Jewelry: Letting go

I'm an advocate for jewelry renos, but also advise disposing of pieces you no longer wear.

Over the summer, I took my own advice and divested a non-heat-treated sapphire and diamond cocktail ring, ca. '40s. A gift about twenty years ago, it did enjoy some giddy nights on the town. But now, it was no longer me and no one in my family was interested, so it languished in a vault.

Below, I was thinking about what to do; notice the ring does not really work with a marinière, let alone a FitBit bracelet!

Fab but formal

I decided to test the market.

Equipped with current appraisal from a highly-respected firm, I met with a prestigious jewelry auction house's appraiser, Mr. P. He admired the ring, then proposed a starting bid at one-sixth the appraised value. My heart sank; there was no way I was letting that ring go for so little.

An auction house is essentially interested in a sure sale. A low starting price attracts interest, and though the piece may sell for more, my check of the house's recent sales of large blue sapphires reported hammer prices near starting bids. 

When I suggested his estimate was low, he questioned the accuracy of the appraisal, until I showed the signature: he had been the original appraiser, in a past job. He wanted me to have the sapphire unmounted and shipped to the GIA for a report (cost, at least $600). I did not find this request unreasonable, since the house has a worldwide clientele, but the very low estimate did not garner my cooperation. 

Next stop: a carriage-trade antique jeweler who advertises his interest in buying estate fine jewelry. The owner made a wildly lowball offer.

Depressed by those meetings, I reconsidered a reno and built a file of ideas, collecting austere examples like the Helène de Taillac design at left. 

I visited my longtime jeweler, Pam, to discuss the project, but breaking down the ring felt like cutting a silk charmeuse gown into gym shorts.

She too thought the auction house's estimate was low, and suggested I show the ring to Ms. M.,  gemologist whom she trusts, for her opinion.

That meeting was infused by a palpable frisson: Ms. M. adored the sapphire's velvety, cornflower depths and retro glamour. She asked my permission to take it to a New York gem lab for analysis (at her expense); after confirmation that it was indeed unheated, we negotiated a fair price, significantly more than the auction house's estimate, but a good deal for both parties. 

Here are my tips about selling fine jewelry:

1. Before talking to potential buyers, get an appraisal from a credentialed appraiser who is well-regarded in the industry; if she suggests an accompanying gem lab report (e.g., GIA), have her arrange that. The appraisal value is replacement value, nearly always higher than the target selling price.  

2. Research current prices for similar pieces sold by specialist jewelry auction houses (Sotheby's, Doyle, Christie's) and sites like First Dibs, not eBay. If you are selling at an auction outside a major city, and held by a lesser-known house, the price is usually lower.

For an important piece, think beyond your local market. The leading auction houses regularly hold client consultations in major cities; contact them to inquire.

Before booking an appointment, read the contract to learn exactly how they work and to calculate the net profit you could receive after costs such as commission, handling fees and taxes upon sale. This is not always on their web sites, so call ahead to request those details. You do not want their terms to be news after it's too late.

3. Value is determined by the material, but also by style, workmanship and maker (if signed). My ring's Hollywood Regency swank is hot now; a less-desirable piece that would be broken down for the materials will bring a lower price.

4. Toughen your skin, because you'll encounter buyers who think you are desperate or may denigrate the piece (or your intelligence), as a tactic. On the other hand, realize that sentimental value is relevant to you alone.

As in any negotiation, figure out your walk-away price and stick with it. I wasn't facing what auctioneers call "The 3 D's"—death, divorce or debt—so did not feel pressured to sell.
5. If you consign, factor in the consignor's share (which may run as high as 40 or 50 percent) and applicable taxes, and realize that the sale may take time or never happen. Check the consignee's insurance coverage.

6. Remember there are always more options, if you are not in a hurry. I might, for example, have donated the ring to a registered charity's auction and received a receipt to use as a tax credit.  

7. Just like selling a house, luck plays its part. Ms. M. happened to love the ring, but what if she had not? Give luck time to show up. If you can, initiate the process before you feel any sense of urgency. Take your time, do your research, and realize what one person says, even if an expert, is only an opinion.

I felt a pang letting that opulent jewel go, because that combination of quality and size isn't coming into my life again! But it also felt right; there's a time to find another home for possessions not enjoyed day to day.

