Well, that’s novel…

As the nights have drawn in, the rain’s got more frequent, and the temperature has dropped, the Goblin and I have spent a lot of time in a sofa nest, reading and drinking mulled wine. It’s great. I am truly living my best adult life.

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After finishing our History degrees, we’d been firmly stuck on non-fiction books for the last few years, but clearly 2018 required some escapism, and recently we’ve been all about the fiction!

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Because I can never quite switch off work mode, I started thinking about the three best novels I’ve read featuring jewellery or gemstones as a key plot point… Here are my recommendations for your own sofa nest reading material:

1. The Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman

Although this book is technically aimed at a young adult audience, it’s one of the few books from my childhood that has lived up to my memory on rereading, which is saying something, because ya girl had some questionable literary taste! (One word: Twilight…)

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(c) Scholastic

Set in Victorian-era London, The Ruby in the Smoke tells the story of Sally Lockhart, a young women who gets drawn into the dangerous mystery of a stolen ruby following her father’s death. It’s tightly-plotted, well-written, and features a ton of opium – what’s not to like?

2. Mademoiselle de Scudéri – E.T.A. Hoffman

My final choice is technically a novella, but that just means it’s a quick read! As well as featuring a German Miss-Marple-style detective, the elderly poet known as Mme de Scudéri, this book also has a jeweller at its centre. René Cardillac is a renowned goldsmith whose pieces are so highly prized they’re being stolen, and who is also famous for liking his own creations so much he often refuses to part with them – I think all jewellers have been there after finishing something we’re particularly proud of!

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(c) Fantasy & Horror Classics

The story moves at quite a pace, and also sets the scene beautifully in 17th century Paris. I know a lot of people have to read this one for school, which could ruin it a bit for some, but since I’ve only read the English translation for fun, I’m recommending it!

3. The Roses of Picardie – Simon Raven

The Roses of Picardie is the only book on this list that actually features a piece of jewellery as opposed to a gemstone, because I’ve found from experience that most of the novels featuring jewellery as a main plot point are romance-based (no shade; just very much not my thing). Raven’s horror-mystery novel, on the other hand, is a deliciously dark tale featuring his staple horrible characters, cursed rubies, and a journey across Europe. Fun fact: a holiday I took around France in the summer of 2010 was directly inspired by this book, so it works as a travel guide, too!

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Simon Raven was a famously nasty person, who once replied to his wife’s telegraphed request for money to stop her and their child starving with the curt ‘No money; suggest eat baby.’ His unpleasantness and the unflinching awfulness of his characters are, to be honest, part of his appeal. However, the downside to The Roses of Picardie is that this goes further than in some of his other works (e.g. Alms For Oblivion), and there’s a vein of anti-Semitism and some liberal use of the ‘n’ word throughout. Obviously, it’s up to the individual whether that element outweighs enjoyment of the story or not for them personally. It’s definitely one of my problematic faves!

Even more jewellery-related books…

I also have quite a long jewellery-related TBR, which is mostly non-fiction and goes something like this…

  • The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins (I know, I know, I’ve just never got round to it…)
  • Jewels: A Secret History – Victoria Finlay
  • Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box – Madeleine Albright
  • Victorian Jewelry, Identity, and the Novel: Prisms of Culture – Jean Arnold
  • The Emperor’s Pearl – Robert van Gulik
  • Jewel: A Celebration of Earth’s Treasures – DK/Judith Miller

If you have any recommendations for novels featuring jewellery or jewels, please let me know in the comments! New ones are surprisingly difficult to find on Goodreads for some reason…

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Cursed jewellery? Jinkies!

I know, I know, it’s been a while. Lots of things have happened but the highlights are lots of illness, a holiday & new projects. It has been A TIME.

Anyhow, this week was the start of the new school term, and you know what that means? It’s also time for the new HOGWARTS school term. If, like me, your letter never arrived, don’t despair – you can still show your house colours and pretend it did.

