Last month's icky earring-removal story prompted the grossest stories you'll ever read. But we also received a message from a woman who had worked in the jewelry industry, and was not surprised about the hair-clog earring. She'd seen worse.
I put myself through University working at a well-known fine jewelry store in Canada. Some women will tell you, even though they are single, exactly what their engagement ring will look like. What metal, how large the stone, what cut, color and clarity. It is all perfect in their minds. I am not one of those women; I knew nothing of diamonds or any other stone. It was a fluke when I got the job, so I had a lot to learn when I started. Facts about metallurgy, gemology and, regretfully, personal hygiene. I worked hard; I taught myself everything I could about the business. I learned, I experienced, I sold and I nearly puked.
The grotesque things that people brought in every day reached freak-show levels. I have seen hair clogs in earrings before. I have also seen earrings encrusted, as though coral were growing over a ship wreck, with dirt, soap residue and pus.
They will tell you that Diamonds Are Forever. This is true. But gold is assuredly not forever. Diamonds will last; the gold they're set in will dissolve, thanks to a toxic soup of your personal excretions and caked-on chemicals.
Jewelry is a filthy, poisonous business.
There is a tradition, with jewelry, that once you receive it, you should never take it off. If you are given a pair of earrings from your Great-Grandmother, you stick them in your head and never take them off. Your engagement/wedding ring? On your finger until you die. The diamond pendant your husband gave you to honor the child you just had? On forever. Unfortunately, this practice results in foul smells and (sadly) destroyed heirloom pieces.
I once had a Little Old Lady totter into my store. She was perfectly charming, even adorable, in a sort of Old School way. You could tell that every few days, she went to the hairdresser to have her hair set; she would never leave the house without putting on her face. She wore pill box hats and smart little dresses. A right proper Little Old Lady, perfect in every way. When she showed me the ring she wanted to repair, I turned green.
It was a pearl ring: A single white pearl glued onto a post and placed on a gold band. Simple, elegant and beautiful. The stench that emanated from this ring would kill a vulture. It was encrusted, around the pearl and under her finger, with black goo. The pearl itself was pock-marked like the moon… no, it was worse. There was a massive crater on one side that had scraped a third of the pearl clean away.
I had to cut the ring from her finger in order to have a closer look at it and replace the pearl as she wanted. She cried while I did this, as though I were lopping off the finger and not the ring; it was such a part of her that she couldn't believe she had to part with it. I could have simply completed the sale, put the ring in for repair and walked away but, I had to know. How long had she had the ring?
Only three years.
It was the last gift she had ever received from her late husband. Had she ever taken it off? No. Did she clean her home with strong chemicals like bleach? Yes. Does she wear gloves while doing this? No.
After all of my questions, she had one of her own. Why was I asking? What had happened to her precious pearl ring?
She didn't know.
She didn't know that dousing her fragile pearl in bleach and soap on a weekly basis was disintegrating it. She didn't know that her dead skin cells, building up with years of hand cream and perfumes, were adding to the mix and creating that foul black miasma under the ring. She couldn't smell herself. But every time she gestured her bejeweled hand, I could smell a foul stench, like road kill four days dead. She honestly believed that once she stuck that ring on her finger, it would be there forever, perfect as the day she got it.
I have seen good watches, Rolex and Cartier, half-rusted from sweat, dead skin and caked-on hand cream. I have spent hours chiseling this foul muck off the back before the battery could be changed. I have repeated the process on the same watch 18 months later because people never listen; it is better to wear it than put it in a box and, somehow, lose it.
I have sent watches away for repair because they have literally disintegrated on the arm of the owner. The back hasn't fallen off, it has rotted off. The links are stretched and spotted with rust; everything is bent out of shape and falling to pieces. Think it's hard to admit you need a larger pant size? Try admitting you need another link in your watch or a larger ring size. People would rather harm themselves and destroy their possessions than admit that they need something made larger to accommodate their growing body. You could squeeze into too-small pants; clothing will stretch. Most
metal won't, not without extensive structural damage that renders the item as good as destroyed.
I have seen emerald rings and opal pendants that could be beautiful if the stones weren't indiscriminate lumps, greyish and crumbling. Hygiene is good; wash your hands, wash your body. But take your jewelry off first! Emeralds are brilliant and colorful and full of oil. Soap destroys the oil; emeralds suffer. You cannot clean gems and metals as you would clean yourself! It surprises so many people when I tell them that the human body is made of a different substance than gold. I know I have lost sales due to my palpable frustration. Buy it, wear it, love it, but care for it! Why can't you care?
I have seen fingers, sausage plump and beat red, faintly — disturbingly — black at the tip because a ring has been cutting off circulation for a year or more. Do you really want your wedding ring on forever so badly you'll suffer necrotizing fasciitis? Some people chose Zombie Skin over removing their precious, precious jewelry. I can almost understand Gollum; jewelry is so valued that people will kill for it, die for it, lose limbs to retain it! But for some reason they won't care for it properly.
The next time you walk past a jewelry store, give a little thought (or shudder) for the poor salespeople within, forced to smell the black rot of loving carelessness.