Jewelry has always held a special place in Beth Bernstein's life: More than just trinkets of adornment, gems have been guideposts to her memories, and through them, she tells her story. Every piece of precious metal and stone in her new book My Charmed Life: Rocky Romances, Precious Family Connections, and Searching for a Band of Gold represents a chapter in her life - and not just her life alone. Treasured pieces link generation to generation as they are passed from mother to daughter. From Beth's mother's Jackie Kennedy-style Mikimoto pearls, to her father's Cartier Tank watch, to her great-grandmother's Edwardian opal brooch, to her personal eclectic collection of rings, necklaces, charms and more, each jewelry piece has a tale of its own.
On one hand, the book is a moving tribute to a family of strong women, and the power of female bonds. A child of divorce, Beth was primarily brought up by her mother and grandmothers, and she celebrates these women for their wisdom, love and support. Her mother was her biggest fan, her closest confidante and her greatest inspiration, especially on the subject of her impeccable style. She called Beth her "survivor," but it was she who taught Beth how to face her greatest challenges.
More than a decade after her mother's death, Beth continues to visit her grandmother Ida at a nursing home, the older woman's spirit as feisty as ever, still taking care to look her best and offering no-nonsense advice on Beth's choices in fashion and men. As a child, Beth had bonded with her Ida over their shared love of jewelry and Nana's lessons on "how to make life more glamorous." Her grandmother touchingly taught her: "When you go out looking your best, the rest of the world won't know how you are feeling, even if your heart is breaking."
On the other hand, the story is also Beth's quest for everlasting love, or as she would translate it into the language of jewelry, "a band of gold." The road she has traveled is indeed one of "rocky romances.
We follow her on a journey of poignant and humorous moments, among which we can all catch glimpses of ourselves. We meet her high-school first love, whose "going-steady" ring turns her finger blue (a few years later, he does upgrade to a 3-carat diamond - that he gives to someone else), then the passionate - and alcoholic - Irishman who presents her with an authentic Claddagh ring, and then the actor who just "gets" her funky self so completely that he impulsively sets a small white diamond in a rubber bracelet for her - and may just be the most unavailable of all, secretly coming to terms with his love for another man. And then there's Paolo, her transatlantic, on-again, off-again romance. Just as the Milanese charmer consumes her heart, he showers her with gifts - numerous Murano glass vases, a vintage Pink gold Rolex - but somehow never the ring that she hopes will seal their future. Also Read: 10 Signs Your Guy Is Definitely In Love With You
Ultimately, this memoir is a story of self-discovery. The series of men who pass through Beth's life often disappoint her, but make her a stronger, more self-reliant human being, and the book traces her path to true independence. Early on, Beth confronts the old-fashioned idea that any significant jewelry piece should be a gift from a man. As a teenager, she looks lovingly at a sapphire-and-diamond pendant that her father explains will be the kind of piece she'll receive from a future husband. The unspoken message: Stick to silver until you're "upgraded" by a man to gold or platinum. But Beth will have none of that. When she turns 41, she decides it's time she had an "important" piece of her own, and, still single, she decides to buy it herself - a much more efficient option than finding a husband who also has good taste!
As a successful jewelry designer, Beth is confident in what she likes, knowledgeable about the item she seeks, and, perhaps most significant, believes she deserves this gift. The pleasure she derives from purchasing the piece is no less than if it came from a man.
Overall, it's an eye-opening, empowering experience. So although Beth hasn't given up on love, for now she can call off the maddening chase for that elusive band of gold. Though if one day, the right man shows up with a ring, she'll keep that finger bare, just in case...
Written by Abigail Wilentz for YourTango.com.
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