Le Duc suggested replacing the cocktail ring with an everyday one. Ms. M. had introduced me to Dorotheé Rosen's "OneFooter" series, represented in Montréal by Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h
Photo: Dorothée Rosen

I waited until the Galerie received a selection, then chose one similar to that shown at far left, with a lively lavender sapphire, more saturated than this photo shows:

I will wear it!
From cocktails to coffee cup, such is life these days. 

Dressing a weight gain: Why be boring?

First, a sincere thanks to all for your words regarding my friend Rachel, whom I visited last week. When I left, I felt infused with her vibrant life force, awed by her equanimity, and strengthened by her resolve.

That evening, I met another friend, whom I'll call "Colette". Rachel and Colette do not know one another, but share wild, irreverent senses of humour, love of art and music, and eclectic, avid reading habits.

They also share, temporarily, another characteristic neither wants, unintended weight gain. Due to a medication side effect (being addressed), Colette is much heavier than she wants to be. But there you are, these things happen.

Greeting her, alluring as ever, in the bar of a posh hotel, I didn't notice till she lifted her chic silk blue-grey tunic to reveal a roundness that has furloughed her usual wardrobe.

Among other things, we discussed the Clothes Problem (which had happened to me, too).

My observations:

1. If you gain weight, do not lose your mojo, girls! Buy a few good-quality pieces that shimmer with drama and wit, and wear the mess out of them.

2. Order from specialty-size merchants on the Internet unless you have an exceptional local shop that understands that voluptuous women do not want rectangular, boring clothes.

3. Don't save your bucks for the day when the old number bobs up in the scale's window; you will hate the clothes you have relegated yourself to wearing, and then hate yourself. But at the same time, buy what can be altered, if you are on a mission to shed the extra weight. (Some health conditions can cause a permanent gain, but not Colette's.) Pants can be cut down one or at most two sizes, but skirts are much more flexible, and some sweater styles will magically fit you over multiple size drops.

I found some gorgeous examples for my friend, who dresses with expressive and original style. Colette loves skirts and dresses, so I've favoured them over pants, and besides, they show off her pretty legs, which betray no evidence of this medication weight.

A top in the rich hues of an abstract botanical:

Anna Scholz Ciara top; price, £125.

A sophisticated woman needs a dress like this; size is irrelevant.

 Signature black and silver snakeskin dress, £70 at Via Moda.

A finely-pleated skirt would move gracefully from work to theatre. Colette could wear this rich burgundy, a more novel neutral than black:

Persona by Marina Rinaldi semi-gloss pleated skirt, $US 251 at Navabi.

Cashmere is a necessity in our winters; this long poncho will fit no matter what. You can also wear it as a scarf, or, thanks to its length, belted. Rich grey is a Colette colour.
Eric Bompard long poncho; price, €246—my friend will spring for a luxe item if it makes her heart race, but I might wait for the January sale.

Finally, a coat, among the biggest-ticket items. But you need one, and it does not work to wear your old size unbuttoned. (I know from experience.)

C. is known for colourful coats. If she's reading, she will either tell me I got it right or horribly wrong, so I'm showing two.

I'd put her in this deep green faux fur: it's warm, audacious, and would either alter down or be desirable on the resale market. It's breathable and dries quickly. Anyway, I like it!

Persona by Marina Rinaldi faux fur coat; price $US 500 at Navabi.

A lower-priced plum model could be tarted up with a muffler, a good option when the size situation is not going to last long:

LL Bean Winter Warmer coat; price $US 129; free shipping to USA and Canada.
 Isn't it strange? The very moment your natural reasoning says to cut back and wait until you are size whatever again, it is wisest to spend within reason on a special item, or several if you can. You are affirming your self-assurance. The hunt takes effort, and price points rise, but that means choice is more considered than the time when nearly everything was a possibility.

There are many of us who are coping with a circumstantial body shift. Or, for other reasons, a gain has settled in for a longer stay. Rather than berate or bemoan, let's be, period, and look as deeply ourselves as ever.  

"Life is too short for..."

In late summer, one of my closest friends, Rachel, received terrifying news. Though she had no symptoms, a test picked up a troubling indicator, and she learned that she has one of the more worrisome cancers, at an advanced stage. From one day to the next, feeling fine, then this.  