Ready for the new year, I’ve created a line of barely-there Hogwarts house necklaces, for an oh-so-pretty and dainty nod to your dreams of becoming a wizard that won’t get you stared at on the tram…

 

It was only a matter of time until I made some jewellery inspired by my childhood obsession, and designing these subtle house colours made me think about how much jewellery there is in the Harry Potter series. From Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem and Hermione’s gold time turner to Marvolo Gaunt’s tasteless ring (nobody giggle) and the horcrux locket, I think it’s safe to assume that the wizarding world is as full of magpies as the muggle one!

Because we all know plenty about these fictional magical trinkets (and because I’ve just discovered the And That’s Why We Drink podcast!), I thought I’d have a little look for some ‘real life’ gems with special powers. Here are three sinister sparklers and the mysteries behind them…

1. The ‘Atlantis Ring’

Supposedly magical jewellery tends to fall into two categories: amulets/talismans and cursed objects. Ring number one on our list is the former.

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Allegedly found in 1860 by the Marquis d’Agrain in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, this clay ring with its strange markings seemed completely out of place amongst the hieroglyphs and imagery of its surroundings. Long story short, this led to the belief it was from the lost city of Atlantis (because, of course it did). And then it gets weirder…

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Howard Carter, the archaeologist famous for leading the exhibition that found Pharoah Tutankhamun’s tomb, was so interested in this ring’s supposed protective properties (especially against mummies and their curses) that he had a copy made for himself. Years later, he became the only member of his expedition to die of natural causes… Hmmm.

2. The Hope Diamond

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Possibly the most famous cursed gemstone in the world, the Hope Diamond has definitely seen its share of misfortune. Tales of its first owner being ripped apart by wild dogs started the rumour of a curse, although these proved to be false. Perhaps it wasn’t so cursed after all then? Not so fast; after adorning the doomed necks of various members of the French royal family, including Marie Antoinette, it made its way to England and then the USA following the French Revolution. Realising the ‘curse’ could be a selling point, Cartier obtained the diamond and sold it to socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.

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Not one to be cowed by curses, McLean showed the diamond off at every opportunity. However, bad luck began to plague her and her family. Her children both died, one in a car crash and the other from a drug overdose. Then her husband left her for another woman, bankrupted the family in the process, and eventually died of alcoholism-induced brain atrophy. Yikes. But wait, what about McLean herself? She died the year after her husband, her jewellery being sold to pay the family’s debts.

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It now lives in the Smithsonian Museum, where the worst it does is doom the tourists who view it to the curse of being overcharged in taxis and losing their passports…

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3. The Koh-i-Noor Diamond

In this case, it seems that diamonds really are a girl’s best friend. Or, at least, a boy’s worst enemy!

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This whopping 105.6 carat stone passed through the hands of Delhi sultans, Persian shahs, and Mughal, Afghan & Sikh emperors, before being willed to a temple by its second-to-last owner, Ranjit Singh. Unfortunately, the East India Company had other ideas, and the stone was handed over to Queen Victoria in the Last Treaty of Lahore.

Because Disney’s Aladdin, it hadn’t come out yet, so people didn’t seem to realise that stealing stones from sacred places was a really bad idea

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After effectively nicking the diamond from the gods, British sailors faced the battle to get it home, coming up against cholera, attack, and gales.

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However, because every previous male owner had lost his throne – and the stone – in unfortunate circumstances, the British royal family did take the ‘sensible’ precaution of making sure that only female royalty wore the stone. So far it’s been in a brooch, a circlet and a tiara, and is currently in the Queen Mum’s crown in the Tower of London.

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Its ‘curse’ was the inspiration for Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, and it’s featured in an Agatha Christie novel and Assassin’s Creed since then!

 

Would you wear a supposedly cursed piece of jewellery? I don’t believe in curses but I’ve not been keen to risk it since reading Simon Raven’s The Roses of Picardie! Excellent book, but also quite scary… For now I’ll stick to my Ravenclaw necklace! What’s your Hogwarts house – Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw? Let me know in the comments.

