This story is part of Image Issue 10, “Clarity,” a lively document of how LA radiates its way. Read the full case here.
This is the biggest bling we have.
The middle stone is as wide and twice as long as our mother’s fingernail: clear turquoise, her ancestral home in the mountains outside Tehran, clear as spring water in Shemiran. Away from the shady, pond-infested forests where we live now and further still away from the California coastline where I—unbeknownst to me at the time—will one day build my own home.
Ripped from the turquoise, two rows of diamond-like rings of Saturn, as abundant as dust and in orbit, so many broken moons were close by.
All set in Van Gold valued for its whiteness.
A gift from my father’s father, the story goes from our parents’ wedding in 1978.
Turquoise is the specialty of their town. For thousands of years, from empire to empire, before Islam came to Iran, it has been mined outside Mashhad, in neighboring Nishapur, where some of Iran’s most beloved classical poets are buried.
To this day, the color of Nishapur turquoise serves as the global standard against which all other turquoises are judged. That blue. filled. Huge. Celestial. So powerful that the stone stands for the evil eye, drives away jealousy, an empty blue eye open and without blinking.
Sometimes they say that our grandfather presented the ring to the bride on his behalf, after the vows, as is customary, when guests follow the imam to offer the newlyweds jewelry and gold coins. (Our grandfathers didn’t attend the wedding; we know that from photographs draped in crinkly plastic tied in a cheap souvenir album, drugstore prints. On the cover: Niagara Falls at night, dancing in harlequin lights.) