Jewellery value: Greenbacks and green amethysts

Sometimes, on blogs I enjoy, I see jewellery featured and I think, Nooooo, not because it isn't pretty, but because I am my mother's daughter. Why, I wonder would you spend $2, 500 that way?

Example: These are new Pomellato earrings, 8mm prasiolite studs set in 18k rose gold. The price on  TrueFacet is $US 2,305—okay, if that sum is beer money to you. You do get the Pomellato cachet; they use juicy stones, often in interesting cuts. The bezel setting is cool because you just see the stone on the ear...but still.


Why am I calling this poor value? Prasiolite is also known as "green amethyst", it's a quartz, and nearly all of it is created by heating amethyst or yellow quartz. Amethyst is a very reasonably-priced stone, and though some hoity-toity jewellers avoid the stone, I love it in a rich, grapey hue. Though I hesitate to say prasiolite is "dirt cheap", I would not expect to pay this much for 8mm faceted material.

Pomelatto are owned by Kering, the luxury-goods conglomerate headed by François-Henri Pinault.

Let's drop by Etsy to look at several pairs of green amethyst earrings, also set in gold.

If you want solid 14k rose gold, and do not mind prongs, similar 8mm prasiolite studs are only $US 250 from Etsy seller Teresa Pytell:

Photo: Teresa Pytell on Etsy

If I wanted a pair in that modern bezel, I would be very tempted by the Nepal-based BlackLotusDesigns' crisp, elegant 6mm studs set in 14k yellow gold, for about $US 245.

Photo: BlackLotusDesigns on Etsy

If you like simple gold or silver settings for earrings or rings, see BlackLotusDesigns "Made to Order" section. You'll also enjoy the jeweller Rachel's story.

When I look at inexpensive stones, I figure, here is where I can get some real estate. I like big stones, and prasiolite is not ruby, so bring it on, honeybunch.

At MarieWoo Designs, I found a pair of graceful gold vermeil branches holding lavish (21 x13mm) marquise prasiolites in a deeper green (I prefer this colour to the paler Pomellatto) for about $US $250, about nine times less.

Now, they are vermeil, but in an earring, vermeil holds up well and Mom says the price difference will pay for that car repair you've been putting off.

Caveats: You'd have to see the earrings to assess the quality: is the colour even? Does the saturation please you? Is the setting substantial and secure? Many jewellers do not, understandably, accept returns on custom orders, so ask to see more photos or ask for the weight of the gold used in the setting.

Should your head be turned by a luxe label, stop and look around. Sometimes the luxury brand does provide elevated design and materials. Then you might open your purse, or patiently wait for your dream piece to show up on a resale site.

This year, the Passage will dress it windows in gems (including pearls, of course) that combine beauty, value and artistic expression—and always, I am interested in your own projects and thoughts.

Accused: My story

I waited, almost impatiently, for the #MeToo backlash, generally voiced as "But what if some men are wrongfully accused?"

As I pointed out to more than one worried man, there are laws pertaining to libel and slander that provide recourse. A video clip of Courtney Love, in which she is asked if Harvey Weinstein assaulted her, contains her fear-filled response, "I'll get libelled if I say it!"

My initial response, which arises in me more often than I like to admit, is Boo f-in' hoo, guys. Too many times I'd heard a man boast of a sexual encounter and knew that it never happened. Uncountable times I've heard a man make explicit comments about a woman's body or sexual history, with no thought about consequences to her.

I was reacting to witnessing fifty-five years of frequent, casual misogyny, which some of the accused say was "programmed into them" and "part of the culture".

But let's say a man is falsely accused. An online search pulls up a number of resources, depending on whether the alleged behaviour is workplace-related or private, and vary by jurisdiction. I wish those wrongly accused success in their redress, and acknowledge that once accused, the taint of wrongdoing lingers.

I know what this is like. Thirty-five years ago, when I was thirty-four and single, my boss accused me of sexual misconduct.

I worked in a large corporation. Eddie and Stewart, two colleagues from the UK office, came to Toronto on a two-week assignment. They shared a hotel room; both were married.

At the end of the stay, Eddie's wife would arrive on Friday to join him for a week's holiday; Stewart would book his own room for one night, before he flew home Saturday. Stewart came to see me at closing on Friday, embarrassed that he didn't have enough money for the room; he'd spent his trip cash and his wife had maxed their credit card. I think he had about $25 in his pocket.

He wondered if I could get him a pay advance, but that wasn't possible. Nor did he want to ask Eddie for money; Eddie was running short too, so his wife was bringing extra cash. (This was the era before international ATM networks and personal e-mail.)

