JEWELRY AS FAMILY HISTORY, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Whenever my daughter, Sarah, comes to visit from LA, we always take a trip down memory lane together – in my jewelry drawers. I used to have all the jewelry I kept from my grandmother and my mom and my earlier years in shoe boxes and Tupperware containers that were stashed away in a closet. Then one year Sarah decided that we should organize all the old jewelry and display it in easy to access drawers, which we did. We discovered many pieces that I can still wear and those got transferred into my personal jewelry collection.

Now every year, Sarah and I go through our neatly organized drawers, reminiscing and trying on pieces of our family history. Here is a sampling of our favorite ‘historical’ treasures.

The two necklaces below belonged to my grandmother and I believe came with her to the US from Russia around 1908. I remember her wearing the one on the right and I always felt that they had a ‘European’ look to them.

My grandmother’s primary, go to piece of jewelry was the pin. She never wore earrings,  bracelets or rings. But she wore pins in may ways, like at her neck with a high collared dress, to hold a scarf in place (she loved scarves) and on her chest, on their own. She was very conservative in her taste but liked good quality, well designed pieces.

In the ‘olden’ days, no woman’s wardrobe was complete without a collection of pearl necklaces. Below is Grandma’s three strand, ‘evening’ pearl necklace but she also had single and double strands of varying sizes.

Now onto my mother, who was born in 1916 and started her jewelry collection around the 1930s, as a teenager. Her early pieces were primarily Bohemian in style, with many Beaus Arts/Art Deco touches. Her style changed dramatically as she got older and she later favored large, bold, ‘funkier’ statement pieces. So looking back at her early collection is always odd for me because I never knew the woman who would wear these pieces.

I love this Beaux-Arts/ Art Deco bracelet and I still wear it all the time.

My mother’s style-evolution can be seen, to some extent, in her two wedding rings. She married her first husband in 1936 with a small but interesting band. The wedding ring she wore after she married my father, in 1949, was big and flashy and not really a wedding band at all. She had a large collection of big rings which I gave to her friends when she died because neither Sarah nor I wanted to wear anything that big.

The mother I remember, and the grandmother Sarah knew, loved chunky, big necklaces. She was short but very busty and broad-shouldered, so she wanted her chest to make a style statement. It’s hard to tell how big her pieces actually were since I gave away the bigger ones to her friends after she died.

The green and gold piece below is only HALF of a two-tiered necklace that I deconstructed because I couldn’t wear it in its original state. The second tier was also gold balls with green stones, so you can imagine how bulky it was. Even as it is, it’s a bit too large for me but I do wear it every once in a while. I mostly keep it for sentimental reasons.

A sample of the big and ‘clunky’ neckpieces my mother favored.

My mother rarely bought any ‘real’ jewelry because she favored the larger costume pieces. But she did like sparkle for the evening, so she had some crystal/glass pieces in her wardrobe for dressing to the nines, which people often did in the fifties and sixties. She wore ‘evening’ clothes, often long dresses, at least once or twice a month. As a child, I used to love helping her decide what clothes and jewelry to wear when she went out at night. Maybe that’s why I’m so attached to her jewelry.

In her later years, I introduced my mom to the Craft Show and she ended up buying a lot of her costume jewelry there. At that point, our tastes had grown together and we both liked interesting, unusual, pieces that people would notice and comment on. So often she and I would buy from some of the same craft artists. The glass jewelry below is an example of something we both bought and wore. She bought the necklaces but I wear them now. The earrings are mine because she never pierced her ears.

My mother only wore clip on earrings and I couldn’t tolerate clips, so I gave away all of her earrings, which were as big and full of personality as all her other jewelry. I did keep one pair though because it was one of the last pieces of jewelry that I bought for her and because it represents the bright, fun, spunky spirit that characterized her and endeared her to everyone who knew her.

 

7 thoughts on “JEWELRY AS FAMILY HISTORY, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

    • I see jewelry as wearable art. I love to look at it and admire it for its colors and shapes and design features, like a beautiful piece of art or furniture.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ellin, what a treasure trove of memories. And, such a neat way of accessing family history through the various pieces. Wish the Armstrong brothers had had the same presence of mind. I need to sort through the stuff I have from Mom. But I don’t have the sense of jewelry as do you and Sarah. Maybe something for Marilyn if I find anything. Thanks for this one, Ellin. I look forward to the next episode.

        Like

  1. That’s a nice piece of family history Ellin. My great grandmother had twin gold bracelets that she wore in her wedding photo. They were passed down from one generation to the next to the eldest daughter. I now have them and I find it intriguing that I have photos of both my great-grandmother and a separate photo of my grandmother wearing them.
    Leslie

    Like

    • Leslie – It’s wonderful that you have a piece of your family history as well as photos of it being worn by past generations. That’s really special! When I wear something of my mother’s or grandmother’s, I find I think about them more that day and feel their presence. I especially love handing down pieces of jewelry history to my daughter and I revel in her enthusiasm about them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ellin is does bring a closeness to those who have passed on. It means a lot to me and I know our daughter and granddaughter will appreciate them.
        Leslie

        Like

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.