if a diamond is the hardest gem, and an emerald is the softest, what's the difference between a sapphire and a ruby? (other than color you jokesters).
answer: it's a trick question. there isn't any difference!
how do i know this? because today an old man wouldn't stop repeating this story to me and my co-workers. more helpful answer? these past four days, i worked at a major NYC auction house's Magnificent Jewels Auction.
i shall now share that experience with you.
the morning pep speech from security goes like this: all the security personal here is either a retired or acting NYPD police officer. so you're in good hands. however, God forbid anything should happen, do what "they" say and give "them" (these quotes are "mine") whatever they want because our goal is to get them out of the building as quickly as possible.
it's then i realize i am surrounded by hundreds of millions of dollars worth of jewels. i secretly hope i see at least one uzi during my four day shift. or better yet someone repelling from a helicopter with an uzi.
instead, the first potential bidder is a father who brings his two little girls, heads straight for the diamond cases and has his little ragamuffins try on the likes of this:
correct. that is a $120,000 diamond necklace. the daughters couldn't be more than five and seven. i don't have any diamond necklaces in the cases i'm working behind therefore i do not need to clasp them around the children's tiny necks. i am grateful for this small karmic kindness.
one of the jewelry runners (aka a person who collects particular pieces from all the cases in the showroom and takes them into a back room so a buyer can view them in private) when seeing me behind the counter huffs loudly, "great. a new person." and then rolls her eyes and tsks impatiently when i have trouble unlocking the case.
i worry she is going to be my nemesis. i worry she will make the next four days suck. i seriously worry that i have a bum key.
by later that afternoon, she's schemed to get jewelry before her colleagues who have waited longer for it whilst wearing a wicked grin. she's flirted unabashedly with ALL the men whilst being an utter koochy to all the women. and she's been pretty nice to me, because contrary to first appearances, i can turn a key in a lock. i realize this teeny senior firecracker reminds me of Dr. Evil and is awesome.
during the slower moments, my co-worker and i plot how best to (theoretically) rob the exhibition. we decide that all we need is an inside person at the catalogue printers. a floppy hat. and a halfway decent gem forger. simple, no? on Day 4, i realize we can also make a copy of the case's key when we go to the bathroom because apparently we aren't required to surrender our keys and announce to security: Going to the ladies room! every time we go to the ladies room.
nearing the end of the day, in reference to a piece that's quoted at $8,000 a man says to me, why that's dirt cheap. can you believe how cheap that is? i try not to calculate how long i could write on 8K without having to get a crappy day job.
Day 1 Jewel of Interest:
yes, Amethyst, you are my birthstone. i'm sorry nobody tried you on all day. perhaps you're gauche. on the positive side, you're such a steal. four pieces for 25K to 35K? oops. did that add insult to injury. i hate when i go and offend semi-precious stones like that.
having sliced off a wedge of my thumb making fancy cocktails the night before (see, Baby, this is why dull knives are good) i shamefully wear a brown generic band-aid to work.
this ickiness is immediately overshadowed when a new girl (a new person, tsk) right off the bat drops a Faberge locket crafted for Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich onto the floor. the late 1800's locket is purported to have a lock of the little Czar's hair inside, meaning if you buy it you own a Czar's DNA. i wince with horror and thinly veiled disdain when i witness this careless newbie mistake.
ten minutes later i reach into a case for a pair of earrings and feel something brush my legs. please tell me that elaborate necklace on the wobbly stand didn't just plummet to the floor.
later, this also pops out of my hand:
yes, you're correct. it is a cigarette case from the 1920's made from a single hollowed out piece of Lapis Lazuli valued at 7K to 9K. take heart, when it falls on the ground, it sounds exactly like a standard diamond encrusted Lapis Lazuli cigarette case does whilst bouncing on carpet.
an hour or so later, i'm lightly delighted when one of the specialists drops a giant emerald earring onto the display case. still later, another attendant nearly sends a ruby thingamabob skittering across the showroom floor - though her heroic dive prevents this.
Jewel Lesson Learned: don't be judgy. no matter your role, you too might one day drop a holy-shite that's expensive please don't break or crack or chip piece of jewelry.
and no, i'm not going to even try and properly grammatize that last sentence so it's more readable.