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The Castafiore Emerald: Hyderabad to Hergé

As an attempt to combat wedding stress, I’ve recently been rereading some of my favourite Tintin stories.*

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One of my all time top Tintin episodes is The Castafiore Emerald for several reasons, the most relevant being that it features magpies as ‘main characters’.

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*Spoiler alert* The story takes place at Marlinspike Hall, home of Captain Haddock, the friend and adventuring partner of Tintin, boy reporter. Forceful Italian soprano Bianca Castafiore comes to stay in preparation for her performance in the opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), and is promptly divested of her most prized possession: an enormous emerald. Suspicion falls on a number of people (including a Romani group, shocker), but eventually the culprit is revealed as (you guessed it) a thieving magpie…

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There’s an amusing moment part-way through the tale where an insurance man, Mr. Wagg, explains that Castafiore was given this emerald by ‘Marjorie something or other’, and is quickly corrected; the emerald was a gift from the Maharajah of Gopal. (Interesting side-note, this is a bit of translator humour; the original plays on confusion between a word for ‘thingummybob’ – ‘marachinchouette’ – and ‘maharajah’. The guy is also called M. Lampion, which means ‘paper lamp’ – no idea on that one.) This made me wonder whether Hergé’s emerald was based on a real, giant, Indian gem.

A quick google suggests Hergé never specified any one stone as his inspiration, but India has long been a centre for the trade of emeralds, much beloved for their green colour (which is of course an extremely significant shade in Islam). The Muslim Mughal Empire, in which Maharajahs abounded, unsurprisingly had a particular fondness for emerald items. Some of the stunning Mughal jewellery I found during my search includes these beauties:

I also found one of the most famous Mughal emeralds, pleasingly called The Mogul Mughal Emerald (go on now, five times fast…). Whilst not an exact match for the fictional Castafiore Emerald, this rectangular-cut stone is a strong contender. Although the Mughal Empire fell in 1857, there were still plenty of Maharajahs knocking about by the time Tintin is set, so it’s feasible Castafiore’s Maharajah of Gopal could have been passing on an heirloom…

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5 facts about the Mogul Mughal Emerald

1) The Mogul Mughal Emerald weighs in at a whopping 217.80 carats, measuring 5.2 x 4 x 1.2cm. For context, this chunky emerald ring is only 3.01 carats.

Source: Blue Nile

2) Similar in shape to the Castafiore Emerald, the MME is not faceted, and is just a touch more intricately decorated. One side is carved with Shi’a inscriptions, the other with a contemporary flower motif. The flowers have been identified as the poppies which fill the region around what is now Pakistan, and which was part of the Mughal Empire. The inscription is a prayer to Muhammed and the 12 Imams, and reads:

O Merciful One, O Compassionate One
O God
God bless Muhammad and ‘Ali
and Fatima and al-Husain
and al-Hasan and ‘Ali
and Muhammad and Ja’far
and Musa
1107
and ‘Ali and Muhammad
and ‘Ali
and al-Husaini and the steadfast Mahdi

3) As you can see above, unusually for a historical artefact, the MME is self-dating. The inscription tells us it was carved in 1107 A.H. on the Islamic lunar calendar (1695-1696 CE in the Gregorian calendar), during the reign of Aurangzeb, the 6th Mughal Emperor. It’s the only surviving carved emerald from the classic Mughal period…as far as we know. Because of its near-unique accuracy in dating, it’s the yardstick by which all other carved Mughal emeralds are dated.

4) Interestingly, despite being carved in the heart of the Mughal Empire for what must have been an exceptionally wealthy owner, it’s not believed that this emerald was a gift for the zealously Sunni ruling family. Rather, historians suggest that the talisman was instead embellished for an officer or a Deccani or Persian nobleman.

5) It’s had quite the cosmopolitan life: from its mine in Colombia it travelled to India to be carved. After stints on display at a range of museums across North America, in December 2008 it was acquired by the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, where it currently resides.

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*Obviously I know Tintin is problematic on a ton of levels, but I still love it.