Jewelry Girl by
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First Hermes scarf, purchased in Paris

The night after my father died I received a call from an older first cousin, trying to console me. He remembered that I was a serious little girl who LOVED jewelry. Funny, but not a surprising combination, since my maternal grandfather owned a jewelry store in Toledo, OH and when we visited, I would press my nose against the glass display cases, looking longingly at the shiny objects inside. I was the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family and Grandpa gave me my first diamond ring, a little circlet of gold with a tiny diamond chip in it, when I was three. Another, slightly larger ring came two years later. They were only worn on dressy occasions, but I loved them dearly. A dainty gold watch also came forth once I could tell time. It has my name engraved on the back of the face.

If you look closely at the lettering on the ring box, you can still see “S.B. Stein and Son Jewelers”; my grandfather and uncle. who always worked for Grandpa, and took over the store after my grandfather’s death in 1964.

When I was a young teenager, my grandmother “lost” her pearl earrings so she could get another pair and give the spare to me. Apparently neither of us had pierced ears (my mother wouldn’t let me pierce mine in 8th grade when all my friends were; after that I never bothered), as the earrings she gave me were “french screws” which I liked, as I could adjust them to just the right tension to keep comfortably on my ear lobes. I cherish those and wore those as my “something old” on my wedding day.

Grandma’s pearl earrings

Through the years, as my many aunts traveled the world, they brought me back colorful beads and enamel pins from various countries of the world. I still have many in my “childhood” jewelry box and always enjoyed wearing the various gifts with my good outfits to Temple or when we went out to a nice dinner on vacation.

When I was Confirmed, in 10th grade, my grandmother was alive, but sinking into dementia. In her name, an aunt bought me a lovely ring with a heart-shaped garnet set with a tiny diamond beneath it. I loved that ring and wore it for dressy occasions until I left for college, when I began wearing it all the time. The following photo is on the day of my Confirmation. My parents had a large party in our house for all our relatives and friends. I’m showing the ring to my Uncle Joe who ran the jewelry store in Toledo, OH (he and other family members came in from out of town for the occasion).

Showing Uncle Joe my confirmation garnet ring

My husband, Dan, gave me a beautiful oval diamond as a 21st birthday present and to celebrate our engagement. The central stone was set with a small diamond on with side. The wedding band was white gold with three tiny diamonds (matching the side diamonds from the engagement ring) and I wore them together. Eventually, I reset the engagement stone with sapphires on either side. The pronged setting made it more problematic to wear for everyday, and I got a double row of small diamonds as the wedding band. They were both in a jewelry roll in my night stand when a heroin addict broke into our Martha’s Vineyard home 8 years ago and stole them, along with a few other, less expensive (and not insured) pieces of jewelry, as well as some medication. I got back all the jewelry except for the engagement diamond, which the thief sold in Boston. So I no longer have the original stone; that 21st birthday present. Insurance money paid for a larger one and the setting I picked allows me to comfortably wear it all the time, which I now do.

When my kids were young, I wore a Swatch, as my hands and arms were frequently in water, and they loved to teeth on the plastic watch band. When we started spending so much time on the beach, about 22 years ago, I wanted a good looking water-proof watch and wound up (due to my husband’s prodding) with a Cartier watch, which I wear every day.

Thirty years ago, I visited my mother in suburban Detroit. I drove her car and, while pulling it into the carport, I dinged the side-view mirror. We were both upset and I offered to pay for it. She told me to bring her something from Paris instead, as I was going there on vacation the next month. I bought her the Chanel purse you will see in the next photo. Upon my return, I called her from my office to tell her. I thought she’d be thrilled, but her response was, “I don’t need another evening bag”, having no idea what type of purse I’d bought for her, or how functional it was (or how valuable). She was a tough customer. She usually wore navy, so didn’t often wear black accessories. Even that was a problem for her. Occasionally, after I moved her near me, I asked if I could borrow it. She allowed it once — the day of David’s bar mitvah. She would not allow me to borrow it again the day of Jeffrey’s. I don’t know why. Eventually, as you see, I inherited it.

Years ago, I bought myself the one pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps shown in the photo. They are remarkably comfy and really do make my legs look nice. I’ve had them a long time, wore them to Jeffrey’s bar mitzvah, though had them before and still think they look great.

Designer labels

I bought the Hermes scarf seen in the Featured photo while on a trip to Paris (and the Riviera) while pregnant with David. I couldn’t try on any clothing when 6 months pregnant, but a beautiful silk scarf was just the ticket! It was my go-to accessory for the next few years. The pink one with the shoe and purse was another gift for my mother. She treasured that and looked for dresses to accessorize with it. I also bought one for my mother-in-law on that trip to Paris, but don’t know what happened to that one.