Day 2 Jewel of Interest:
while the diamond is overheard to be "merely whatever," this nearly 5 carat ruby is apparently incomparable. one buyer talks about how it'll probably go for $200,000 ... per carat. i decide to take a picture with it before the end of the show:
i further decide it either requires special talent to take a pic this terrible or an especially terrible phone. or maybe it's simply impossible to focus on the ruby when it's bedazzling an aged witch's hand.
i further further decide never to photograph my hands again. or wear them out in public.
i start wishing i knew there was such a title as Jewelry Specialist when I was a kid. the Specialists have the coolest job ever. granted, it seems like they're on call 24/7 and have to dine with their clients all the time, but they're all down to earth, they know their sh*t about gems, they dress to kill, and none of them look shiny or blotchy in the room's overhead lighting like i do. avoiding mirrors, i eavesdrop on the Specialists whenever possible.
did you know, it only takes about 6 months to get your gemologist certificate?
i mean, i do like to eat out. especially if it's free. hmmm.
later in the day, i am pulled by security and asked to stand watch in the back room as a board member sits with his wife as she tries on a pair of diamond earrings.
husband, wife, and Corrie all conclude that the earrings look stunning. but the wife is worried that she shouldn't get them because SHE ALREADY HAS ONES THAT ARE TOO SIMILAR. granted, they do mention selling a few of their other pieces in order to purchase these. but when was the last time you didn't purchase something for $20,000+ because you already a $20,000+ item that would make it redundant?
to be fair, this is the most common reason i hear for a piece not being up to snuff.
on another note, whilst i am keylessly on bathroom break ('cause it's not Day 4 yet), i discover a disconcerting, how the hell did i miss it, chin hair. i frantically try to pluck it, but my fingers and prayers fail me. veiny hands, chin hair, vindictive glee when i see priceless jewelry dropped. i might as well join the coven now.
i'm pretty sure Specialists don't have these problems.
Day 3 Jewel of Interest:
this gem is called Alexandrite:
it changes color depending what light it's in. cool!
after two days in a row in the same section, i now consider myself a Specialist of cases 15, 16, and 17 and Towers 16 and 17.
just don't ask me anything.
throughout the day, i meet nice people. a woman from Connecticut and i have lots of fun when she let's me show her a bunch of earrings i think are cool and she gamely tries them on. she's stunned by the magnificent Van Cleefs that everyone is stunned by (see, told you, Specialist yo') but she says:
"i'm just some Connecticut housewife. i mean, i've got some money to spend, but don't you think some, like, Indian princess is going to win these earrings? it won't be someone like me"
i tell her, your $60,000 is just as good as any princesses $60,000.
no. i don't tell her that. but i do think that lovely is lovely.
outside of protocol, i watch a gentleman be seated at his own table in the showroom and then watch as the highest member of the auction staff and a specialist both slightly frantically bring him all of the most expensive jewels. they even turn off the overhead music to let him concentrate. i imagine this is one of the richest men i will ever see. it's kind of awesome.
nearing the end of the day, thanks to the scoop neckline on my (clothing swapped, woot!) dress i'm asked to model this:
and even better, this:
i gotta admit, it feels ... well, weird because everyone is looking at me.
Day 4 Jewel of Interest:
this 12 carat unfired, Burmese sapphire ring is requested by A TON of dealers. apparently it's $150,000 to $200,000 pricetag is very low. one dealer tells me it will likely go for ten times this amount. later in the day, i watch a man fall in love with it.
"it's manly," he says, "no?"
"uh yes," i reply. "that is a very, uh, manly cut."
i wonder if he'll spend a million dollars to buy it.
by the end of Day 4, i am incredibly grateful and in love with this amazing experience. i decide not to begrudge the collectors, bazillionaires, and housewives their jewels. happiness is happiness and love is love and it's a pleasure to see people's faces light up when they try on a piece that is clearly meant for them. ten times out of ten, their look of joy far outshines the glitter of the jewels.
i simply wish life experiences like these were for everyone, not only a very lucky few.
consolation thought? a lot of beautiful sights in life are absolutely free.
also, the exhibition is open to the public and everyone is allowed to try on whatever they want. also, everyone in the Jewels department is really nice. also, also, and also there's another show in February.
why not swing by?
i mean, the coffee and view alone are priceless.
(if you're curious. you may bid or follow along with the auction on 12/11/13 starting at 10 a.m.)