How Trading in My Old Jewelry Took Me on a Trip Down Memory Lane

For Libby Znaimer, a trip to the jewelry to trade in some of her more dated pieces brought back memories along with a longing for the occasion to wear some of her favourites again. Photo: Getty Images/ grafvision

There’s nowhere to go — no opportunity to see and be seen. Most people are living in sweatsuits. So it seems like a strange time for me to turn my attention to fine jewelry. Maybe it is “carpe diem.” It seems wasteful to leave valuable things lying in a safe. They should either be worn, given away or sold. I have only one niece, who has no interest — I’m hoping that will change by the time I am ready to part with my favourite pieces. For now, I am reconsidering some early purchases and things I inherited.

Apparently I’m not alone. My friend Carol, a jewelry designer, is very busy remodelling unloved necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets. But that can be extremely expensive. The price of gold is through the roof (US$1,911 an ounce at press time), and it is custom work. On the other hand, selling gold bought decades earlier can be profitable, even though you get the value of the metal and nothing for the design unless it is something extraordinary. I am interested in diamond stud earrings — the price of diamonds has gone down in recent years, and they are not a traded commodity like precious metals. So the math may work out if I trade gold I don’t wear for resale earrings.

I emptied my safety deposit box and decided to meet with Alec van Rijk, a jeweller who buys, sells and trades. He advertises extensively, including on one of our radio stations. His tagline says, “I know we can make this a memorable occasion.”

It certainly took me down memory lane, reminding me of some of the sweetest times in my youth. I remembered buying a heavy gold chain when I was studying abroad in the late ’70s that I haven’t missed for years. I got it in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul — it was an especially meaningful trip because I was studying Ottoman history — where I scoured the stalls looking for the perfect necklace to go with an antique watch I had received from my sister-in-law Marilyn. I remember cutting back on treats to be able to pay for it and then changing traveller’s cheques to cover the bill: US$66! That chain fetched $2,000 in trade!

Then there were the large circular 22-karat filigree earrings in a design that goes back to ancient times. I first saw and admired them on one of my professors in Toronto beforehand. I was delighted to find something similar in Israel, in a small shop owned by a Yemenite jeweller who did traditional filigree work. I paid the princely sum of 107 bucks. I loved them and kept them at home — in recent years trying them on every time I changed my hairdo. They looked fabulous when I had long hair piled in a bun on my head. Now they look ridiculous — selling was an easy decision.

I agonized about parting with my mother’s prized diamond watch. The diamonds are tiny, but they give the piece a wonderful sparkle, and the casing is platinum. It doesn’t evoke a very good memory though: my mother wore it with a clunky gold bracelet that didn’t look right. It was the only thing that would fit because her left wrist and arm were permanently swollen from lymphedema, a side-effect of breast cancer. I replaced it with a delicate silk band but, like many people, I‘ve since stopped wearing wrist watches. Mummy would approve of trading it for something I would use. But Alec told me, “All I can give you is the scrap value of the platinum.” I have to admit that hurt!

Out of curiosity, I brought along some items I did not want to sell — including some exquisite enamel earrings. Alec’s first offer was easy to refuse. “Are you going to wear them?” He and his associate Pina pressed me. I know I won’t be wearing them for at least a year. That’s when I figure the galas, fundraisers and events I love will start up again. It may be even longer before I am comfortable attending them.

“There’s something about those earrings,” Alec said, upping the offer. There certainly is: it’s not just the earrings I want to hold onto — it’s the life they go with.

A version of this article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue with the headline, “Trading Up,” p. 26.

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