What to Get a Woman for Her 70th Birthday?



Finding a piece of jewelry for my mom would be easy at JCK Las Vegas—right?

A few months ago, my father cornered me during one of my visits home and asked me to help him find a birthday gift for my mom, who turned 70 on July 5. Not known for grand declarations of love, my father the physicist usually gives her an envelope full of cash on special occasions. I was relieved to see he was taking the Big 7-0 thing seriously.

I was also a little worried. I knew that JCK Las Vegas would be my best bet for finding a piece of jewelry within my dad’s budget ($3,000), but lord knows I’ve got other demands on my time there. Without any guidelines from my dad except to “find something nice,” I recruited my twin sister, Julia, to ferret clues about what my mom wanted and then help me narrow the possibilities. The plan was for me to text Jul photos of pieces I discovered while cruising the show floor and for her to yay or nay them.

Our first obstacle was to decide which style of jewelry my mom wanted: a necklace, earrings, a ring? My mom’s fingers have swollen from arthritis, so she tends to shy away from rings (not counting her thick rose gold wedding band). Earrings seemed like a fail-safe option until a text exchange between our dad and us ended on this note from him: “High alert! By accident Mom saw your message, and said she already has two sets of diamonds earrings and would rather have a bracelet.”

So much for the surprise!

My first and admittedly unoriginal idea was to find her a straightforward diamond line bracelet. A staple! I spent an inordinate amount of time at SimplexDiam’s main booth at JCK sifting through tennis bracelets of every size and quality. But Jul quickly steered me away from this idea.

“Mom really loves turquoise—especially yours,” Jul wrote in a text, referring to a Navajo-style silver cuff set with a piece of Bisbee turquoise that I bought at the Tucson gem shows earlier this year.

On the basis of that text, I ran between the Sunwest Silver booth at JCK and the company’s affiliated booth in the AGTA pavilion searching for a piece that would look appropriate for a 70th birthday. Alas, the trouble with Native American turquoise jewelry is that it is often expensive but doesn’t necessarily look it. None of the pieces I saw fit what I had in mind.

While at AGTA, however, I chanced upon a bracelet at White Cloud, one of my standbys when I’m searching for affordable colored stone jewels. It featured round Sleeping Beauty turquoise cabochons framed by not-great-quality diamonds, interspersed with faceted blue sapphires ($1,750 wholesale). But there was one problem: It was just shy of 7 inches long and I knew that my mom’s wrists were likely to be bigger than that.

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The White Cloud bracelet

After texting my dad to measure one of her existing bracelets and report back to me (to no avail), I gave in and called her myself. Our awkward conversation went like this:

“Hi Mom, can you please measure your wrist for me?”

“Why?”

“Please don’t ask me any questions.”

“Ah…okay.”

In a subsequent text, she revealed that her wrist is 7¼ inches around, making the turquoise-and-sapphire piece that we had our hearts set on definitively too small.

I would have asked the folks at White Cloud to remake the same bracelet in a slightly longer size, which they offered to do, but to be frank, dealing with them was proving to be both difficult and frustrating. The patriarch, who wouldn’t stop eating while we spoke, made it abundantly clear that he didn’t care if I bought from him or not. This was Monday, June 6, the last day of the show, and I was nearing the end of my rope, but I decided that I’d rather struggle to find another bracelet than give my dad’s money to this vendor.

Luckily, I had JCK’s managing editor, Melissa Bernardo, with me.

“What about the Indian pavilion?” she suggested with all of one hour left in the shopping day.

A frenzied blitz through the Indian section of the show’s Passport neighborhood ensued, as we tried desperately to assess my options. Turquoise bracelets are surprisingly difficult to find! You see them as hard bangles, but flexible styles are rare. And longer ones that would accommodate my mom’s wrist exponentially so.

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Hard bangles set with turquoise were much easier to find than flexible bracelet styles.

I was on the verge of giving up when a display at a corner booth caught my eye. The gentleman who listened to my spiel stepped to the back of the booth and rummaged through a box of jewelry that wasn’t on display. He pulled out a 7.5-inch bracelet of Sleeping Beauty cabochons (53 cts. t.w.!), each framed by a floral-style halo of rose-cut champagne diamonds (11.21 cts. t.w.), set in blackened silver—$2,300 wholesale. It was perfect.

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The winning piece!

With less than 30 minutes to go before JCK 2016 wrapped, I wrote a check for the amount and excitedly texted Jul and my dad with the good news. I’m horrified to admit this, but I’ve lost the man’s card and the name of the company on my canceled check—Vintage Collection, Inc.—isn’t coming up in an exhibitor search, so I can’t link to it. If anyone out there knows the company I’m talking about, please pass on my sincere thank you!

On July 5, when I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday, she couldn’t contain her excitement. “I love it!” she said.

I could hear the smile in her voice. Later that night, when I popped by my parents’ house to join them for a dinner of birthday kebabs, the proof was in her outfit: It was a quiet night at home but she was all dolled up in a cobalt blue shoulder-baring top accessorized with her new turquoise bracelet; a strand of blue sapphire beads I’d picked up at the Anil B. Dholakia booth, also at AGTA; and a pair of turquoise earrings that were a gift from my 92-year-old grandmother, Tamara.

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My beautiful mother Natasha on her 70th birthday

Even though my dad paid me back for the bracelet and my sister guided me through the entire buying process, I feel no small amount of pride in having been the one to find the piece. And as a fellow turquoise lover (check out this ode to turquoise I wrote in 2015), I’m already scheming about how to borrow it.