Diamonds are a mother's best example of life's beautiful, flawless possibilities

April 08, 1997|By SUSAN REIMER

THE BEST things in life come in small, velvet boxes."

A mother may teach her daughter many things - how to cook, how to sew, how to install a new application on her hard drive - but no lesson is more important than this one.

Round or pear-shaped, they never lose their shape. Diamonds are a girl's best friend.

Baby girls are born loving things that sparkle, but only another woman - her mother - can convey the important distinction between semi-precious stones and true gems and the men who give them as gifts.

Only a mother can teach her daughter that if a man's token of love cannot fit in the palm of her hand, it is an appliance and she doesn't want it. If the box he gives her isn't lined with satin, if it doesn't close with the muffled snap, she doesn't want him either.

It is with this important lesson in mind that I took my daughter and her friends on a field trip to jewelry's outer limits: the collection of jewels from the Romanovs, Russia's imperial family, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.

The girls are only 10 and 11, but they have already shown an unhealthy and unwise affection for smiley face earrings and puca bead necklaces and I did not want to wait longer to intervene.

The course of many a young girl's life has been forever altered by costume jewelry and I wanted to expand the horizons of these future women. I wanted them to see pearls as big as gum balls.

The legendary dynasty of Romanovs ruled Russia for three centuries, ending with Nicholas and Alexandra who were murdered, along with their five children, by revolutionaries near the end of World War I. There was Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and plenty of great jewelry, much of which was collected by the State Diamond Fund begun by Peter the Great and has survived 70 years of Russia's redistribution of wealth.

A girl who grows up in America - a country where a man is advised to spend two months salary on her engagement ring - needs to see just what is possible and I hoped the girls would learn that if true love limits itself to such a formula, a woman can herself commission broaches and medallions as big as salad plates and pay for them with the sweat and blood of the working class.

I had difficulty convincing the girls to leave the basketball court for the museum. They are at an androgynous age and I think they sense that they will not be able to play one-on-one with their brothers and hold their own for much longer.

When I tried to explain that a woman can have a jump shot and a safety deposit box full of velvet pouches, they did not understand. It was clear I had to show them what waited if you married for political reasons and then had your husband assassinated.

On the subway ride into Washington's center, my ponytailed posse shifted into girl gear and as I eavesdropped on their conversation, I learned that they wanted to marry doctors and have three children each.

It was clear that only the sight of earrings the size of Christmas ornaments, crusted with diamonds, could change the course of these lives.

The girls were slack-jawed and quiet as they toured the Corcoran exhibit. Determinedly, they worked their way to the front against the tide of grown-ups and pressed their faces against the class cases, mesmerized by the glittering treasures inside. They did not know what to make of such splendor. After all, the only jewels they know are the pencil-point-sized sparklers in little birthstone rings.

"I don't think I would have anywhere to wear this stuff," Joanna said to me.

"You would if you were the empress," I answered.

After the tour, the girls demanded to be fed and, refusing the offer of fast food, they insisted on eating at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a polished wood and brass watering hole for Washington's rich and powerful. An expensive illustration of what can happen when you open up a young girl's horizons.

As we waited for our seats, the girls stared into the mirrored walls of the bar, watching themselves sip their Cokes, watching themselves giggle and chat.

And I wondered if they knew that they were seeing the most perfect jewels anywhere on earth.

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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