Memento Vivere: Vintage Jewelry Will Forever be Cherished

Natural diamond heirlooms from centuries past have never felt more now.

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Speak memory! Who first owned this wonderful sentimental diamond jewelry, created with love and artistry, marking joys and so often sorrows, so many years ago? The history of these pieces may have vanished in the mists of time, but this doesn’t mean that centuries later, you won’t fall under their spell. Can you blame me, if peering into a case at an antique show or finding a gem hiding in the corner of a flea market table, I want to take these treasures home, and add a layer of memory—my own—to their storied past?

1. Sarrah Brooch

Take an inside look at Lynn Yaeger's vintage jewelry collection, filled with historic and sentimental baubles.
Lynn Yaeger’s Sarah Brooch. (Photographed by Andrew Werner)

So many antique diamond gems have a spooky aura, and this one is especially strange. If you can make out the curlicue numbers, they seem to read 1890 on one side and 1900 on the other, with the name Sarrah in the script at the bottom. Oh, and then there is a laurel wreath, and a Roman number two, and maybe a figure eight? I seem to recollect the dealer saying it was Russian. In any case, I found this at the Louvres des Antiquaires, a fabulous antique center in the center of Paris that closed decades ago. We may never unravel the puzzle of Sarrah, but we do know this was crafted with great skill and care in silver and gold, and its inscrutable legend still dazzles with diamonds.

2. Milano Brooch

Take an inside look at Lynn Yaeger's vintage jewelry collection, filled with historic and sentimental baubles.
Lynn Yaeger’s Milano Brooch. (Photographed by Andrew Werner)

What happens in Milano…stays in Milano! I didn’t find this in Italy, I bought it from a trusted dealer, DK Bressler on 47th Street in New York City. It is quite a substantial piece of jewelry, and my guess is that it was meant as a souvenir for well-heeled tourists in the italian city. Maybe they were on the Grand Tour, like Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett in A Room with a View? (I guess E.M. Forster forgot to include the chapter where they go shopping in Milan–because the book takes place in Florence— maybe a side trip?) I can just see this pinned to a lacy Victorian shirtwaist, not so different from the way I wear it myself.

3. Souvenir Brooch

Take an inside look at Lynn Yaeger's vintage jewelry collection, filled with historic and sentimental baubles.
Lynn Yaeger’s Souvenir Brooch. (Photographed by Andrew Werner)

Full disclosure: I not only collect sentimental brooches, but I also collect cherubs. So, when these two obsessions met in one piece of jewelry, you can imagine the shrieks. (This unbridled enthusiasm does not make bargaining any easier, but that’s another story.) I found this brooch, probably French in origin, at Portobello Road in London on a Saturday morning—the only day, for the uninitiated reading this, that the jewelry arcades are open. And just so you know: in French, the word “Souvenir” does not refer to items like the Eiffel Tower snow globe you bought on the Rue de Rivoli for three euros. It actually means “Remember” or “Memory” and was intended to remind the wearer of a special shared moment.

4. Virginia Bracelet

Take an inside look at Lynn Yaeger's vintage jewelry collection, filled with historic and sentimental baubles.
Lynn Yaeger’s Virginia Bracelet. (Photographed by Andrew Werner)

Who was Virginia? Was she an insanely beautiful sweetheart, a daughter, a mother—or maybe even a ship? I found this fabulous diamond bracelet in Stockholm, which isn’t usually a place you visit to hunt for vintage gems. Then again, you could shoot me out of a rocket on Mars and I could find an antique store. The design has an Art Deco feel, so I would date back to around 1920 to 1940—but who can tell exactly? Only Virginia knows for sure.

5. Small Blue Brooch

Take an inside look at Lynn Yaeger's vintage jewelry collection, filled with historic and sentimental baubles.
Lynn Yaeger’s Small Blue Brooch. (Photographed by Andrew Werner)

Some jewels keep their secrets locked up forever, and others reveal their backstories to anyone paying close attention. I found this tiny brooch at the Pier Show, a much-lamented semi-annual New York institution that for years was the pinnacle of my existence. This gem has a diamond monogram on its front, but it’s the back that tells the tale. In exquisite and remarkably fresh enameling it memorialized two men with names and dates—brothers, perhaps—who passed away, one in 1808, and one in 1810. This tiny token has kept their memory alive for over 200 years.