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Archive for May, 2011

Getting Personal

Front of Cassandra Erin's pendants based on parts of my mom's letters--one based on "Wizard of Oz" see last post

There are many collections in the market that speak to the sentimentalist in all of us: Jeanine Payer’s organic shapes with inspiration poems and famous quotes, Heather Moore’s collection of engraved discs that can celebrate life cycles, everything from a birth of a child to kid’s graduations and weddings. Sofia Kaman’s monogrammed protective shields for her collection, Kamofie and Monica Rich Kossan’s limited edition lockets (for which you send her your favorite photos and she makes a copy that she sizes into the exact dimensions of the frame). There’s a host of other talented and creative thinking designers who know how to romance both the self-purchasing woman and the gift giver.

Recently however, I met Cassandra Erin who, while working at Ylang Ylang in St. Louis, MO, began selling her collection exclusively through the store, which is always one step ahead of finding truly talented and unique designers.  Says Julie Ettinger, who co-runs and buys for the shop with her mother Lois Morgenstern, “The minute we heard what Cassie wanted to achieve with her collection and saw the craftsmanship and beauty with which she executed it, we knew we wanted to sell her pieces in the store.”

The minute I saw Cassie wearing the pieces when I met her at the Smart Show in Chicago this past April, I knew I had to have one, two– a few.
I was also sitting around a table listening to Cassie’s customer stories with a group of buyers and all of us had tears in our eyes while hearing one or two of her more heart breaking anecdotes. Cassandra Erin takes parts of letter and notes and doodles written and drawn by loved ones and rework these into jewelry, all of which is completely handmade in her St Louis studio.  “It’s a nine step process,” says Cassie, We don’t use engraving machines. Rather we   press the exact words, line art, footprints/handprints, etc. into the metal.” The result is the exact handwriting of the person’s words and drawings of sentiment, humor and romance.

I immediately thought of my mom and all of the letters we wrote back and forth to each other while she was still alive: those from sleep-away camp with my trying to manipulate my way home, those she sent left for me in the morning when I was going through the awkward phases of adolescence, the heart-breaks of ending relationships and those that just made me laugh. I liked the ideas of pendants I could wear as different size and shape discs and I am now the proud owner of two Cassandra Erin, pieces which I wear doubled up on one chain.

But I am just one woman who would hold this type of jewelry dear.  Cassie is talking to a number of stores and is building her own website to be updated with the best of her custom designs. She has trained jewelers in her studio and her own mom, who she has taken under her wing and is teaching the technique of metalsmithing.

At present, all pieces are in Argentium silver and 18K yellow gold, have a hand-wrought, old world, heirloom look with organic lines. They are the first pieces I now go to put on in the morning and those I never want to take off.

Her customers range from those like me who want to not want to hear and keep the words of someone we lost and loved as close as possible everyday, but she also has a base of romantic couples who have shared secret messages, their own words that they want to share and wear forever on a pendant, ring or cuff bracelet.

“There are also pieces the kids make themselves.  From handprints, to simple doodles they get to see exactly what they do turn into something mom or dad can wear with pride.  It’s so much fun to see their faces light up and hear them say, ‘I did that,’ when the pieces are finished.  “But with the feelings, comes some pretty ‘interesting’ designs. Cassie continues, ” I had one mother, who explained…. If my son does not see me in the his gift each morning,” he questions me, “um mommy, where’s the necklace I made you?!”  While it might not go with all– (any)–of the fashion I own, I still have to wear it everyday. And it makes me smile to just think about it.”  Probably much more appealing than the ‘ashtray’ necklace I made my mother in Arts & Crafts in camp when I was young.

Whether you want a smile, a warm recollections, an enduring memory, check out Cassandra-Erin at

(note: I rarely concentrate on one designer in my bjeweled blog but this was all about experiencing a new  jewelry designer and thought that you all should have the pleasure of experiencing her jewelry too.)

Back of Cassandra Erin's jewelry version of part of two of my mom's letters to me (one based on the Wizard of Oz--see last post)

No Place Like Home…

My Mother

I will never get used to Mother’s Day.  It’s been eighteen years since my mom died suddenly at fifty-five from a brain aneurysm and I still want to throw something at the TV when commercials urge me to buy that special piece of jewelry or show me the joy a mother feels when she opens the perfect Hallmark card. Emails fill up my inbox, informing me every day for two weeks prior, what flowers ‘my mother’ would like to receive and when to order them to be delivered to her on time.  I hit the delete button quickly just like I do when I get, what seems to be hundreds of press releases on “elegant, new, fresh Mother’s day ideas” or “must have gifts.”

