Town & Country (USA)
Spoils of Her GRAND TOUR
I see London, I see France, I see all my trinkets in one hand. A reminder that sometimes you pick up the most precious jewels where you least expect to.
Afew years back, whiling away a blissful afternoon among the jewelry shops of the Place Vendôme, I spied a gold bracelet with a single charm—a delicate, diamond-studded Eiffel Tower. What could make a better keepsake of a perfect day in the City of Light than this sparkling emblem? If I didn’t buy it then and there, when would I ever find such a thing again? I just had to have it.
That bracelet joins a number of beloved mementos of far-flung trips in my jewelry box: a pin that spells out R-o-m-a in tiny tiles, a gold brooch celebrating Queen Victoria’s reign. Foreign adventures, at least for me, always include more than a little jewelry shopping, because, really, isn’t that the perfect souvenir? Small enough for easy transport, literally worth their weight in gold—such trinkets are ideal, especially if you’re one of those freaks who spend three weeks abroad with a single carry-on. (Not me, alas…)
I may be a particularly enthusiastic devotee, but I am not alone in my enthusiasm. In fact, souvenir squirreling reached its apex during the 18th and 19th centuries, when people of means embarked on Grand Tours, those bygone rites of passage.
What could be more fun for the Victorian visitor than picking up a trinket with the Colosseum rendered in the tiniest micromosaics—a technique perfected in Rome? Or a brooch depicting a botanical bouquet created in pietra dura, a Florentine specialty? So ubiquitous were these treasures that they still turn up with regularity at antiques markets all over Europe, ready to reassume their exalted status. (I speak, as ever, from experience. It turns out that a bar pin that says “Souvenir” in diamonds can surface near the Arc de Triomphe, and that a nearby cash machine will actually spit out 800 euros, enabling someone, ahem, to buy this bauble for cash.)
But you needn’t confine yourself to antiques.
There are plenty of magnificent contemporary pieces that speak eloquently of their places of origin. My heart nearly exploded with excitement when I was finally able to visit the legendary Codognato shop in Venice, in San Marco since 1866, famed for its exquisitely wrought snakes and skulls. (You may think you do not want a bejeweled enamel skull ring. You do.) In Rome the delicate musings from Fendi scion Delfina Delettrez beckon. If you’re prepared to dig deeper in your Gucci overcoat pocket, Alessandro Michele has actually incorporated flawless examples from his own collection of souvenir micromosaics as the centerpieces of the house’s latest high jewelry collection. But act fast: These are all oneof-a-kind. And who wouldn’t covet a wonderful Monete coin necklace from Bulgari on the Via dei Condotti? Maybe you could find this pendant at an outpost closer to home, but to see it gleaming on your neck in the shadow of the Spanish Steps—who can put a price on that?
In Athens I gasped in wonderment at the Acropolis, my eyes watered at the Parthenon. But I was also happy to take in the Lalaounis Jewelry Museum and revel in its distinctive brushed gold designs, which have a direct aesthetic link to the artistry of ancient Greece. Then again, I should have listened to a jeweler friend who warned me to be extra careful spending big bucks at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. How I wish I had been satisfied with spices and carpets, and saved my pennies for Sevan Bicakci, a brilliant artist who has a shop near the bazaar and whose gem-encrusted padlocks I have always admired.
And is it any surprise that in London I am seduced by the spectacular ruby and enamel Union Jack rings—a cool 12,000 pounds—at Solange Azagury-Partridge’s Chilworth Street boutique? Can you blame me if I spend a stolen hour staring at the glittering prizes in the vitrines of the Burlington Arcade? A century ago Oscar Wilde might have sauntered past this place.
Speaking of Wilde, himself no stranger to the joys of collecting beautiful things, that great man once quipped,“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” I suppose that’s true—but who says the memory of a fantastic voyage can’t also reside on a happy wrist or an elegant ring finger?