Last Wednesday, the essayist Sloane Crosley—author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake (Riverhead Books, 2008) and How Did You Get This Number (Riverhead Books, 2010)—read from her debut novel, The Clasp, at Book Soup in West Hollywood, Calif. After months of emailing with Crosley about her first work of fiction, I wouldn’t have missed it.
Set partly in the world of fine jewelry, the book follows three 29-year-old friends—Kezia, Victor, and Nathaniel—as they move between Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Normandy, France, in search of a 200-year-old diamond-and-sapphire necklace that was lost in Nazi-occupied France and supposedly remains hidden there.
Crosley was inspired by the 1884 short story “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, which centers on a poor woman who borrows an expensive diamond necklace for a ball, loses it at the end of the night, and spends the next decade working to pay off the debt she incurred by buying a suitable replacement—only to discover that the original necklace was made of paste, an artful but worthless imitation.
I spoke to Crosley a couple months ago about her research into the jewelry trade (she even namechecks the JCK Las Vegas show!), her favorite gemstones, and why she believes jewelry is humankind’s most meaningful creation.
Author Sloane Crosley (photo by Caitlin Mitchell)
JCK: What made you want to write a novel based on “The Necklace”?
Sloane Crosley: I knew I wanted to write a novel that was a tribute to a short story. There are novels that tend to hang their plots on the structure of a short story—like Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty” or “The Moon and Sixpence” [by W. Somerset Maugham] about the life of Gauguin or “Bel Canto” [by Ann Patchett] about an opera. But I’d never seen anything that was a tribute to a short story, and I knew I wanted to do that. Then I was in my apartment one night. I pulled out a book of short stories—“The Necklace” is pretty much in every anthology. It’s about this woman on the cusp of society, wanting more than what she has. So I thought this could be the thing that runs through all my characters. I became fascinated with Guy de Maupassant. And it dovetails perfectly with my longstanding love of jewelry.
JCK: What’s your experience with jewelry? Have you owned a lot of it?
Crosley: Jewelry has played various roles in my life and from an extremely early age. My mother is sort of a jewelry fiend—not that there’s a giant trove of jewelry waiting for me. I went to an extremely public high school, 2,500 people, in White Plains, N.Y. Even though it wasn’t so advanced in a lot of classes and programming, by coincidence, we had a teacher who taught jewelry classes. I was sawing sheets of copper and familiarizing myself with what a cabochon was when I was 14. It was something that really stuck with our family. My sister went into jewelry design for a while. I always really loved it. It had such meaning attached to it. And for the next five to seven years after that, both of my grandmothers died—and they were two very different women. One was very extremely well liked—and the other wasn’t. I wear almost every day a piece from one or both of them—one is a silver Georg Jensen ring and the other one is a pile of diamonds and chrysoberyl.
JCK: There’s a lot of detailed jewelry knowledge in the book. How did you research the industry?
Crosley: I talked to everybody about clasps. I didn’t know what cloisonné was, and I talked to jewelry designer Lisa Salzer of Lulu Frost—Lisa’s a good friend of mine. I gave her the chapters about Rachel Simone, a fantastical and over-the-top jewelry designer. I took the narrative as far as I could and asked her: What would be a problem with jewelry that could not be solved in the U.S.?
One of the things I stumbled on during my research on was a photograph of a necklace that was in a book about French jewelry that I found in the New York Public Library. The sketch of it had a year next to it: 1883. “The Necklace” was published in 1884. My imagination went with it, and I wondered if this was what Guy de Maupassant was picturing when he wrote “The Necklace.” I took a color photocopy of it and tacked it above my desk.
JCK: To many people, jewelry is pretty—but that’s about it. Why do you find it so compelling?
Crosley: There’s a bit in the novel that is the ranting of an old woman where she says the point of jewelry is it’s alive and it’s up to who wears it to make it art. A bit like a perfume, it smells differently on everyone. She talks about a feeling you get in a museum and you find a painting you love and you connect with—part of what’s great is it’s in a museum but for a split second, you want to clear the museum out and enjoy it for yourself. The price tag is a bit higher than admission to a museum, but that feeling is possible with jewelry. You can’t put your head through one of Monet’s water lily paintings (without getting arrested).
It’s one of the earliest voluntary inventions—clothing is necessary, food is necessary, coffins are necessary. Jewelry is not necessary. It’s a real early act of imagination and that’s what these characters are in need of. They’re spiraling in inertia and the necklace in its own way provides a sense of direction and purpose for all of them.
JCK: After immersing yourself in jewelry, have you developed a taste for certain stones?
Crosley: I am a fan of citrine, and I like moonstones. I like the light stuff. I hate my birthstone—peridot. But I don’t know if I have a favorite. I love emeralds, they’re gorgeous. But they’re not something I can actually see myself wearing a lot of—they strike me as a bit stodgy. One of my favorite designers now is Monique Péan. I can’t speak for her collection, but I can’t imagine that she uses emeralds much. I think of an emerald, and I think of a lady in Greenwich [Conn.]. Or the Queen of England. I like the more approachable jewelry. If money is no object in this scenario, I like the juxtaposition of high-low; everything I like I like not to be too matchy-matchy.