Something old, something new
EDWARDS – Sloan Munter can’t help but think of the lives of the generations of women who have worn the ornate silver Chinese lock around her neck as she fingers its hard, polished surface. A blessing begifted to new mothers in ancient Chinese tradition, the locks also symbolized the prosperity of the newborn’s family. Munter reaches back again, this time into her own memories as a child in the ’60s, sitting on the floor sifting through a pile of treasures her godmother Ruthie had found in China. She envisions Chinese ivory prayer beads, crystal, jade, Chinese turquoise, rose quartz, lotus seed Buddhist prayers beads and Burmese pumtek beads. She remembers the soothing quality they possessed then, and still do, and the smooth worn feeling of them in her hands. Rather than relegating the pieces to a museum, Ruthie, an artist, would bring the pristine artifacts home to Pittsburgh and mix and string them into original strands rich in beauty and meaning. As the jewelry evolved, so did its history, ready to be passed through new generations of women.
Munter’s mother’s best friend, Myrna, who loved Ruthie’s creations, saw an opportunity to bring the pieces from her personal collection to a larger audience of women and in 2003 founded Jada Designs with daughter Lauren Milne. With the Asian artifacts as the foundation, the mother-daughter collaboration expanded the jewelry into eclectic designs from the world over. They travel to the marketplaces of the Middle East for silver adornments, coins, carved bone, Yemenite coral and carnelian prayer beads and peruses estate sales from Portobello to Palm Beach uncovering precious heirlooms of European crystal, 17th century gold vermeil chain, etched ivory snuff trays, rouge boxes and chess pieces. They choose quality pieces and pieces they’re drawn to. The simple, timeless designs are modern, but not trendy. And it’s not just the way it looks around your neck, its the way it feels. And like the Chinese locks, everything in the jewelry takes on symbolism. The nomadic Turkoman draped themselves in silver adornments, believing that it offered protection from evil. The coins come from Middle Eastern 18th century headdresses, indicative of prosperity and social status. Jade, the jewelry’s namesake, has long been known as the most prized stone in China, hand-carved by artisans for centuries, taking several symbolic forms such as the pi, and the embodiment of creation and eternity.Munter likes to stop by the shop to see the newest merchandise. She and her mother always give their two cents, because they “know the pieces so well.” Today the tall blonde strolls into Asian Village in Edwards wearing three very different Jada pieces around her neck. “Some pieces you buy and they just sit in your drawer,” Munter said. “These don’t do that.” (She has a stash at home.) She likes to layer them. “The more you wear I think the more unique it is,” she says. In black jeans and a black T-shirt, the look is edgy and sophisticated. But, she admits, it doesn’t matter what she’s wearing because people only notice her jewelry. “People stop me on the street all the time,” Munter said. “I think all of our pieces are such showstoppers. People really notice them.”Asian Village store owners Susan Bristol and UnChu Ring were entranced with the jewelry the first time they saw it. Also sold at Bergdorff Goodman in new York and Fred Segal in L.A., the Edwards’ store boasts the largest collection of Jada in the country.
Sometimes the three women will sit in the store in front of the mirror trying the jewelry on. “There’s just something about antiques,” Bristol said.”You wonder what the history is and where it’s from,” Ring chimed in. “And it’s a mystery, too.””And nobody else will ever have this,” Bristol added.
“They’re one of a kind,” Munter agreed.Munter travels to Pittsburgh all the time to see her 88-year-old godmother, who wears Jada with pride.Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.
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