I immediately offered the sofa bed in my living room; he gratefully accepted. Stewart bunked in for the night. On Saturday morning, I gave him $40 for cab fare and lunch.

Weeks later, my boss, "Marion", a whip-smart 40-something executive (and one of the few women at that level), reviewed both Eddie and Stewart's expense accounts.

Marion asked me why there was no hotel charge for Stewart for Friday night. I explained the situation. She immediately accused me of engineering a sexual liaison, and said, "You put your own needs ahead of the company", and "His wife is pregnant, how is she going to take this?"

She did not ask me, she told me it had happened, and also said that I had "gone after him", implying harassment.

I replied that her accusation was entirely false, that I had helped him in an emergency, and that if I'd lived alone, I might have thought about it, but because I had a roommate, I didn't view my hospitality as improper. (In hindsight, I wish I'd called Marion to apprise her of the situation.) When I said he'd been stranded without even enough money to get home, she said, "That's his problem."

I could feel myself losing composure. I said, "Look, if I wanted to spend the night with Stewart, I could figure out how to do it so no one would know." Then I was furious for digging myself in deeper by giving the impression I'd even imagine that scenario. (In four years, I had never dated anyone in the company; when I took that job I vowed that no one there would ever see me without my clothes on. One of my girlfriends called this strategy Four Hundred Men and Not One Penis.)

I also said, "You know I have a boyfriend, you've met him!" You say all sorts of things when you're cornered and unprepared.

I left her office reeling, furious, fighting tears.

I did not take my case to HR because in her role, she oversaw the corporate HR function. I considered getting legal advice, but waited to see if she would pursue it further; the usual process was a disciplinary letter, at minimum. When she did not, I thought, Well, that's over—but I suspected she still saw me as guilty.

Less than a year later, she left the company because her husband wished to return to the US; I was promoted to her role. I found my file, with her handwritten notes that detailed the incident. My guilt was presented as fact, my explanation was absent. She had capitalized phrases like "INAPPROPRIATE SEXUAL CONDUCT" and "MARRIED MAN".

The irony is that during the four years when I reported to her, I fielded scurrilous rumours about her: "You know Marion and Ted are having an affair, don't you?" I always replied: "Were you in the room?"

When I visited the UK office the next year, I told Stewart about the incident; he was aghast. He had never heard about it, from her or his manager.

He apologized profusely and wanted to speak to Marion. But she was gone by then, and if she didn't believe me, would she believe him?

Times have changed and I have, too. Today, I'd ask for an immediate investigation, because now I view her behaviour as bullying, and bullies thrive where no one can witness their moves. Following the investigation, I would demand removal of any notes concerning the incident, and ask that she be formally advised of the legal repercussions of slander and libel.

I am no longer so naive, and more attuned to how things can look to a person who assumes the worst—the corporate buzzword is "optics".

When someone raises concern about unjust accusations, I listen and remember. There will be accusations driven by retribution, confusion or psychological issues, or cases like mine in which a person is accused by a third party.

At the time, I felt nauseous when I thought of an investigation, viewed it as invasive; now I would see its purpose. We should address each charge and seek the truth, because to deny the prevalence of harassment is to support it.

Old Enough

You may have read a recent New Yorker article on ageism, Tad Friend's "Why Ageism Never Gets Old", or possibly flipped past it, not wanting to entertain the ominous thought, Do they mean me?

The summary: The ageist person does not like to be around the old, because it reminds them of loss: of competitive zeal, hair, stamina, and ultimately, life. The old are a buzz kill.

An ageist person may like specific individuals: charming Aunt Stacey, or the super-elder whom she met while hiking the Camino del Santiago—but as a group, we are not magnetic.

The astute American writer Edward Hoagland wrote an essay in which he described his fury at becoming hominum ingratum. At family party that involved a recital, a young woman thoughtlessly moved her chair in front of his, blocking his view.

Hoagland found her callousness deeply insulting, but did nothing, unless you count his essay. It is the accretion of such small acts that wears one down.

I say now, I'm old. I could use the euphemism aging, but everybody is agingSeventy, which I'll officially hit in July, is generally accepted as Oldland. Once you can collect every senior's discount going, why be coy about one's age, or insist that seventy is the new fifty? If you think it's the new fifty, try getting a job interview.

Sure, Hillary wanted to be President at seventy, and the current President is seventy-one, but political life seems to be its own planet, inhabited by Supreme Court justices who make seventy look mid-career. But those are old people too; there's much variation in capacity at this age.

But I digress, another sure sign of hitting seventy: everything reminds you of something else.

