right: Georg Jensen never made a tulip locket brooch. Georg Jensen U.S.A. did, and that’s what American wives wore while their husbands were at war. My mother’s locket is not “collectible” as Jensen Silver—meaning it wouldn’t fetch as much if I were to sell it. But I’m not that kind of jewelry collector. I’m the kind that calls myself a collector only because it gives me an excuse to acquire yet more jewelry—it’s what I tell myself as I write the check. My true reasons for collecting are murkier. But one thing is clear: I’m going to have plenty to write about.