She told everyone immediately. In the first weeks, while we struggled in shock along with her, I read an ad whose headline said, "Life is Too Short for Old Clothes". Like Rachel, I appreciate black humour, so my first thought was, Shouldn't that be, "If Life is So Freaking Short, Who Needs New Clothes?"

How does anyone cope with such news, which Rachel calls "surreal"? Probably not by ordering a cute top.

Rachel is basking in her family, listening to music in the middle of the night, going to meditation classes, undergoing conventional and complementary therapies, and beginning a blog so she can update us easily. She is pretty hinged, considering.

And I thought, What would I do, in her shoes—about to face surgery and multiple courses of chemotherapy? My first impulse would be to grab my loved ones, and—damn the expense—head for Tahiti or Capri or some other paradise, to spend time between treatments immersed in love, nature, memories and dessert every day. Or only desserts some days, why not?

But maybe I would find that less attractive than I imagine. Maybe all I would want is my own bed, a good conversation while sitting in my garden, a long soak in the neighbour's hot tub. I would put on my favourite earrings, a bit of make up, and a pretty head wrap, because my hair has gone on vacation too, without me. And that, so far, is Rachel's modus operandi.

At this magnitude of bad news, everything tilts, like a collision of tectonic plates. 'Now' is a different now. Medical terms swirl with the metaphysical; practical matters coexist with an intense appreciation of raspberries. Witness to a number of remarkable recoveries, we have hope and resolve.

An acquaintance who has had a decade-long remission buttonholes everyone she knows and asks, "Are you doing what you want to be doing?"

Why wait until hearing a such news to determine that? But we do.

I think of lines from Theodore Roethke's poem, "The Waking":
"I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go."

I'm in Toronto, where I traveled yesterday to hang out at Rachel's. A slice of lemon tart, some Eva Cassidy, the lowdown on "chemo daycare", and whatever else comes up—and it will, because she's expressive as ever: honest, acerbic, funny and vulnerable.  

I'll reply to comments next week; today, I'm with my friend. 

PS. Several readers wondered about Le Duc's Apple Crisp Tatin; if you would like the recipe, please e-mail me. It's a classic crisp with a caramel layer at the bottom.


September Sunday at the Market

Let's meet at the market! What are you making? We have an intoxicating fall bounty of peppers, squash, apples, and pots of mums big as wheelbarrows.

And of course we'll people-watch! The calendar says September 27, but the sun's still hot, 27C/80F. The sun-drenched dimanche brings out everything from small tank tops to jackets.

I shot her not just because she was beautiful, but also to show the lightest end of the continuum. The fall frost is coming, so she's enjoying warm weather while she can!

Others choose prints in darker hues as a harbinger of earlier sunsets, crisp evenings:

Men, women and children wear red as a transitional colour; not too summery, but bright. On father and son:

Below, at left, the season-spanner supreme: a white shirt (worn over cropped khakis) with a knit, striped scarf. (One does not remotely 'need' a scarf today, but here we wear them anyway.) Don't miss the red shoes!

She's in a simple tee and jeans, but her brilliant muffler makes her stand out:

On the other end of the continuum, some women head for black, even black stockings, perhaps to ward off a chill once the golden sun dips. Montréalers will watch the unusual 'red sun' eclipse later this evening.

A crocheted sweater looks so graceful—and a glance at her companion reminds us to pick up fresh baguettes.

 Do you enjoy oysters? So many varieties, to take home...

...or we could share a half-dozen at the bar, like this young couple:

What did we buy? Bottles of local cider, glowing like stained glass:

Wild mushrooms, for a risotto:

Whimsical painted gourds to please a neighbour's  five-year-old:

And apples! I chose Wolf Islands, which Le Duc prefers for his delicious apple crumble tatin:

Fall shopping means heavy bags! Let's put them down for awhile, to bask in the late-afternoon sun and discuss what else to do with all those apples.   

Jackets: Stalking the elusive washable

Even if your work wardrobe is casual, or you have retired, an indoor-weight jacket belongs in the mix somewhere, for crisp days, for a change, for the polish.

