Artist Carolyn Tyler’s collection of jewelry at Karats Vail this weekend
Special to the Daily
If you go …
What: Jewelry of Carolyn Tyler (artist will not be present).
When: Saturday, July 2, through Monday, July 4; gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Where: Karats Vail, 122 E. Meadow Drive, Vail Village.
Except for a few sentimental trinkets, Carolyn Tyler never cared much about jewelry. But at 20 years old, while backpacking through Europe, she spotted an opal pendant glimmering through a shop window. It was so beautiful, Tyler had to have it.
For most jewelry designers, beautiful gems are simply part of the business. But for Tyler, this opal would become the single most important piece of jewelry she would ever encounter.
The pendant price was in Greek drachma, but she calculated it would cost around $150, which was a lot back then, she said. She paid with her dad’s credit card, planning to pay him back when she returned home.
However, when the bill came, the pendant actually cost 10 times that amount. It took quite some time for Tyler to work off that tab, and after doing so, she swore never to remove the pendant.
“I wore it constantly,” she said. “I slept with it on. Swam with it on. I wore it constantly for 15 years. But, in 1990, it was stolen during my divorce and its loss haunted me — ‘he’ took the one thing I would run into a burning house for.”
The freedom that often follows divorce sent her to Bali, and on her way there, Tyler stopped in Sydney, Australia, in search of an opal that might replace her not-forgotten piece. She bought five opals that were similar, and in Bali, artists crafted each of them into one-of-a-kind pendants. She wore each around town to see which one felt right.
“Tourists and locals, as well, bought all of those pendants off my neck,” Tyler said. “They made me offers I couldn’t refuse.”
When she left Bali, Tyler was still without a replacement for her opal talisman, but not for long.
A few years later, in 1993, Tyler closed her successful boutique advertising business and moved to Bali. She threw herself a going-away party, and all of her friends came except one, who was attending a gem show in Tucson, Arizona. The friend convinced Tyler to make a detour on her cross-country journey and stop in Tucson. But when Tyler got to Tucson, her friend, pale with news of her mother’s sudden heart attack, had packed her bags and was leaving.
“She said to me, ‘Here is my shopping list. Please stay here and buy stones for me. Otherwise, I’m out of business,’” Tyler said. “So, I stayed. And while I was shopping there, I fell in love with gemstones.”
Tyler ended up buying herself $5,000 worth of stones and took them to Bali.
“I trusted something would develop out of it,” Tyler said.
As it happened, Tyler ended up moving next door to the “most famous expatriate” living in Bali. The well-connected neighbor hosted Mick Jagger’s wedding and had introduced David Bowie, Donna Karan, Bono and other luminaries to the island’s charms.
“It was kismet that this amazing woman would take a liking to my work and bring me under her wing,” Tyler said. “We are still best friends today.”
Tyler, with the help of her neighbor, found Bali artists to craft her illustrations and gems into jewelry. Then, with the assistance of the jeweler who had made the first opal pendants, Tyler hired other master craftsmen and went on an 18-month creative manifestation spree, designing at home and producing her first collection of 85 unique masterpieces.
But how to sell them? Kismet reappeared in another friend who offered her space at his Tucson Gem Show booth.
“I said, ‘OK Lee, I want you to sell everything I have by the time I get back,’” Tyler said. “And that’s just what he did. While I was strolling through the show, a hippy-looking character wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt bought my entire collection ($57,000 worth).”
A few years later, Tyler ran into the “opal-stealing ex-husband” and confronted him about the whereabouts of her opal.
“He said that he had put it into a pocket of a coat that I had sold at a yard sale for $2,” Tyler said. “The pendant was far too valuable. And I didn’t believe him.”
Soon after the encounter, a woman whom Tyler knew from her old days in advertising, walked into her Santa Barbara, California, gallery. As they were catching up, Tyler began telling her about the stolen opal. The woman began to ask detailed questions about the piece and finally said, “I’ve got your pendant.”
As it happened, Tyler’s old advertising colleague had acquired the pendant from a friend who had dated Tyler’s ex-husband. The woman had tried to wear the pendant but swore it was cursed and had thrown it into a drawer, where it stayed for 14 years.
Typically philosophical, Tyler said, “So, the theft of my precious amulet sent me on a magical odyssey, which created my business, my home, my whole life in Bali and changed my outlook on life completely.”
Tyler, no doubt, has faith in the power of Karma.
“I totally believe in the ‘ultimate all-rightness of the universe’ — to paraphrase my favorite author, Aldous Huxley,” she said. “Whenever I face adversity, I know there is a surprise gift in it, so I just hold on and go for the ride.”
Tyler is currently finding joy and inspiration in the beauty of Indonesia’s undersea world and in the deep-rooted spiritual traditions of her diverse cultures. Her latest collection of one-of-a-kind treasures will be represented at Karats Vail, Saturday through Monday. For more information, please call 970-476-4760.
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