I continue with my love affair with jewelry, but mostly inexpensive pieces; colored beads, interesting pins, nice necklaces. I tend not to wear large pieces or precious stones. I have bought some interesting things at the gift shop at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. With my small frame, I am careful not to be overwhelmed by what I wear. But I do love what I own and I still love to look at anything that sparkles.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: rings from Grandpa, Chanel purse, Hermes scarf, Manola Blahnik shoes

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    What I really loved about this story, Betsy, was that it made clear to all of us clueless guys what we never really understand about the attraction of jewelry and other such accessories. Yes, to be sure, they are usually shiny, pretty objects. But, even more so, they are about stories — often about family, but always about people and events and not just the things themselves. So what you have given us here is a collection of lovely little stories about your life and your family and how the jewelry is connected to them, and that these stories are really about the memories that these objects evoke.

    Thank you! I may actually “get it” now.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you for your new-found wisdom, John. What you say is true for me. I certainly associate special pieces of jewelry with certain moments in my life (like my confirmation, or getting engaged). I carried a nice Bally handbag to a rehearsal dinner in London two weeks ago. As I put it away, I showed it to my husband and remarked that it was my 39th birthday present from him to me. He didn’t remember, but I told him that was what I wanted and he got it for me. I remembered. But I have a good memory.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I loved the details about your special jewelry growing up. Like you, I had a relative in the jewelry business in Ohio (Cleveland), my mother’s cousin. All good jewelry in the family came from Alter’s store. I envy your skill with scarves. My mother was the master of accessorizing with them. I inherited many of her scarves but none of her skill.

  3. John Zussman says:

    I second John S’s comment; I love the stories behind the pieces you describe. I was also struck by the casual way you describe how your grandmother “lost” her earrings. That was quite an example to set for an impressionable child. (Of course, my grandma would probably have done the same.) I guess you made up for it when your uninsured jewelry was stolen. I’m glad you were able to get your mom SOME accessory she liked, even if it wasn’t the handbag.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I didn’t think about the deviousness of my grandmother, but rather, how much I loved her giving me those earrings. I think everyone knew what she was up to and we all sort of winked at her scheme. Having the jewelry stolen was very difficult. One piece was an American flag pin that my mother had from her WWII USO days. It had no value beyond sentimental. I was so relieved to get everything back (thanks to great work by the Edgartown police) except for my engagement ring. And yes, at least my mother liked SOMETHING from one trip to Paris. As you know, she was difficult to please.

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story, Betsy. I agree with John and John that the stories behind the various accessories are the best part. Once again your memory for detail amazes!

    I think you are the only person I know who actually owns a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Are they really comfy? I can’t imagine! Have you ever been tempted by Louboutins? Or Jimmy Choos? Inquiring minds want to know!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Yes, those fancy pumps were quite comfy (before I had my toe joint replaced 4 years ago)! They didn’t hit me in a bad position, unlike other high heels. And no, I’ve never been tempted to buy other super-fancy designer shoe labels. For a long time I bought Bally, which was a good fit. Now I buy Stuart Weitzman for my good shoes. Those are usually comfortable and not TOO expensive (relative to other labels).

  5. Risa Nye says:

    Loved reading about your treasured accessories and the stories that go with them! About the MB shoes: I’ve got one pair of midnight blue sequined sling backs that I’ve worn exactly twice in nearly ten years. Wore them to my older son’s rehearsal dinner. Honestly, I looked everywhere to find shoes to match that dress…

  6. I love the way you walked us through the arc of your life via accessories! Particularly memorable, I can imagine your first impressions from your family’s jewelry store. I remember rummaging through my mother’s jewelry as a child of four (approx) and how strange and puzzling the rings and necklaces seemed to me. I also enjoyed reading of your clever grandmother, ‘losing’ her pearl earrings. I bet you didn’t wear those lost baubles around your grandfather! Thanks for the parade through all your beautiful adornments and how all the practicalities of life shaped their place in your life, e.g., a Swatch as a teether! Ha!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Chaz. It is funny how those adornments reflected my memories growing. My grandfather had passed away by the time my grandmother pulled the fast one with her earrings and I’m not sure I ever wore them around her, as we lived in different cities (I in Detroit, she in Toledo) and I only wore them on very special occasions. I was 15 when she passed away, so did not often wear such valuable jewelry yet.

      The kids also liked to teeth on the TV remote control…it wasn’t just my Swatch. That was limited to times when we were out of the house, I was trying to soothe and had run out of options. Key chains worked too.

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