Decades ago, I owned a washable skirt suit (an agnès b. black and white pin-dot poly that looked like heavy silk) and since knowing that such a thing is not only possible but brilliant, I have wondered, Why don't they make more washable jackets? So practical (sleeve edges seem to soil immediately), better for the environment, and terrific for travel.

You'd expect to find some at travel specialists' sites, but I do not look best in unmitigated menswear, such as the blazers sold by TravelSmith. (If you do, check the All-Seasons Blazer.) 

Even fabrics that are usually washable (cotton twill, denim, polys) are labelled Dry Clean Only; while I confidently use the delicate cycle-plus-mesh-bag method for a blouse, jackets often contain interfacing or finishes that won't withstand a bath.

Fall's crop is turning up a few possibilities.

Ponté (a poly/rayon/spandex knit) to the rescue, but not all ponté jackets are washable. Lands' End's ponté jacket comes in black or red, with nautical buttons and striped lining; price, $150:

A good ponté piece travels impeccably, looks fresh and dries overnight; low-quality ponté feels stiff as a bulletproof vest.

Neither is denim necessarily washable! From J. Crew to Victoria Beckham, I found denim jackets that demand dry-cleaning. Really, would you pay over $600 for denim and then want to re-invest? But the Amanda blue denim at Boden is machine washable, with a current cut and degradée effect, at a decent £55 (sale price), in UK sizes 6 to 22.

Denim is cotton, but cotton that traverses winter. So do some heavyweight cotton knits, but again, some will not withstand the machine. ModCloths is a favourite source of my girlfriend Marina, who alternates their pieces with thrift shop finds. She pointed me to the jaunty navy Ahoy Blazer, which has appealing feminine details and can be hand-washed; price, $70. (Also available in cream and red.)

Garnet Hill's heavyweight Colette cotton knit jacket is washable, and comes in stripe or pewter, up to size 18; price, $150.

Even more rare are jackets of washable wool or wool blends. Boden's Emilia biker jacket looks cool over a long top; they say you can hand wash the 30% wool/70% cotton fabric and that's good enough for me. Price, £89.

Eileen Fisher devotées will find this washable wool interlock is worth the $298 price tag; you could spend that much in a year or two, drycleaning its ethereal seasalt colour.  Wool interlock is a needle's breadth away from a knit; maybe I just need a sweater jacket?

I am still looking; why, on a planet awash in every synthetic known, amply-supplied with denim and at least some washable wool, are so many jackets (and other pieces) dry-clean only?

What's your type?

At a summer picnic with our friends Beth and J., we spoke of the death, on July 10, of Omar Sharif. The elegant Egyptian actor was, and is, Beth's type. Sharif cast his spell when, in early adolescence, she saw Dr. Zhivago. Her attraction to Arab men, preferably with beards, was set; in due time, she married J., a dashing example.

We reminisced about those early influences, the charismatic men and women (usually seen on stage and screen) who shaped our attraction to real-life persons. The great beauties (Taylor, Gardner, Bergman) were mentioned, as well as idiosyncratic, bold stunners like Juliette Greco.

Though of course we are not attracted by looks alone, we can't deny that "When you see a stranger, across a crowded room", the enchanted evening debuts with a stirring of desire.

I asked, Who is a man or woman presently your age, who holds that allure? J. and Le Duc contributed examples; J. was mildly piqued that I discounted his admiration of Julie Christie because of her cosmetic surgery.

Helen Mirren did not garner a flicker, but the sample was small. The guys nodded enthusiastically at the mention of Sophia Loren, though I suspect they are recalling a film image rather than the red carpet looks she has essayed recently.

Susan Sarandon

Patti Smith was controversial; Beth and I find her compelling, the men did not. Everybody agreed on Susan Sarandon.

As we age, we ought to maintain a frank admiration for the beauty of the species. We never stop admiring a fine dog or cat, so why not humans, whether the man in line at the grocery or Sam Elliott?

And by "the species", I include every age, not just the toned twenties to polished forties. Jack Nicholson (known as an experienced appreciator) once said that he saw a TV interview with an author who was past eighty, and was surprised to find himself deeply attracted to her beauty and eloquence. On the surface, his remark may be taken as sexist, but I also found it affirming.

Do I have a type? My preference is not as precise as Beth's, but I've always liked men who have a good chin and definite shoulders, wear clothes well (but are not dandyish), and project a palpable worldliness. At its supreme expression, that would be Marcello Mastroianni.

