My mother had a fabulous collection of what is now called “fashion” jewelry, much of it acquired through her sister’s costume jewelry company. One of the greatest thrills of my childhood was walking through the aisles of stacked wooden drawers at my aunt’s office warehouse.
Each drawer held a sample of the pieces inside: colorful dangling cluster beaded earrings, chain necklaces with keepsake pendants, button clip-on “pearl” earrings surrounded with tiny rhinestones. And, oh the rhinestones! The glittering, cascading rhinestone earrings and tennis bracelets!
So when my mother died, we went through her jewelry collection, figuring there might be some wonderful items there that the younger generations in the family would enjoy. Sadly, as is the case with a lot of costume pieces, it all looked very tired and worn.
That’s the thing about jewelry. The better stuff lasts forever, or at least looks new for a very long time. And even if it isn’t new, it usually has lasting value as a classic period piece with sentimental value and personal history. So it’s kind of hard to let it go.
The Sentimental Value of Jewelry
Although most of the things my aunt sold were costume, my mother acquired for me a small cultured pearl necklace from the very few higher end items in the inventory. I wear it to this day.
Jewelry carries our memories. It marks the big milestones in life: weddings, births, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. It can be a gift to acknowledge and celebrate a dear friendship, or received from someone who appreciated something we had done for them.
And it’s sometimes the very thing that we reward ourselves with for making it through a challenging time, like surviving a scary diagnosis and treatment, or an achievement like completing a degree for ourselves later in life, or even a divorce.
Interestingly, the jewelry business was one sector that actually did very well during the Covid pandemic; it actually even grew. People bought talismans to protect themselves from the evil eye. Some bought jewelry etched with uplifting sayings.
Some bought signature or initial necklaces as a kind of statement: “I’m still here, I’m alive.” Others just simply craved something of beauty to get them through the dark times. And since pretty much everybody was living in sweats, jewelry became the one thing that made them still feel feminine.
When and What to Give Away… and to Whom
All that said the very concept of giving away these pieces can certainly tug at the heart. But, as we age, we tend to look around at all our stuff, especially if we are planning to downsize, and think, “Who is going to want this?”
In our heightened awareness about global waste, there is a tendency, especially among the younger generations, to turn away from brand new acquisitions. They also tend to want experiences and not things.
Then there’s their concern about not flaunting possessions in the faces of those who have much less. But the flip side of that is their growing embrace of the re-use culture: recycling clothing, furniture, household items. And something inherited from an ancestor might carry more cache and less stigma than a newly bought piece of jewelry.
Depending on your heirs and their lifestyle, there are some things that they might love, even some of them among the jaded younger generations. An expensive watch, men’s or women’s, is now kind of “cool,” specifically for its retro vibe. This would make a fabulous graduation gift this month.
Simple pieces, like gold chains, fine or chunky links, are eternally fashionable, and as some of the newer gold plate versions look real, only your recipient will know it’s the real deal. They will feel glorious wearing it. As for rings, my husband wore his Dad’s family signet pinky ring for decades.
But as these items are not of equal monetary value, one estate planner strongly advises her clients to sell all their jewelry before they die, specifically to avoid being blamed for engaging in favoritism. This is not a bad idea if there is some history of familial in-fighting among the heirs.
And of course, giving monetary gifts from the sale of those items for special occasions – graduations, weddings, birthdays, etc. – while you are still alive assures that they aren’t counting the days until you kick the bucket.
My Own Jewelry and Thoughts on the Subject
After the death of her aunt, my sister-in-law and I were looking through some of the estate items she left behind. She had already bequeathed to me her very extensive silver flatware collection, which was a tremendous gift. I use it often, not saving it just for special occasions, and always say a “thank you” to her in heaven when I do.
But when we went through her aunt’s jewelry collection, much of which was made for her by her husband (who as a hobby made gorgeous gold jewelry), my sister-in-law said, “What do you think about giving these away to each of the girls (her nieces) for their birthdays?”
I know she phrased it that way because she is an attorney. She states the answer in the question. I imagine she thought I was eyeing some of those items. I replied, “I think that’s a great idea!”
The thing is, and at the risk of sounding un-sentimental and a little weird, I personally don’t accept jewelry handed down by my own ancestors, let alone anyone else’s. Maybe that’s because superstitious people, who purport to see or sense “energies,” suggest that jewelry not only carries our memories, but also the long-term energetic imprint of the wearer.
So, the only pricey jewelry in my collection consists of two gemstone rings that were specifically prescribed for me based on my astrological chart. I wear them daily. They are said to increase my good vibes and ward off any bad “juju” I may have earned in this or a previous lifetime. I pity the soul who will inherit them… maybe I should just burn them when I die.
The rest of my jewelry collection consists of a lot of costume jewelry. Frankly, it suits my style and I love playful things. It’s not often you will find expensive fine jewelry that could be labeled as particularly playful. They tend to be more “serious” and showy kinds of things. Besides, I’d rather spend my money on clothes… or to just give it away now.
Have you collected some high quality jewelry over the years? Do you wear these regularly? Or are they just sitting in a vault somewhere? How do you feel about letting these items go? And to whom would you give them, and when? Or are you just planning to sell them at some point?