We’re all finding new rhythms, ways to virtually connect, and ways to reconnect too. We’ve been pulling some of our favorite books back off the shelves and rummaging through the bottom drawers of our jewelry boxes to get reacquainted with some of our most treasured pieces. At times like these, we often think about how earlier generations coped with pandemics and economic hardships, and find solace in knowing they got through it…
TJL has been “staying home” and telling stories about those earlier generations, those we inherited our Jewelry DNA from.
Ode to Ohio Silver
In the latest installment of our Jewelry DNA series, industrial designer Tucker Viemeister writes about opening a jewelry store with his brother in their hometown, Yellow Springs, Ohio.Read Tucker's story here!
THE GOLD BANGLE BRACELETS ~ BY LANA INY
It was a cool December day in 1951 at Baghdad International Airport. My parents, Hilda and Naim, and oldest sister, Viva, age 4, were leaving Iraq for good on a French Laissez Passé. They, like thousands of Jews in Iraq, were exiting the country with the condition that they leave all their personal belongings behind and give up their Iraqi citizenship. That, or be subjected to targeted bombings against the Jews. Of the 150,000 Jews living in Iraq at the time, the vast majority made the choice to flee. After 2,700 years of life in Baghdad, the time had come for the Babylonian Jews to say goodbye to their Garden of Eden.
My parents grew up on the banks of the Tigris River, part of ancient Mesopotamia. They loved their charmed life in Baghdad, living in comfortable open-air homes, sleeping on rooftops under the stars during the sweltering summer months, and maintaining close ties with the Jewish community. But as the 1940s drew to an end, their lives became consumed with fear. It was no longer safe to be a Jew in Iraq. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 only made the situation more complicated for Jews in the Arab countries.
On that December day, my mother and father packed a small overnight suitcase filled with a few bare essentials. No personal property, no substantial amount of cash, no jewelry would be allowed on their person. They were flying to Paris, with Viva in tow, to live next door to Auntie Marcelle, my mom’s sister, and Uncle Ezra. Luckily, an apartment, at 7 Rue Agar in the 16th Arrondissement, was available to rent. My mother was just 22, and it would be her first time on an airplane. My father, 32, was leaving his auto parts business behind, unsure of what his next step would be for his family and livelihood. It was a nerve-wracking day, and Viva was behaving in her usual precocious way. She was excited to fly and had been entrusted with safeguarding four gold bangle bracelets. The bracelets had been an engagement gift to my Mom when she was betrothed to my Dad. She was 18 when they met, introduced one morning and engaged that same afternoon. Even though she didn’t love him at first, she’d grow to love him, she was told–he was a good man.
Before they departed for the last time, Hilda quickly glanced around her home knowing she’d never see it again. She carefully slipped the bracelets on Viva’s upper arm and then dressed her with a snug fitting cardigan that would hold the bangles in place. They arrived at the airport and things seemed to be going well until they got to customs/security. They presented their French documents. All were in order. But then the officer, in an unassuming tone, asked if they were carrying any illegal items, listing the many forbidden things. When he said, “are you carrying any gold?” Viva’s ears perked. “Schoof honi!” responded Viva, Arabic for “Look here!” Aghast, Hilda held back her tears. She had so few precious things in her life, the gold bangle bracelets being among them. Naim, always clever on his feet, offered some American dollars to the agent to allow them through. It worked.
Hilda wore the four bracelets on her arm for years to come. She and Naim travelled between Paris and Tel Aviv between 1951 and 1956. My sister Chantal was born in Paris, and later I was born in Tel Aviv. Finally, in 1956 we all boarded the Queen Elizabeth in England and headed to Montreal, Canada, where a whole new life began. My parents would have two more children: Mona, a fourth daughter, and finally Alan, the much sought-after son.
Years later, Hilda agreed to “loan” me two of the gold bangle bracelets. It was a special occasion, a big Iraqi Jewish wedding. I promised to return them after that night. But I didn’t. I fell in love with them. Baghdad gold had a purity of a color I’d never seen before. At 24 carats, the bangles were solid and heavy, yet comfortable enough to wear every day and to sleep with every night. Which is what I did. I never removed them from my arms for the next 30 years.
