When I turned 49 last August, I didn’t want more clothes (I know, I was shocked too). I wanted something more lasting, something to enhance my existing wardrobe, and ideally something empowering. Kind of a tall order, no? The obvious solution for a born magpie like me is jewellery.
Since my 20s in New York when I used to spend my weekends digging through antique jewellery markets, I’ve been obsessed with vintage and antique jewellery. I made friends with the old grizzled Eastern European dealers who taught me things, like the difference between old Victorian and modern Czech garnets (the old ones are that gloriously deep rosy pomegranate colour, the newly-mined ones are more orangey brown). Maurie, my favourite dealer, kept a delicate necklace of Edwardian or Victorian seed pearls on display, each pearl not that much bigger than a sesame seed. He told me he’d never ever sell that strand. He kept it in his shop to look at every day, to remind him that all things are possible. Why? Because, he explained, can you imagine with Edwardian or Victorian era tools, drilling a hole through each tiny pearl without it shattering? How many must have been sacrificed to make this single short necklace? I didn’t have the budget in my 20s to buy very much, but I was so fascinated by jewellery and the stories behind it. I did buy a beautiful garnet starburst brooch from Maurie, which I sadly lost years ago. Also, he showed me a magnificent necklace which I have never stopped looking for on Ebay, Etsy, and in antique markets; it was a bezel-set cabochon moonstone festoon necklace (similar to this one) that looked just like luminous water droplets on the skin. One day I’ll find one as good as his!
What I appreciate most about antique jewellery besides the craftmanship is the symbolism. The Victorians especially loved their lucky and meaningful talismans. They wore: horseshoe pendants, often with 7 lucky nails in the shoe (success), pigs (abundance), the figa hand (fertility and luck), memento mori skulls (mortality), buckles (loyalty), crescent moons (rebirth and bridal), swallows (home and soul), stars (guidance), snakes (eternal love), anchors (hope), beans (luck), hearts (love), crowns (fidelity), the pansy (a pun on French pensée, or ‘think of me’/forget me not), clover (luck), among many others.
Like the Victorians, I wanted something meaningful for my 49th. I wanted a reminder that everything is still possible, that I’m not stuck on any path just because I was having another birthday.
If there is one lady who understands jewellery and its symbolism it is Tarra Rosenbaum. I had met Tarra at a few London fashion events last year, and we became friends immediately. We’re both Americans in London, and have big chunks of New York rooted in our souls. Also, we are both insane about animals and nature, we are both passionate about sustainability and conservation, and we both understand the power that colour and sparkle can have on mood. I knew that anything I bought from her would have an extra special layer of meaning for me. So, without further ado, meet Tarra.
Tarra is an artist who just happens to make jewellery. She is a talented painter and has also done art conservation and restoration work. Her mother was a fashion designer and her father is a sculptor, so art is firmly in her DNA. Tarra studied at the Rhode Island School of Design; American readers will know the prestige of RISD. I have so much appreciation for her style, her talent, and her especially her ethos (she uses only ethically sourced metals and stones). Like the antique jewellery I love so much, she makes everything by hand; even the chains, which is almost unheard of. Most jewellers buy necklace chains in bulk from suppliers. Not Tarra. She also makes donkey charms to support SPANA, and tree coin necklaces which fund the planting of tree groves to support the causes she believes in. This wood and silver version of her coin necklace has to be seen in person to be believed. From childhood, Tarra has felt an obligation to ‘fix’ the environment, and uses her jewellery to try and fund that slightly irrational yet noble obligation!
The first thing I was drawn to in her collection were the swallows. For my purposes, the swallow reminds me that there is still lots of uncharted blue sky for me to explore in this lifetime. Swallows are such terribly joyful and industrious creatures. They travel all the way from sub-Saharan Africa back to their nests in Europe every summer and seem to take such delight in swooping down over water for a sip before bulleting straight up again. They make everything look possible… and fun! Now that I’d settled on the swallow as my everyday talisman, I had a problem. Tarra has so many beautiful versions that I found it impossible to choose. This statement piece with its shiny stylised swallows is my favourite, but I needed something more everyday that I could wear alongside OTHER symbolic pieces. This one deserves to be worn on its own… and is still firmly on my wish list.