If some younger persons don't like me because of my age, that is not my problem, though if you're in the workforce, especially in certain occupations, the notion that your value is inverse proportion to your birth date is worrisome. And costly.

Could the next cultural uprising be #OldToo?

Friend includes a study's three possible solutions to ageism, which includes the caveat that they are unlikely given Western culture:
1. Having the elderly live among us and fostering respect for them,
2. Bolstering self-esteem throughout the culture to diminish the terror of aging, and
3. Calmly accepting our inevitable deaths.

That's a tall order for the already-stressed young ones, so those of us over fifty could take the lead.

We could boycott products that promise to "fight signs of aging"; avoid cosmetic procedures undertaken solely to obscure maturity (side benefit: you'll save money), insist the entertainment industry show some typical old people, not the stereotypes. (I liked "Grace and Frankie" well enough but who wouldn't recover quickly from divorce if she could do so on the deck of a Malibu beach house?)

We might refuse to live in age-segregated housing, and advocate for more services in multi-generational units. (Friend doesn't address the matter, but I find some of the most ageist persons to be old themselves.)

The "bolster self-esteem" part will be an enormous challenge, because modern life rarely does that for any adult; open any popular magazine and you'll be told you must get, upgrade or produce more.

As an old person, I've adopted a new mantra, I'm Old Enough For This. I'm Old Enough to get rid of "stuff" without thinking I should hang on to it; to sit in a park to watch the light change; to listen to every version of a favourite aria. I'm Old Enough to take the time I need to do a task as well as I want.

I am Old Enough to know from experience that age does not necessarily confer wisdom, and that old coots were equally miserable to be around when they were younger, but no one was willing to tell them.

We took our advantage in youth, let's take it now. We're luxuriously Old Enough to walk by a baby and stop to admire her without the parent thinking we are anything other than a person in awe of new life. We are Old Enough to read a hard book without worrying whether we will remember all of its complexity, and after reading, leave it in a bus shelter for someone to discover.

I hope we thank persons of any age who teach us about their world, and should those younger blame us for our mistakes—from introducing plastic shopping bags to getting rid of designated hitters—listen without reflexive defensiveness.

Then, there is #3. Everyone hopes for a good end, and when you are old, it becomes a more substantive matter. I read that Mother Teresa meditated daily, for five minutes, on her death. Personally, I am meditating about dying while taking a tango lesson, instantly and in the arms of someone named Javier.

These days, I am brought up short not just by lifetime guarantees, but even, as with the duvet I just replaced, a fifteen-year one.

In the meanwhile, there is plenty to do when you're Old Enough. So, Mr. Hoagland, tap that young guest on the shoulder and ask her to move her chair, now.

Shopping Value: 2017 Stars and Dogs

Happy New Year! And welcome to the eighth annual wardrobe value assessment.

In 2017, I bought few clothes, fewer than any other year in adult life, for two reasons. One, I need little since leaving a 'work wardrobe' world, and second, I decided now was the time to buy some jewellery I'd been thinking of for several years. And, this allows me to slide in another tradition: opening a new year with a pearl post.

Today, what I added in 2017; the grade is my assessment of value for the cost.

Two ultrafine cashmere sweaters 

Two from Eric Bompard bought on 50% sale* in late spring: a colourblock cardigan, and a black shirt. EB took the shirt out of production, so I jumped when old stock turned up.
Grade: B
Lesson: My tendency to feel the cold more as I get older makes a cashmere sale mighty appealing, but ultrafine is not warm enough for the record cold we've had this winter.

(*Note to non-EU buyers using e-commerce: On delivery, you will be charged import duties and taxes, which depend on your country's tariffs; some of you will be lucky enough to have a package slide in without any, but don't depend on it. However, for certain sales, you might be overcharged.

Here's why: For the "national sales"—the two government-approved six-week sale periods that begin mid-January (now) and mid-June—EB list the sale price on the customs form. For "promotions" outside this period (such as "VIP Days") they list the full price on the customs declaration. Once you have paid duty on that, you may then request an adjustment from your country's customs agency. This will involve submission of proof (e.g., credit card statement) that what you paid for your order was less than the amount listed on the customs declaration. Why EB list the full price is beyond me; I have contacted them and received no reply. Reader LauraH and I have received adjustments from Canada Customs.)

A flowy tunic

A last-minute purchase for my brother's memorial, for which his family specified purple attire; it is not purple but coordinated with a scarf with lots of purple in it.

I had a hunch I'd never wear it again, because I'd chosen expensive dresses for my parents' funerals, and could not even look at the clothes, let alone wear them. Inexpensive—about $35 at Winners, our TJ Maxx. It's not really my style, either, but I suspect nothing would have truly pleased me, given the occasion.
Grade: C
Lesson: For something you suspect will be a one-time wear, go to a discount retailer. (You could also try thrifts or consignments, but if pressed for time, hit the discount store.)

