Dr. Jan Meyer: Jewelry has a real function in life

By : 
Dr. Jan Meyer
The Biker's Diary

There is a small framed saying on my dresser that clearly states my sentiments. It says “Jewelry marks moments: one piece for every place I’ve been.” I originally found that in a magazine ad, and saved it because that’s how I feel. Almost every piece I own has some meaning for me, not just for the places I’ve been, but also for various stages of my life over the years.

What has the distinction of being the oldest surviving piece in my collection is a gold locket that my father gave me one Christmas when I was in my pre-teens. The cover is different colors of gold resulting in a scenic lake and trees. It opens and inside is space for two small photos. Now it is empty, but at one time I had a photo of me and my boyfriend at the time. My dad also once gave me a single strand of real pearls. He had good taste.

The first time I was in grad school, I volunteered and did master’s thesis research at the local all-Native American school. About two or three weeks into every month, the mothers would start bringing in their handmade beaded jewelry in hopes of selling it to the staff. Then, at the end of the month, everyone celebrated “mother’s day,” which was the day the mothers got their checks. Then they would come in and buy back their beautiful jewelry. Then the cycle would start all over again.

When those mothers sold their jewelry, it was because they really needed the money, but because of that need for money immediately, the price for us to buy it was way below its value. One time I decided I’d like to keep a piece as a memento. Instead of paying the “hocked” price, I paid above what I knew to be the market retail price someone would pay to purchase it at a store so I could keep it. I still have it, love it, and wear it.

Another beautiful piece of Native American jewelry I have was a gift. My son’s spouse is Native American, and grew up “on the res.” Her mother was a master jewelry maker, and she gave me a necklace made out of elk’s teeth, leather, some beads and “horn pipes,” which are very small animal bones. She died not long after, and of course that is another piece I treasure. It too marks a “moment.”

Many of my items of jewelry have been picked up on travels. Those take up little space in a suitcase, and are the easiest souvenirs to bring home. A couple of years ago I bought a gorgeous necklace at a small charming town just outside Yosemite Park in California. Every time I wear that piece I remember that great trip. Another time I purchased another gorgeous necklace in the street market of downtown Prague. The Czech Republic is the home of Swarovski crystals, and they are amazingly inexpensive there. When I wear that one, someone always recognizes it as having been made from those special crystals.

Some of these treasures have a hidden bonus, or maybe it is not a bonus. If I get something just because I love the piece, I don’t necessarily have something that would be the best color or neckline or style with which to wear it. Then it means I have to go find a new outfit.

When I worked in Eastern Europe before, during and after the change from communism to capitalism, companies often had no money to pay me. At one place, one of the staff made ceramic and leather jewelry as a hobby, and that’s how I acquired two beautiful and very unusual necklaces. It wasn’t always jewelry in which I was “paid.” At another place, I received a beautiful hand-painted silk scarf, also made as a hobby by one of the staff. One time it was five beautifully-done small pieces of wall art painted by a well-known local artist. When I took them to my favorite frame shop to have them properly framed, the owner said if I was ever interested in selling those, he wanted “first dibs.” That “ever” has not arrived.

On the occasions when I did get paid with cash during those times, I was advised to spend it all the same day. The reason was the extremely high rate of inflation; it would be worth next-to-nothing by the next day. I took that advice, and one time I found hand-made wool sweaters; not jewelry but still works of art. I bought all that small shop had. One evening I was standing outside a shop at the curb with my packages, waiting for my ride. A person walking by took a look at me, then at my packages, and muttered, “Crazy American.”

Special gifts of jewelry also mark moments and friends. When Spouse Roger and I were planning on getting married, three or four months prior to the planned date, I was working in Thailand. I had designed and ordered our wedding rings there. By the time I was leaving the rings were not ready. My friend said not to worry, her son, John (the youngest of my two Thai “sons”), would be coming to Bangkok for his Christmas break, and he would bring them back with him when he returned to Minnesota.

I hadn’t paid for them yet, so when John arrived back with the rings, I asked him how much I owed his mom. He replied, “No charge. They are a wedding gift from our family to you and Roger.” I was stunned, and thinking about that even after all these years still brings tears to my eyes, partly because both of his parents have died since then and I can no longer tell them how much that still means to us.

Yes, jewelry does mark moments. Looking at my collection, including those pieces I call my “deliciously gaudy junk jewelry,” is a trip down memory lane.