Quello che un bell'uomo!

I am not alone; a local grocery store's proprietor has hung his portrait above her pastry display.

My eighty-five-year-old mother-in-law was recently introduced, via computer, to George Clooney. (How she escaped exposure to his charms for the last two decades is a bit of a mystery, but she is not a regular filmgoer.)  "Il est beau!" she exclaimed, with certainty.

And you? What is your type?


Style at a bend in the road

One of late summer's highlights: an overnight train trip to a small Ontario town three hours' train ride from Montréal, to visit a longtime friend, Susan C.

Mother and daughter

She and her husband moved from Toronto four years ago, same time I did, to Brighton, a town (population about 10,000) near her birthplace, Belleville. They found a bucolic estate so sizeable that she has her own lake, in which we swam with her boxer, Lucy. We joined her legendary 93-year-old mother Kay's regular Monday evening salon ("the men are at Rotary") on the porch of her art-filled family cottage at the edge of Lake Ontario. We hailed a sister and a passel of nieces and nephews; family was a big reason for Susan and Brian's return.

Susan's country life has made her bloom like her rose garden. Admiring her colour sense, I recalled a Passage post about stylish living in the country—but was in for a surprise when she and I did a spot of shopping on Brighton's Main Street.

Now, I live in Montréal, which I consider one of the epicentres for distinctively dressed women. Call me city-centric, but I never expected a Brighton boutique could offer much for me. Ha!

Susan, standing outside one of her favourite resources, The Clan Shoppe (reminding us, Brighton is historically deep Ontario United Empire Loyalist country):

Exuberant colour!
Above, you see her joie de vivre in lemon and azure (worn with white jeans), and platinum blonde hair, which was serendipitously achieved via an application of Color Oops, after disenchantment with medium blonde.

The Clan Shoppe's owner, Louise, is one chic cookie. She and her sales assistant Patricia effortlessly create the mood you hope for in a boutique (but rarely find when staffed by only-my-day-job types): knowledgable but not pushy, forthright yet respectful of your preferences, relaxed yet professional.

Two hours slipped by; we left feeling buoyed, not bedraggled like in city department stores. When you live amid nature's palette, whether verdant forest or cutting garden, an unleavened palette of navy/black/grey enervates, at least till the snow flies.

With a festive fall ahead, Susan is considering this Joseph Ribcoff red asymmetrical top:

I bought a blurry-floral 3/4 sleeve top and the washable modal scarf in Louise's hands, Front Row Society's "Iris Garden" scarf,  with its colours of the "moors and gardens of cold Scottish winter sunsets".  The price was about $US 50, a damn sight better than the $350 tags on some so-hip sites. (Front Row Society promise to have their e-shop up soon; stockists include Nordstrom.)

The Berlin-based company invites artists around the world to submit designs based on specific themes. Anyone can vote via FRS' Facebook page; the winners of each competition have their work produced as scarves. 

Printed cashmere

Some FRS sacrves are modal, others modal/cashmere, and at the pinnacle of purr, cashmere. (Shown above, "Mariposa" 100% cashmere shawl.)

Not a barn jacket!
The boutique does not carry expensive clothes compared to some of Montréal's outré offerings, but they are treated as if they were. Louise balances edgy items—dramatic capes, the faux Mongolian lamb coat above, an interesting long sapphire long dress I'd wear in Paris—with stacks of basics and shapewear. When a merchant has vision, passion and an eye for what customers want, she can beat the jeans off a mass retailer who must show a corporate "program" that looks incoherent.

We wedged many other delights into just over twenty-four hours: homemade scones and tomato soup, reminiscences drawn from our over thirty-year friendship, lively discussion from politics to lipstick;  I don't think I was silent for more than five seconds, except for sleeping!

Susan's closet, built by an extremely organized couple, has several tiers of these jewelry drawers; making do with several rows of recycled chocolate boxes, I was jealous!

Susan's jewelry drawer

I'm looking forward to another visit one day. You have to love a town that has a real barber pole—it's just the way things were left.

Shave and a haircut?

Do you have a friend a short trip away? I heartily recommend an overnight or weekend visit, and then you can receive her, later, in your neighbourhood!