Cashmere scarf, secondhand

I walked by a consignment store with icy wind blasting my neck, and was a goner when I saw a Royal Stewart tartan scarf in the window for under $30. The only impulse purchase I made all year!
Grade: A, wearing almost daily.

Jewellery: Three pearly pieces

My Achilles' tendon, which consumed nearly all my budget. (I also divested several pieces no longer worn.) This was a spree, but also planned for several years.

Left: Kokass by Céline Bouré "Les ailes du désir" silver ring with gold South Sea pearl, yellow sapphire and Swarovski crystal. Céline has won prizes for her work in pearls, and also makes gorgeous jewellery set with coloured stones.

I wanted a piece by her to commemorate a "decade birthday", which is not till mid-2018, but she was here in December, so I jumped the gun. A Susanfriend and I arrived at her booth at the annual holiday arts and crafts show, Salon des métiersthe first half-hour it opened. I wanted to take photos, but she was swarmed with clients trying on and buying, and I was not going to come between those women and their gems!

Céline, based in Quebec City, exhibits at some shows, and has an e-store on her web site.

Upper right: Janis Kerman silver dangles with stick pearls, iolite, purple spinel and pink sapphire. At her 40-year retrospective, "Reminiscence" last spring, I was taken with these, paid a refundable deposit, slept on it for a couple of days, and cracked. They are low-key compared to some in the show; Le Duc calls them my "Janis Kerman starter earrings". OK, fella!

Janis is both a renowned jeweller and generous mentor to the upcoming generation, including Céline Bouré. She is represented by galleries in North America and other locations.

Lower right: Vivienne Jones made this bracelet last January, using my pearls and tiny diamonds; many persons have stopped me to ask about it. Vivienne's work is available in a few galleries in Canada or by appointment at her Toronto studio. I could close my eyes, pick anything she makes and be happy.

I paid for my jewellery just like any other client, which may not matter to you, but is essential to me in terms of writing an objective post.

Glasses: #1 expense

Vinyl Factory "Cooper"
The biggest-ticket item was new glasses, solid tortoise frames fitted with my first progressive lenses. I'd held off for several years, but it sure is nice to see who is on the other side of the street. I could have put new lenses in my old frames, but they aren't strong enough to cart around.
Grade: B+ because these frames are dark. I might buy a second pair for spring/summer in a lighter colour, if I find some on sale.
Lesson: From a friend who got hers at the same time: If not happy with the lenses, take them back within three months. (And make sure to deal with opticians who have this policy.) From me: Think about whether frames will look good year round.

Thrift: Thrills of the find

I've posted before on my thrift finds; here they are again, because the total cost was $27! 
Grade: B (I have not worn the jacket or turquoise sweater that much, but will in spring)
Lesson: If I counted the cost of my time, these would be pricey, but hey, I'm retired!

The savings I gained by finding things I needed (except the scarf) helped to fund the jewellery.

Overall Grade for 2017's clothing: B, because I have not yet worn the EB sweaters; I'll use them  in late winter.  I like them, but this assessment is about value, not aesthetics.
Eternal lesson, for any year and budget: You can buy "perfect" things, but if they sit in a drawer, your  money is wasted.

For the jewellery, A. Artisanal jewellery is still a world where you can have something beautifully hand-made and even bespoke; unless you have very deep pockets or can sew confidently, just try that with clothes. I also had the pleasure of supporting three sublime women artists!

What's next?

I thought a cool challenge for 2018 would be to shop for clothing entirely from thrifts, but because I need a long inseam, I can't find trousers and skirts are too short.  The clothes look like what they were: someone else's.

I could also resolve to do no shopping except for say, socks and underwear. Note that "could": it's scary. To learn how one woman spent a year without buying any clothes, and more crucially, how it shifted her awareness, read novelist Ann Patchett's "My Year of No Shopping" in The New York Times.

One of Patchett's most moving observations:
"Once I got the hang of giving shopping up, it wasn’t much of a trick. The trickier part was living with the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more. Once I could see what I already had, and what actually mattered, I was left with a feeling that was somewhere between sickened and humbled. When did I amass so many things, and did someone else need them?"

In 2017, I got rid of more than I bought. A flip through the notebook where I've recorded all purchases since 2009 shows I've dramatically whittled back my shopping, but I have but no regrets about a single pearl.

If you made either mistakes or especially wise buys in 2017, please join in and tell us about them!