Hilda wore the other two bangles on a daily basis, too. I felt like we had a true bond, a gold bangled bond. It was the one thing only she and I, the middle child of five, shared exclusively. It made me feel a little special. And so, it was with sadness, that when she lay on her dying bed, she asked for the bracelets to be cut off her wrists; they were no longer comfortable, her arms had become too swollen from the illness that had suddenly ravaged her. As her five children stood around her hospital bed, she looked at each of us, deciding who should be the next guardian of her bracelets. Her gaze stopped at Viva, the precocious smuggler. And so it was. The Baghdad bangle bracelets were to be shared between the eldest and middle sister. And now, Viva and I have the gold bangled bond.
Lana Iny is a public relations executive at HBO where she oversees campaigns for documentary films. She was raised in Montreal and resides in NYC.
When my Father was dying he gave each of his children a piece of his jewelry. My sister got his gold chain, my brother his watch, and my other brother his signet ring. He gave me his wedding ring, but I felt very strongly that my Mam should have that. After he died, I found another gold chain, and my Mother said I could keep this instead. Turns out it was the first gift she ever bought him. She had his initial "T" carved into the front of it, and her initial "K" with "Xmas 1982" on the back (the year they got engaged). This past Christmas my Mam gave me a replica of the first piece of jewelry my Dad ever bought her–a gold chain with an infinity symbol. (She had unfortunately lost the original.) Up until I received this necklace, I never took the one from my Dad off. Now I hang them side by side in my bedroom and depending on how I feel that day I wear one or the other. Each necklace holds within it certain attributes I admire in my parents; integrity, calm, patience, and courage. It helps me feel close to my Dad when I miss him, and closer to my mam while we are living on opposite sides of the world. I feel really honoured to have both of these pieces that are such an integral part of their love story in my possession. ~ Nicola is a Director/Actress and Co-Founder of On the Quays Productions, a New York based international production company. She is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts NY conservatory acting program, and received her MFA in Directing from The Lir, National Academy of Dramatic Art, Trinity College Dublin.nicolacmurphy.com
My grandfather, Gene Rawlings, was a charming man. He had a way with people, the kind of way that turned strangers into friends, and friends into family. He was the sweetest man I ever knew. He spent much of his adult life working multiple jobs to provide a decent life for his wife and four children. And he gave me my first real ring when I was nine years old, a polished gold band with a deep-cut black diamond right at its center. It was beautiful, yet modest, and actually reminds me of who my grandfather was as a person. You could say his wife and children represented the gold in his life, and hard honest work was the solid rock at the center of it all. I wore that ring everyday, just like Grandpa wore his wedding ring, even though my mother said it was too special to be worn casually. She was right. At some point in the eighth grade, it slipped off my finger, and I never found it again. Losing that ring was very hard for me, because Grandpa and I were so close. He dropped us off at school every morning, and every afternoon he would take us home with him to watch the soaps, like "The Young and Restless," and "Guiding Light." He taught me so much about kindness and honesty, and he even showed me how to make the most of a small cup of ice cream by packing an extra scoop in there every time. Grandpa was consistent. He did what he said he would do. When I lost that ring I thought I had lost the most important thing he gave me, but the truth is that his most valuable contribution to my life was as intangible as the time we shared. Kindness, honesty, consistency. Now, there's hardly a single day that goes by without me wearing at least one ring on my hand. ~ KIRU is a Brooklyn-based artist and entrepreneur and founder of KIRUNIVERSE, a boutique firm specializing in purpose-driven experience marketing.kiruniverse.com
