When Suzanne Guillette found herself at a life crossroads and down on her luck, she decided to see if draping herself in diamonds on a daily basis would have a positive impact on her outlook – and her ability to attract abundance into her life.
“There is a life-force within your soul, seek that life.
There is a gem in the mountain of your body, seek thatmine.”
March 13, 2012.
I walk into Atelier Minyon, a fine jewelry shop in Soho, New York, and slide my finger into an oversized pearl ring, its vine-like setting dotted with rubies. The metal cool and heavy on my skin, I slip rose-cut diamond earrings into each of my lobes. Alp Sagnak, the Ankara-born designer who crafted these pieces, hands me a mirror. A skull dangling from his left ear, he asks; “What do you see?”
A big, fat crossroads, I think to myself.
This is the first day of a self-imposed 21-day experiment, to see if spending an hour a day wearing Alp’s precious gemstones will—a la the Law of Attraction, the idea that like attracts like—get me through my current transition. I’m not actually looking for diamonds; I’d happily settle for stability, in the form of a regular writing contract and a lease.
At 36, I’ve lost my most lucrative client and am in-between apartments, currently living in a dingy sublet with roommates and a needy cat who darts ahead of me when I go to the bathroom, his way of forcing me to pet him. Weeks ago, I said farewell to the person whom I still love. Hence, the crossroads.
I first went to family therapy when I was twelve-years-old; twenty-four years and seven therapists later, I wasn’t going to go that route again. I’ve also dabbled in the New Age arena—seeing astrologers, tarot readers, energy healers—emerging with extensive knowledge of Pluto, smudge ceremonies and esoteric “facts,” i.e. whenever someone sneezes that means the truth has just been spoken (or, as I liked to point out, there’s a potential mould issue in the building). Through these feel-good channels, I found inspiration, depth, and entertainment, but not, ultimately, peace.
The closest I’d come to tranquillity was in the office of a lovely architect-turned-healer. When she announced that my angels were excited for my next chapter, instead of saying, “Thanks!” I’d blurted, “Can my angels wear Versace?” That made me laugh (since when did I care about Versace?)—and gave me an idea.
In a 2012 study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, Lisa Miller, a Psychology professor at Columbia University, found that at-risk adults who rated spirituality or religion as important were one-quarter less likely to suffer a recurrence of depression. Spirituality, however personally interpreted, can act as a natural SSRI.
But couldn’t this sense of “rising above” our issues just as likely be sparked while perusing the artistry of Nanette LePore, as sitting lotus in an incense-laden yoga studio? Retail therapy isn’t new, but the idea of regarding exquisite objects with the mindful intention of increasing one’s spirituality is. And so, for my sanity, I turned to gems.
Staring into Alp’s mirror, my eyes dart to the diamonds on my ears. Maybe it’s the gem-refracted light, but my blue-green eyes are clear. I could swear I see hope.
When I first shared my idea, Alp, the kind of guy who sometimes randomly shouts, “Go big or go home!” said yes immediately. I first met him in 2006, en route to my Soho yoga class, as I parked my bicycle outside his shop. Espousing a social (and Turkish) style of retail, he invited me in for a coffee. Early on he’d noted; “Wait. We’re the same age. I make thirty pieces a week. You’ve written one book. What’s up with that?”
The first day, ready for diamonds and straight talk, I scribble in my notebook. My tense body goes slack as I survey the sunlit shop where the blue and green tiled walls are modelled after Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace, which, for 400 years, had been the residence of Ottoman sultans.
Alp is hunched over his nearby workbench, squinting as he places tiny sapphires into a pendant. Mustafa, Alp’s physicist business partner, sits behind a desk. “Did you know that the human body contains .23 milligrams of gold?” he asks. The next day, Alp approaches “worth,” from a different angle. He tells me, “You are adding value to yourself.”
When Alp explains my experiment to a customer, the customer looks at me, blinged out and grinning, and asks suspiciously; “This is you having a hard time?”
Day after day, I return, draping myself in champagne diamonds, cocktail rings, sleek cuffs made of woven metal from the Trabzon province of Turkey. I meet a steady stream of characters: a sixty-something divorcee, couples hunting for engagement rings, a bond trader whose fiancée bought him a silver bullet pendant. The bond trader says that Alp’s pieces help him connect to his “inner spirit.” I am beginning to see what he means.
Alp’s teachings transcend retail. In the fifteenth century, he says, Austrian Archduke Maximilian began the tradition of diamond engagement rings by putting a sparkler on the his beloved’s left ring finger, where a vein was thought to connect to the heart. On a Diamond District outing, I ask Alp which train we’re taking. He shakes his head, irritated. “You are with a man, Suzanne. Let the man take care of it.”
I start working at Atelier Minyon, powering up my laptop and firing off emails to potential clients. A friend cracks, “You can’t just go to Starbucks like everyone else?” Sometimes, I stay all day, happily distracted from “real” life.
The next day, when I arrive, Alp shouts, “I’m like a bomb today!” He’s received a huge commission, a stark contrast to when he first arrived in the U.S. four years earlier.
Back then, Alp assumed that because his business was successful in Turkey, he’d reign here, too. When he’d suggest customers take jewelry home to “try it out,” which worked in Turkey, people bolted. He lost money and his family, including his wife, begged him to return home. A devout Muslim, he thought, I will work as hard as I can, and God can reward me or not. He explains, “I couldn’t change my business, so I had to change myself.”
I sit to attention.
“You would have hated me,” he says. “I thought I knew everything.”
Two weeks into my experiment, is it working? I’ve begun working with two new clients and have other leads. Yes, colleagues rallied when I admitted my plight, though it feels like the diamonds have also helped this tidal shift. Alp’s shop feels like my personal meditation room, these handcrafted pieces pulling me into the present moment and out of an unhelpful thought loop, about how the unknown can only lead to trauma.
Mustafa told me that diamonds, when polarized by sunlight, change a person’s electromagnetic field. They also evoke purity, I have learned.
I don’t know it yet, but within a year I’ll have steady writing contracts. The most beautiful object I’ll own will be the key to my own apartment. With solid roots, I’ll see that a gemstone wholesaler was right when she affirmed my outside-in healing method: “It works. I see it every day.”
Early on, a friend, recently diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, had said of my experiment: “You have to treat yourself like a diamond. Our lives are that precious.” She was right. After three weeks of wearing imperfect diamonds, I leave the expensive baubles behind, armed with gems.
Suzanne Guillette‘s work has appeared in Tin House, The Rumpus, O Magazine and elsewhere. She is the author of Much to Your Chagrin: A Memoir of Embarrassment (Atria, 2009) which chronicles the year she spent collecting embarrassing stories on New York City streets.