Since the dawn of civilization, we have practiced self-adornment. Ancient Egyptians used semi-precious stones and colored glass to create humanity’s earliest jewelry some 5,000 years ago. Things have changed, of course–today’s sterling silver and rose gold was once shell and bone–but the fact remains that jewelry, particularly as a token of some emotion, is deeply embedded in our collective culture.
So it goes that yesterday’s death of a prominent Texas jeweler at 96–James Avery, founder and namesake of Kerrville-based James Avery Jewelry, the store he ran for more than 60 years–has stirred emotion in legions of local women whose most meaningful moments are often tied to an Avery design.
A native New Englander, I hadn’t heard of James Avery before moving to Houston. After his death, I quickly received an education. More than just popular, this jewelry is profoundly important, the marker of milestones big and small. Memories of birthdays, boyfriends, summer camps, sororities, weddings, and more are wrapped up in dainty charms and delicate rings. The name “James Avery” alone was enough to elicit a flood of touching anecdotes from the small group of native Texans I surveyed. The jewelry–and the occasions for which it was gifted–are both personal and universal, inextricably linked to tales of love and loss, some I’m now hearing for the first time from treasured friends. Here are a few of their stories.
"On my 16th birthday, my boyfriend at the time bought me a ring. It was simple and something that could easily be worn every day, and I did just that. A few weeks later, he passed away.
This loss was crushing and it forced me to grow up quickly. I continued to wear the ring every day because it was a reminder of him, but as time went on it become a comfort.
When life becomes difficult or when what seems like impossible obstacles are thrown my way, I look at my ring and remember that everything is going to be OK. It reminds me that I've experienced hardship and that I can do it again. It also helps me remember that life is short and we should try our best to enjoy it." –Alicia Pellegrin
"It was THE thing when I was growing up. Girls had their charm rings and charm bracelets and I was totally one of them even though I’m not a big cross-wearing person. I am still frustrated by what happened to my James Avery unicorn-charm ring. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my favorite thing. One day, I had it in my hand, and it fell behind my pink chest of drawers and disappeared. I pulled them out, I searched everywhere, I got my mom on the case. I never saw it again. It was an almost mystical, totally bizarre and unfair incident that I still wonder about to this day." –Catherine Matusow
"There are so many sweet, meaningful memories of giving and receiving a piece of James Avery. One that brings a lot of emotion is when friends and I gifted pocket pieces with the engraving “Fear not for I am with you” to two of my close family friends when one lost their mother and the other lost their brother/son–the latter was my first true love. Fast forward over 15 years later, my poor dad passed away, and a dear friend of mine gifted me a James Avery cross necklace with my father’s birthstone, peridot, in the middle, which I keep out so I can look at." –Katie Keener
"I grew up a member of a local Methodist church where members were able to go through a confirmation program, similar to the Catholic church, in sixth grade. My best friend and I went together to James Avery (moms came, too) to pick out cross necklaces to celebrate being confirmed. At the time, sterling silver was the "trendy" metal, and my best friend picked out a very cool, sterling silver (I think it was technically "Greek-style") cross. At the time, my mom only wore yellow-gold jewelry, so I of course went the complete opposite and very uncool direction and picked a traditional yellow-gold cross pendant and chain. I think I've worn it maybe 10 times since the age of 12 as it just never was really my style. Shout-out to my mom, though, for fully supporting that decision (and purchase) when she probably full-well knew what the outcome would be." –Rachel Ebersole
"I was never a jewelry person, but my first college boyfriend–my Baylor boyfriend–bought me a James Avery leather charm bracelet with a single heart charm for my birthday. We’d only been dating a few months, but I loved it. It was the perfect gift. He gave me a catalogue to go with it so I could pick out new charms for every special event we celebrated together. It was his first investment in our future, and I’ll never forget that. Although he is now in my past, I have only the fondest memories of James Avery and all the charm he brought into my life." –Najla Brown