I grew up in the Soviet Union. My father was a talented dentist: his huge fat fingers could miraculously make small tooth sculptures. Silver and gold teeth were very popular at that time. Famous singers came to him to get a “Hollywood” smile. People brought him pieces of silver and gold jewelry to turn into crowns. Sometimes, my father would keep the nice ones for my mother and offer the patients his high quality scrap metal. My mother kept her jewelry in a beautiful wooden box. I liked the smell of it, and that smell became a pleasant memory when we had to move from one house to another after the Soviet Union collapsed. A Soviet cotton handkerchief replaced the wooden box and served as a guard for my mother’s small jewelry collection. The “Wild-90’s” of the post-Soviet era was ruled by mafia and criminals. One such criminal showed up at our house and took our carpet and TV. Television had just started broadcasting Walt Disney cartoons; for kids like us, losing this access was an unimaginable tragedy. We got a new TV a few days later. My mother did not tell us, but I knew that she sold her gold rings to buy the TV. I saw how small the pile in her handkerchief had become. Selling jewelry for food, bills, and birthdays became a routine in our family. The last piece my mother sold was a pair of her favorite Soviet samovar earrings, which she wore on special occasions. I recently found a pair on Etsy and bought them for my mother to remind us how we had managed to get through uncertain times together. ~ Born and raised in Kyrgyzstan, Aida Sulova is an artist and curator who lives and works in NYC.aidasulova.com
Patricia Funt Oxman
My paternal grandfather, Isidor Funt, was a diamond dealer on 47th street. He was a quiet gentle man. He died when I was 14, but I still have a strong memory of him. At times he carried diamonds in his breast pocket. That made quite an impression on me. Such an out of the ordinary thing to have on your person. They were in crisp folded squares of tissue paper, and he would unwrap the tissue and show me a group of diamonds rolling and sparkling in the folds of the tissue. He gave me one of my first real pieces of jewelry. It's a circular gold charm with a hand holding a bouquet of gem set flowers. On the back he had engraved "Patty my angel". ~ Patricia Funt Oxman of Patricia Funt Antiques has been in the antique arena since the early 1980s. She's had stores in both New York City and Connecticut. These days she's online and at antiques shows. She loves unusual smalls and all kinds of jewelry, from early antique pieces to those of any era that combine good craftsmanship with a sense of humor.patriciafuntantiques.com
My love affair with jewelry began when I was about four years old. Where others might remember the treasured toys of early childhood, for me, it is the jewelry–a crystal heart on a silver chain, a red rhinestone strawberry brooch, and a garnet (my birthstone) ring–all pieces given to me by my great-aunt Esther, with whom I had a very special relationship. Aunt Esther, a woman with her own sense of style, always marked special occasions with gifts of fine jewelry, each one appropriate to the milestone I was celebrating: a gold charm bracelet for my 13th birthday, a “Sweet 16” charm for my 16th, and a gold bangle for my high school graduation. When I was older, she gave me a Victorian brooch with seed pearls, and a magnificent Victorian gold watch on a long chain; both had belonged to her mother, my great-grandmother. The watch cover is engraved with our shared initials “BS”, so I have a feeling it was always meant to make its way to me. I have passed the watch along to Aunt Esther’s namesake in our family, the next generation, and believe my dear great-aunt would approve. ~ Barbara Schwartz is a historian, educator, former librarian, vintage costume jewelry expert, and founder of Trufaux Jewels, an exceptional collection of vintage pieces from the 1920s-1950s.trufauxjewels.com
My mother, Corinne (Corky) Alster Davidov was born in the 1930s during the Depression. With such scarcity of financial resources, my grandmother, Elizabeth, never threw anything out–including the inexpensive plastic jewelry she wore at the time, and that she still had in her jewelry box fifty years later. Mom started collecting Art Deco in the 1960s, discovered my grandmother's trove of 1930s pieces, and a few carved bracelets later, became a full-on Bakelite enthusiast. She loved the bright and bold colors, the deep carving, the chunkiness, the pure delight of wearing a clacking armful. In 1988, she co-authored The Bakelite Jewelry Book with Ginny Redington Dawes. Bakelite jewelry was joyful and playful and clever, and that was my mother too.