The pull of the opal |

The pull of the opal

Cassie Pence
Special to the Daily

VAIL ” Except for a few sentimental trinkets, Carolyn Tyler never cared much about jewelry. But at 20 years old, when 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 just 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, but she figured the opal was $120, 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.

When the bill came, the pendant actually cost 10 times that amount. She worked off that tab for quite some time and swore never to remove the pendant.

“I bathed in it, I swam in it, I never took it off for 15 years,” Tyler said. “But when I was going through a divorce, my husband grabbed the opal from around my neck and took it to punish me, and I never found it again.”

The freedom that often follows divorce sent her to Bali, and on her way she 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 them into five different pendants. She wore each around town to see which one felt right.

“People, tourists, bought all those off my neck,” Tyler said. “They made me offers I couldn’t refuse.”

When she left Bali, so did her desire to replace the pendant, and the pursuit was

forever abandoned.

A few years later, Tyler decided to quit her successful boutique advertising business and move full time to Bali. She threw herself a going-away party, and all her friends came ” except one. That friend was in Tucson, Ariz., at a gem show. The friend convinced Tyler to make a detour on her cross-world journey, but when she arrived in 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 my business. Otherwise, I’m out of business,'” Tyler said. “I fell in love with gem stones while I was shopping there.”

Tyler ended up buying herself $5,000 worth of stones and brought them to Bali.

“I trusted something would develop out of it,” Tyler said.

She ended up moving in next door to the “most famous expatriate” living in Bali. The well-connected neighbor has hosted celebrity weddings as well as fashion designer Donna Karan’s trips.

“I became best friends with this woman that loves jewelry and has all these connections,” Tyler said.

Tyler, with the help of her neighbor, found Bali artists to craft her illustrations and gems into jewelry. Completely broke with a collection of 85 different pieces of jewelry, Tyler headed back to the Tucson gem show, now as a seller.

But business was slow, and with a half-built house back in Bali ” along with a mountain of debt ” Tyler was feeling pretty depressed. Tyler’s friend sharing the booth told her to get up and take a walk, that her sad face was scaring customers away.

“I said, ‘OK, Lee, I want you to sell everything I have by the time I get back,'” Tyler said.

That’s just what he did. While Tyler was strolling, a hippy-looking character wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt bought the whole collection ” $57,000 worth.

Her jewelry business boomed after that, and she finished her self-designed Bali home, a structure featured in Architectural Digest. Each level corresponds with the function and color of the seven chakras, or sources of energy for psychic or spiritual powers within the body. The idea came to her like a dream when she watched a woman play several crystal bowls in tune to the chakras.

A year after the article on her home was released, she ran into the opal-stealing ex-husband, who was a builder himself. He wanted to talk; she wanted to know what happened to the pendant.

“He said that he put it into a pocket of a coat that I sold at a yard sale for $2,” Tyler said. “The pendant is way too valuable, and I didn’t believe him.”

Soon after the encounter, a woman from Tyler’s old advertising days walked into her Santa Barbara, Calif., gallery. They were catching up, and Tyler began telling her about the stolen opal. The woman continued to ask detailed questions about the piece and finally said, “I’ve got your pendant.”

It turns out Tyler’s old advertising chum acquired the pendant from a friend who was dating Tyler’s ex-husband. That friend tried to wear the pendant, but swore it was cursed and threw it into a drawer for 14 years.

“This whole odyssey that the loss of this thing sent me on went full circle and was completed,” Tyler said. “(The pendant) had really created my house, my jewelry business, my whole life in Bali.”

Tyler, no doubt, has faith in the power of karma.

“I totally believe in the ultimate all-rightness of the universe,” Tyler said. “Anything that happens bad to me, I just say, ‘OK,’ I know this is for a reason. The good thing is going to reveal itself, and I just wait and hang on like a roller coaster ride.”

Tyler’s latest ride in life has landed her in Vail, and she has a show today and Sunday at Karats in Vail Village. She has brought with her what she describes as buried treasure jewelry ” pieces reminiscent of something you might find in archeology dig.

“It’s royal and whimsical,” Tyler said. “I like to make it fun so everyone can wear it.”

She prides herself on making versatile jewelry, too, making bracelets that can be worn as necklaces or earrings that can transform into pendants. She wants her clients to actually wear the jewelry, not just file it away into a bank vault. For more information on the show, call 476-4760.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or

Vail, Colorado

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