The state of Hawaii is composed of many islands, seven of which are inhabited. I have to admit that, until I got to visit the state this past January, I would not have been able to name those islands–O’ahu, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai, Lanai, Molokoi, and Ni’ihau. Most people know about O’ahu. How many have heard of Ni’ihau? With a population of about 160, it is a well kept secret and deserving of the name, the Forbidden Island.
Ni’ihau has been a privately owned island since 1864, when Elizabeth Sinclair bought it from King Kamehameha IV for $10,000 in gold. Her great-great grandsons, Bruce and David Robinson, own the 70 square mile island now, and they have kept the island isolated and pristine. The families that live on the island today are descendants of the original families that lived there in the 1800s. The people have their own dialect of the Hawaiian language. They live a lot like their forebears. This is one place where not much has changed.
The people of Ni’ihau are well known for the beautiful shell leis they create. Families have unique patterns that they use in their jewelry. Artists use the tiny shells that wash up on the beach, including the highly sought after Kahelelani shell. The sale of these leis, bracelets, and earrings is a major source of income for the Ni’ihau people. Prices are determined by the rarity and quality of the shells as well as the skill of the artisan. When I was on Maui, I bought a beautiful bracelet that came with its own certificate of authenticity. I was told that, in the past, there were “copy-cats” who undersold the true artists. So the certificate is important. Be wary of shell jewelry that seems poorly made or is extremely inexpensive.
My shell bracelet from Ni’ihau.
If you are planning to go to Hawaii, I would encourage you to learn about the history of Hawaii. It’s loaded with interesting characters like Captain Cook (not Hook), Queen Emma (wife of King Kamehameha IV), and even Elizabeth Sinclair (an amazing pioneer from Scotland, who ended up owning an island!) I loved learning about all the King Kamehamehas (there were five of them) and their wives. Two royal women, Queen Kapiolani and Princess Lili’uokalani, can be credited with popularizing shell jewelry. They traveled to England for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, where they wore their long leis and made quite the splash!
Formal photos of Hawaiian queens, wearing leis. Photos courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society
I never realized there were so many good luck charms until I started working at a jewelry store. Sure, I knew of the 4-leaf clover and the rabbit’s foot, but I’d never heard of the “ankh” and the “cornicello.” One of my more embarrassing moments came recently when a woman came in with her husband’s necklace. It needed repair so I wrote up a repair slip, describing the piece as a “hot pepper pendant on a gold chain.” Everyone laughed at me when I took it back to the shop. “That’s not a hot pepper,” chuckled the bench jeweler. “That’s a gorno.”
The “corno” pendant
“Huh? What’s a gorno?” Well, truth is, he wasn’t completely sure. And the fact is, it’s not a gorno. It’s a corno or a cornicello. Turns out this is the Italian word for “horn” or “little horn.” It apparently protects the wearer from the evil eye. The evil eye is a look, given to inflict harm or bad luck. There is widespread belief in the power of the evil eye, but, supposedly, it started in ancient Greece.
Now, the “evil eye” I’d seen before, a few months back when working with a different customer. It’s kind of confusing, because some people wear an amulet of an eye, as protection from evil. They call the amulet the evil eye. So I guess an “evil eye” can be either bad luck OR good luck.
I think every culture has their own version of a good luck charm. The “ankh”(pronounced awnk) is actually the Egyptian symbol for life. As the key of life, it represents zest and energy, and some people wear it as a protection from demons. It resembles a Christian cross, but has a loop at the top.
The “ankh” pendant
I guess we all can use a little good luck from time to time. Can it hurt to wear a good luck charm? It’s just nice to know there are so many options.
On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday, it seems like the perfect time to examine her taste in jewelry. Since few women have been photographed as often as the Queen, it’s very easy to see her style. She loves pearls, and often wears both the classic pearl stud earrings and three strand pearl necklace. If she has a special event, she’ll wear a tiara–she has several to choose from– and a gemstone-studded necklace. But what I found really interesting is how she accents her outfits with a brooch.
She’s received and worn brooches since she was a teenager. Her brooches come from all over the world, and her collection numbers well over one hundred. Many of them have names, like the Flame Lily and the Three Thistle. One of her favorites is the diamond brooch, the Jardine Star, which she’s wearing in the picture above. Some of the brooches are actually badges, representing specific organizations and are worn by the Queen as a mark of her ties to the groups. I found one blog that really gives a lot of detail and history about Queen Elizabeth’s brooches, and you can access it here. And if you just want to see pictures of them, click on this link.
three thistle brooch
The Queen has been in her royal role for over 60 years. She had her Diamond Jubilee Celebration in 2012. She has served her country and the commonwealth loyally. So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! QUEEN ELIZABETH!!
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in their youth
Queen Elizabeth, youthful at heart!
After thirty years of marriage, my husband knows me, my love of gems, and my path towards the
jewelry industry. He actually likes jewelry, too, and, over the years, has bought me some
beautiful pieces. But he said to me, months ago, “I really can’t surprise you with jewelry
anymore. It doesn’t make sense when you’re the one with the knowledge and
Instead we did something I’d highly recommend to any couple. . .we designed our
anniversary ring together, following a few basic steps.
We pulled out the post-it notes and some wine and brainstormed about what our marriage meant to us.
Big things and little things. . .no answer was refused. . .until our brains felt empty of ideas.
We organized our multitude of post-it notes into broad categories, trying to see the bigger picture of what
our marriage meant. The goal was to consolidate to one or two broad themes.
Taking our themes as inspiration, we began to design our ring. What design elements
would best portray those themes? We drew. . .not very well, mind you. . .on our post-its
instead of writing on them. But, after several iterations, a ring began to take shape.
4) COMPUTER MODELING
Then I took that sketch to Dearborn Jewelers. With their Computer-Aided Design
(CAD) program, Countersketch, they can help you make your drawing into an actual
model that can then be cast and finished into a ring you can wear. . . .well, for at least the
next 30 years. Every time I look at that ring, I see the symbol of our life together.
So many women these days have jewelry they never wear. It’s too big, it’s too small, it’s not my style, it has too many bad memories. Hearing their stories always makes me sad. I understand the reasons but I don’t understand the waste.
I’ve never met a person who didn’t value putting things to their best use. We all tell our story of a ratty old sweater we finally had to throw out because it just had too many holes in it. We scrape the inside of the peanut butter jar. We like candles that burn to the end of the wick. My mother even cuts old bath towels into dust rags and, when they get too unsightly to dust with, they become my father’s rags for the garage.
Time to repurpose it!
So when jewelry isn’t getting used, it’s time to repurpose it! One way to do that is to bring it in to Dearborn Jewelers for a remodel. Not long ago, a customer came in with the wedding ring from her first marriage, a pair of diamond studs from her high school graduation, and two opal rings she no longer wore. We talked about what she would want, and then sketched out a pendant for herself and one for each of her two young daughters to receive when they get a bit older.
Nick, the master bench jeweler, was able to use, not only the stones, but also the metal from the old jewelry to create some unique, one of a kind pendants for our customer and her daughters. She wears hers often and loves it. And, certainly, it is beautiful. But one of the reasons she loves it is because it comes with a story of taking something useless and transforming it to something treasured. How might you create a new treasure?
Mom’s new pendant