I apologize to all the publicists out there and the companies they represent. I read your material at all other times throughout the year.

It’s comes with the territory when writing for a jewelry magazine to be assigned this seasonal story and each year I stare at the blank computer screen, struggling to come up with the copy. One day, I hope to get it done without breaking down and into tears while trying to describe something so simple as a charm, locket or an engraveable keepsake. There are truly beautifully designed pieces, created by jewelers; stores do an incredible job of advertising and there are plenty of moms that I know, worthy and deserving of a special day and gift to celebrate and recognize their love and guidance. Mine was one of them.

My mom preferred hand-picked daisies to perfectly arranged bouquets of flowers, a box of Mallomars to Godiva chocolates, my attempts at poetic verse and my brother’s unintelligible drawings to store-bought cards.

She’d send my grandmother a ticket to come up from Florida so that she could have her own mother as well as children around her. Yesterday I went to Union Square market in New York City and bought bunches of lilacs like my mom and I used to do a few hours before my grandmother would arrive. For a few moments, when I was re-cutting the stems, my apartment smelled like home.

I can remember, like it was yesterday, when the three of us would pretend to be the Supremes with deodorant cans as microphones, when my mother showed me how to find rainbows in puddles on the ground and when she talked me out of wearing my glittering sequined spangled nightgown (bought to dress up in at home) to nursery school.

She was my style guru from the time I could tell ballet pink from a bright Bubblegum hue, much in the way Diana Vreeland was to many a fashion editor and Audrey Hepburn was to women all over the United States. My mother had them beat.  A mix of Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey herself, she was a runway and bridal fit model, studying to be an actress before she met and married my father– and after they divorced–she was a VP for a well-known clothing company. She knew colors and fabrics, she had taste, style and dressed in all the latest fashions as long as I can remember.  In the sixties and early seventies she traveling to London with my dad for business, she maxi-d, midi-d and shimmied in short mini dresses from Mary Quant and those found on Carnaby Street. In the seventies, at only 35, liberated from a less than perfect marriage but still with the responsibility of raising three unruly kids, she gave up her little sheath dresses for elephant bells, and traded in her charm bracelet dangling with discs of her children for macramé beaded styles and Zuni turquoise cuffs.  I remember, propping myself up on her vanity, while she took more things off than she put on, allowing me to play dress up next to her with the pieces she rejected, while she applied blush and a little eye liner to make me feel more grown up.    But I also never forgot this lesson later in life: ‘that the woman is supposed to wear the jewelry and clothes, not the other way around.” In the eighties, she did what every New York woman did and counted on basic black; she didn’t stray far from the pack and fell in love with Donna Karan’s ease of dressing, adding a piece or two of Robert Lee Morris sculptural jewelry and found herself wearing more of vintage pieces of cut steel, onyx and filigree.  My grandmother asked why  ‘her two girls’ felt the need to look like two Sicilian women in mourning.”
“We both did a medley of ‘thinner! easier to get out of the house.. to accessorize…and…what other color would we possibly wear?”  While my mom’s wardrobe was dark, her heart was light.

As style savvy as she was, she was also down-to-earth-and got the most pleasure from the simple things in life–the first hint of summer when she could go to the beach and feel her toes in the hot sand; on Mother’s Day, she opted for a ‘great slice of Pizza, a Coney Island hot dog or good Chinese.”

When she got remarried to my stepfather, she wore a simple antique wedding band: she liked her jewelry discrete and her displays of affection and love to be measured by how tight you could hug. I’m not sure I ever held on long enough.

There were things that were passed down, some in the genes, like the fact that I was blessed, not with her perfect nose but with her humongous feet, her propensity for worry the fine art of manipulation by guilt. I hope I also inherited some of her style, her big gush-y heart and her ability to appreciate family and always remember their favorite things.

My friends often think that ruby is my coveted gemstone because of its fiery connections to romance and passion but my mother knew. Ever since she scrunched under the table where I was hiding out (before you could fast forward) from the Wicked Witch when I was four. “Wait until you see what happens next,” she coaxed me out and into the safety of her arms on the couch–and there they were–the ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet–the ones that transported her back to where she belonged.

My mom and I watched two movies every year–The Wizard of Oz for me, and in the beginning, It’s  A Wonderful Life for her (now another of my favorites.)

Today, when I smell the lilacs, go out for the perfect slice of pizza, think of both my mom and my grandmother (who passed away last year, just shy of her 97th birthday), I will celebrate Mother’s Day, quietly, with a mix of longing, loss, love, sentimentality, humor and warmth…thinking always of her beauty, understanding and acceptance of me and recalling how we always clicked our heels together three times– and whenever I think of her, living on inside of me, I will feel… home.