Before I started dating the gorgeous MrB in 1998 (thanks to the intervention of my late dog, Mr. Chubbs), I’d barely worn jewelry in years. Once in a blue moon, I’d wear a sapphire ring my parents got me for my 16th birthday, and I got a chunky silver ring during a trip to Dublin in 1996. MrB wanted me to sparkle, so he bought me many beautiful pieces between 1998 and 2005, when I went into the jewelry business myself. He started with a pair of small diamond studs by Linda Lee Johnson, purchased at Barneys. They were a surprise gift — no birthday or holiday was involved. I had never gotten such a fancy present in my life, so I dragged my sister to Barneys to find out how much the pair cost. Classy!
If MrB hadn’t been so generous with the jewelry on every birthday, holiday and anniversary, I wouldn’t have started Wendy Brandes Jewelry. I went quickly from being astonished by a pair of studs to walking through jewelry sections and saying, “Oh, we’ve seen all this before. It’s old.” I started to yearn for things that didn’t exist, especially poison rings. Finally, I started making those pieces — starting with my Borgia poison ring — and before I knew it, I’d left the corporate world to do jewelry full time.
I do miss having MrB surprise and dazzle me with jewelry. Even worse, all the jewelry MrB gave me pre-2005 is languishing in a vault except, of course, my self-designed engagement and wedding rings from 2001. I’m very sentimental about the old jewelry, but can’t wear it because it always leads to this exchange:
Random person: That’s a beautiful necklace! Is it your design?
That’s not a good conversation for me. There’s no reason for me to be promoting other designers’ work if they’re not promoting mine in return. If we could have an exchange of services … maybe. Until then, all the old pieces gather dust.
I was pondering this situation recently and suddenly thought, “Watches!” MrB bought me watches and I don’t design watches. I could wear those! I stopped wearing watches late in 2005, not long after I stopped wearing non-WendyB jewelry. Like a lot of people, I got in the habit of relying on my cell phone to tell time. I was my own boss, so I didn’t have to check my watch constantly to see if I was going to be late for a meeting about a future meeting. (Yes, we had meetings about meetings at my last corporate job.) Of course, all my watch batteries had died over the past five years. As I was packing for our trip to Paris last month, I grabbed the Hermès watch MrB gave me for our first wedding anniversary, figuring we’d walk by the store and I could have the watch rejuvenated at the mother ship.
I couldn’t be happier! I finally get to wear a MrB gift again. (By the way, he picked out that watch all by himself. Impressive, no?) I also realized how inconvenient it’s been to fish out a phone and press a button to tell time. Now I can gauge my lateness with a quick glance at my wrist and save the phone for texting people things like, “I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”
Oddly, the word “watch” makes me think of Gone With the Wind. In the novel — OMG! SPOILER ALERT! — Scarlett O’Hara’s father and, later, her daughter both die in horse-jumping accidents after calling out, “Watch me take this one!” The movie changed the dialogue and little Bonnie Butler only says, “Mommy, Daddy, watch me … Watch me, Daddy.” Here is Bonnie’s fatal jump acted out by plastic frogs and a zebra because … well, I don’t know why it would occur to anyone to act out this scene with plastic frogs, but here it is anyway.
UPDATED TO ADD: Jennine took a picture of my watch on the day she was visiting me to photograph/interview me for her Eat, Sleep, Denim blog. Read her post here.
UPDATED AGAIN TO ADD: MrB reminds me that I was so thrilled with that first pair of earrings that I wore them to the gym to show them off to some chick who was always snarkily asking me whether or not I had a boyfriend. All my customers know I’m VERY against wearing jewelry to the gym, so you see how big a deal those earrings were.
UPDATED A THIRD TIME TO ADD: Gorgeous blogger Lara of My Milk Glass Heart asked me a good question in the comments: Why not redesign all my old jewelry like I do for customers? I answered her in the comments but for ease of reading I’ll answer again here. I will, indeed, eventually redesign a few pieces that have no design value. In other words, my gray pearl on a chain is just … a pearl on a chain. The pearl is gorgeous but the setting has no particular aesthetic value and I feel free to change it. The pieces that stay in the vault are signature pieces of work by fairly well-known designers. Most of the value is in their elaborate design. If I take apart an aquamarine-beaded choker with diamond and platinum accents, I’ll end up with a mess of not-very-valuable aquamarine beads that I would have to string into another choker. I’d lose all the value of the designer’s labor without adding much to the look, while spending a lot of money on labor myself. When I redesign, I want to increase value, beauty and/or wearability. My designer jewelry is valuable and beautiful as is, just not particularly appropriate for me right now because it’s better for my business to promote my own work.
Also, the redesign of my old pieces is last on my list of priorities, after my clients and my collection. I only want to spend the time and money to work on my own projects if the results expand my line. My biggest redesign for myself was my engagement ring. As I’ve said before, my engagement ring and wedding band were my first major designs. However, the person who was producing my designs (who later became my business partner) was against my original idea for my engagement ring. She thought it was too wild and I would get tired of it. I did a more conservative design, but never forgot the one I really wanted. My business partner died in 2006. Not long after, I had an accident and badly sprained two fingers on my left hand. My ring finger never went back to its pre-accident size, so I needed to re-size my engagement ring. As I was working on that, I realized this was my chance to switch to my original design. I made myself this ring. The new design was later seen by one of my clients, who asked me to redesign her ring in that style, as I posted here. That was a very happy ending … and I’m not tired of my ring.
If I can find a picture of my original design, I’ll add it here.
UPDATED SEPTEMBER 4, 2010, TO ADD: Oh no! Bonnie Butler has died for real. RIP, Cammie King.