I had an enormous ginger Maine Coon cat named Beckett, and when he died at age 15 in 2011, the loss was enormous too. He’d had medical issues that required round-the-clock care, so I was both heartbroken and exhausted. I said to myself: “I need sapphires.”
I was well aware that this was an outrageous statement. I could imagine Marie Antoinette saying it in the tumbril on her way to the guillotine: “Mon chat est mort. Apportez-moi des saphirs.” But I loved this oversized cat in an oversized way, and sapphires were the consolation I sought. Nothing else, it seemed, could mark the space where he had been.
Sapphires—good sapphires—are consoling things. I have a ring set with a fine untreated Ceylon sapphire whose color I get lost in: a clear, watery Cornflower blue. (I’ll post about it sometime.) The wateriness is a balm to the soul. I didn’t want another large stone to remember Beckett by. I wanted a bracelet of small blue beads that would catch the light in a quiet way.
I commissioned the bracelet above from Reinstein/Ross, a New York jeweler that makes everything by hand, as they invariably remind you before telling you the price. The beads have that watery quality I wanted; they’re beads of remembrance. To those of us who are susceptible to jewelry, it can be a physical form of solace.
Or an escape valve for emotion under pressure. When my father died in December 1989, a large awful event in my life, the postman (or somebody) delivered a Cartier rolling ring to my mother’s house in the teeth of a Syracuse snowstorm. My husband had sent it as a Chanukah present. (My father died on the first night of Chanukah, so I always know when his Yahrzeit is.) The ring was too big. When I got home to New York, we exchanged it. But the second ring still has that night in it.
Fast forward to 2016. Common wisdom has it that this has been an especially awful year. I don’t like to think of calendar years in that way, but…yeah. Month for month, this is one of the most stressful years I’ve lived through, and not just for me. For everybody.
I’ve done a lot of stress shopping this year. I’ve trolled the internet for jewelry I didn’t actively want, because I was jonesing for that little dopamine hit I get when I spot something amazing. I wanted to light up those pleasure centers in my brain. But the thing about dopamine—as you know if you’ve ever kept playing a video game long after you wanted to stop—is that you have to work harder and harder for that little hit of pleasure. I was shopping more and enjoying it less. I said no to a lot of things. But as the election approached and the discourse got worse and worse, I felt an almost physical need to buy.
My eye was caught by the bracelet above. It’s by Frank Patania, Sr., whose work I’ve wanted to own. Patania was born in Italy in 1899 and apprenticed to a goldsmith at age 6. He emigrated to America at 10 and was hired by a New York jewelry factory at 19. And then he got tuberculosis. His employers sent him to Santa Fe to recover—and after one look at Native American silver, he knew he’d found his home and his medium. Patania’s Santa Fe shop became famous for his work and that of his family. (Immigrants: We get the job done.) His jewelry is highly collectible.
I would have liked to collect this bracelet, which I bought online from Browns Trading Company in Arizona. But it turned out to be too wide for my wrist; I had to shove it halfway up my arm. Which meant I had the pleasure of buying it but not of keeping it.
I found another distraction. I was picking up my husband’s turquoise ring from Garrick Beck, our Santa Fe stone dealer who was visiting New York, when I spotted the ruby at left. It’s quite small. And I wasn’t looking for a ruby. But the color leaped out at me: a deep, clear magenta. I wanted to look and look at it. So this was what rubies were all about!
Rubies are sapphires, as you probably know. Sapphire is the gem variety of the mineral corundum, and corundum is colorless; the many colors of sapphires are created by various impurities. Rubies are red because of the presence of chromium, and when a ruby is as clear and lively as this stone, it’s the best of the best. For me, it’s solace.
I asked my friend Rae Ann to set it. Rae Ann went to the same jewelry-making school as the folks at Reinstein/Ross, and she doesn’t have two New York storefronts to support. I knew she could make the ring I had in mind, and she did; it’s shown below and at the top of this post. (You can look at Rae Ann’s new Etsy store here.) During our conversations, I asked her about a casting technique I’d seen on line, where sapphires are smooshed into gold without prongs or bezels. “It’s called casting in place,” she told me, “I wouldn’t use it on a good stone like this because the results can be random. But it’s a really different look.” I had to know more about it. And that sent me to the website of Polly Wales.
Wales is a British-born, Los Angeles-based designer who creates art out of highly disciplined anarchy. The stones in the band above are all sapphires, a rainbow of them. They were popped into a wax model, and molten gold was poured around them. (The process is more complicated, but that’s the idea.) The result is a kind of semi-buried treasure. Diamonds and sapphires are the only precious stones tough enough to take this heat.
I found the ring in a jewelry store in Nolita called The Clay Pot. It was a sample, and unlike all the other samples, it was small enough to fit me. They gave me a discount. And there was a rice pudding store right across the street. Solace!
But all this stress shopping has not made the stress go away, and now the bills are coming in. I feel more like Marie Antoinette than ever: I take pleasure in these beautiful things, but people here and abroad are still suffering. And times are about to get tougher.