Next, I considered this large single swallow necklace. I love the scale and the determined set of his beautiful head… but it wouldn’t work if I layered it with LOTS of other pendants and charms.
I have several antique gold watch chains that I wear as necklaces. I thought this golden little creature poised below a jumble of them on my neck, along with a scattering of other talismans (almost charm bracelet style), would be perfect. He looks like a sculpture, with every flight-giving feather visible. His upturned beak perfectly captures the merry purposeful swallow. So, I got this one, and I am delighted with it.
Because my swallow obsession knows no bounds, I want to show you this one too. It doesn’t fit my brief as well as the single one, but I love the varied wing patterns and angles, and how well it simulates the motion of swallows in flight. Isn’t it beautiful?
I wanted one more piece to begin my curated jumble of talismans about my neck. My son adores acorns; he always has. We even have beautiful silver and gold glass ones for our Christmas tree that he chose as a toddler. When he saw Tarra’s acorns, he went nuts (sorry!). Just like the swallows, I was again spoiled for choice. Do I want a small one, a medium one, or a large one? Gold vermeil, silver, or brass (see Tarra’s tree logo inside the cap of the brass ones below)? We tried them with my watch chains, and Tarra and I thought the medium silver one (I’m a metal mixer) worked especially well with the slightly rosy colour of one watch chain. My son asked if I can keep some of his ‘fur’ inside the acorn so I’d have him with me all day long! He got this idea because I have an Elsa Peretti locket with a few hairs of my beloved-now-departed dog Spencer kept in it. He doesn’t understand ‘mourning jewellery’; he just wants to be part of my jewellery jumble, acorns are his thing, and who am I to debate with a 5 year old about the contents of golden acorns?
Here are the small ones in 22 karat gold over a silver base. My son treasures one of these small ones in brass that Tarra made him as a gift 🙂
Antique watch chain, Tarra’s chains with small acorn and swallow. Winser London sale jumper.
So that is where I am in Project Tasliman Jumble so far. I’m sure this is a work in progress that I’ll be adding to over time as find pieces that hold special meaning for me. For instance, I absolutely adored my grandfather who passed away two years ago. His nickname for me was ‘Monkey’ (I may or may not have been a slightly hyperactive child). One thing I’d like is a fabulous swinging monkey charm to add to my neck jumble. It will remind me of my grandfather’s love and remind me to connect with the squirmiest young version of myself!
I like the idea of using jewellery to gird myself with what I need for the day. It appeals to my love of sparkle, my love of personal empowerment, and of course my more-is-more-less-is-a-bore aesthetic. Some days, leaves, acorns, and birds may feel like what I need to surround myself with. Other days, I might need a few snakes for protection! Eventually, I need to add foxes and rabbits to the mix, I just need to find the right ones.
I’ve focused this post on the swallows and acorns that spoke to me, but have a look through Tarra’s website and you’ll see how talented she is. She’s best known for her signature Aurora rings, which she initially created as a modern style of engagement ring. There is an interactive page on her site where you can try out all of the colour options. My personal favourite is gold, turquoise enamel, and a red garnet in the centre. Tarra wears one every day with her grandmother’s diamond in the middle and aegean blue enamel; it is breathtaking!
This brings me to my last point. Tarra’s particularly enjoys creating bespoke jewellery. If you have an inherited or gifted piece that needs a style refresh or a total redesign, Tarra is an expert at this. Have a look at some of the things she has made here. She has clients all over the world and is in the States frequently; don’t hesitate to contact her if you’d like her to breathe a stylish new life into jewellery that you don’t wear because it doesn’t suit you. I don’t have anything that falls into that category, unfortunately! I love and wear every single piece of sparkle in my magpie’s den.
P.S. (and kind of a PSA?) This jumper I’m wearing above from Winser London is one of my absolute favourites, and currently on sale. It is slightly fitted so I can layer it under a blazer, and has an ideal neckline for jewellery or scarves. I have it in black and soft camel. It is almost identical to the short version of their merino boyfriend jumper (which I wear to death) which was a limited edition. I’m wearing a small (I’m usually a medium in Winser) because I prefer the tidy fit of this size.
Disclaimer: Not a sponsored post, but part of my drumbeat for supporting women entrepreneurs in any way I can.