Saralee Perel

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at 

Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on

A Love Story About A Ring

What is it about estate jewelry that captures us? I think part of it is the intimate connection we feel in having something touch our skin that has long ago touched someone else’s.

We picture the slender Marcasite necklace resting on young sunburned freckled skin. We see the simple strand of elegant pearls on a youthful wrist that has yet to know much of life. And the cameo brooch, so big, that laid against silvery silk on a grandmother’s breast, as she attended her granddaughter’s wedding, seizing one last celebration of life while wearing the dress she loved.

I think of these never-to-be-duplicated moments when I hold a piece of treasured jewelry. I hope that someday, far away from today, somebody will pick up my ring, look at it closely, feel the love I feel for it and especially  . . .  feel a connection to me.

Shortly before our last anniversary, my husband Bob said, “Now that we’ve been married for twenty-two years, it’s time you had an engagement ring.”

I looked down at my simple wedding band. “But I love this ring.”

“I know. But it would mean something to me to get you a diamond.”

“We don’t have the money for that.”

“I’ve been saving.”

A little over twenty-three years ago, we were having a fancy dinner at, I think, the Bishop’s Terrace Restaurant. I don’t remember the main part of my entree, but I do recall it was covered with asparagus, cream sauce and lobster. I can still see us; Bob in a gray pin-striped suit and me wearing a real piece of history - a black dress in a size five.

We talked about our upcoming wedding, which was to take place at a synagogue near my parents’ home in Baltimore. Bob was anxious - worried he wouldn’t be accepted as the first non-Jewish person to marry into my family, and nervous he’d make a mistake with the Hebrew he’d have to say during the ceremony.

We ordered Napoleons for dessert. We held hands, both of us tired from the wine and the excitement of planning the wedding. The waiter brought our dessert on a silver platter. Next to mine was a tiny box, gift-wrapped in gold with a sparkly bow in the shape of a star. The waiter put our desserts on the table and then, in a grand gesture, presented me with the little box.

“What is this?” I can still feel the sting of those tears in my eyes. And I opened it to find the beautiful tiny antique gold wedding band that I’ve now worn for twenty-two years.

And so, we also held hands while we recently talked about Bob’s wish for a diamond for me. And it was with tremendous guilt that I finally agreed to at least look at engagement rings.

It was a deliciously forbidden feeling to shop for a diamond ring. We went through nearly all of the Cape’s co-ops, looking at old jewelry. But it was at the Harwich Antiques Center that I found it. A magnificent ring with historical richness of worn platinum filigree. On the card was the name of its original owner, Etta Davenport, and it was dated in the late 1800’s. I tried it on. It fit perfectly. Bob’s eyes lit up when he saw how I looked at it so passionately.

I turned my hand this way and that, the aged diamond sparkling under the lights. I wondered what Etta felt when she first put it on. Was she thrilled? Did she wear it every day until she died? Did she worry about losing it when she was doing laundry or digging in the sand with her children?

It was truly a masterpiece and I would have loved it. But no, I couldn’t buy it. Too frivolous. Who buys themselves a diamond ring, for heaven’s sake?

That night over dinner, Bob said, “It looked wonderful on you.”

“Well, have you looked at the ‘bills to be paid’ file lately?”

“You take something away from me by not treating yourself,” he said later while we did the dishes.

I had a dream about the ring that night. I dreamed it was in a fire and the platinum was gone forever. I searched through the ashes for the diamond but never found it.

So the next morning, I found Bob weeding the front garden. “I’ve been thinking about the ring,” I said. “I really do love it.” He stopped pulling up old thistle. “Let’s just do it,” I said. And he joyously came in the house to change before we drove back to the antique center.

In their parking lot, he held up our check book, grinned like a kid, and said, “I’m ready!”

I felt so naughty rushing to the glass display case, and with the excitement of a child at Christmas, I looked for the ring.

It was gone.

“There was an old platinum ring here yesterday,” I said to the saleswoman. She helped me search through the jewelry cases. Then she confirmed it wasn’t there. She called over to a woman, named Helen, behind another counter who said, “We sold it yesterday.”

“I can’t believe it,” my salesperson said. “It’s been here for months.” Then she gently admonished me. “Whenever you see something you like in a co-op, you should take it. At least you could have told me you were interested and I’d have held it for you for a little bit. But you didn’t look like you really wanted it.”

On the ride home, I felt badly for Bob, since he was obviously disappointed for me. “It’s just a ring, sweetheart,” I said. “There will be others.”

“But we’ve seen over a hundred. And that was the one for you.”

I’m embarrassed to say that I felt badly too. There was just something about that ring.

I was in the throes of a head cold on the day of our anniversary, so we stayed home. Bob cooked mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops and we had them in a wine sauce over angel hair pasta. I didn’t feel like setting the table with the lace tablecloth I had kept from my mother’s estate. And I didn’t feel like finding the matching napkins. I just felt too crummy from the cold. But I forced myself to do it for Bob, who gets an enormous kick out of our intimate celebrations. He had outdone himself all day wrestling with phyllo dough to make what were supposed to be Napoleons. They came out looking like globs of white mush.

I was blowing my nose and looking rather dreadful in my faded chenille bathrobe when Bob brought the desserts to the table on a silver platter. There, next to mine was a little gold box, gift-wrapped with a bow in the shape of a star.

“What is this?” With luscious anticipation I wondered what beautiful ring my husband had picked out for me and of course, I began to cry. I opened the tiny box.

Inside, there is was. Etta’s ring.

“But it was sold,” I looked up at him, my eyes wide.

He was beaming. “I know. I went right back and bought it that first day.”

“So the people there were acting?”

“Yes. We all were.”

We were both given timeless gifts that night. Twenty-two years of a love-filled blessed marriage and the exquisite tenderness that comes along with giving and receiving a gift from the heart.

And so, what once touched Etta’s skin is now touching mine. I am hoping that somewhere, she knows that a small part of her is bringing me great joy and that someday, someone will want to continue the trail of love with this enchanting piece of jewelry. But most important for now  . . .  I’d really want her to know  . . .   her resplendent engagement ring is safe and sound with me.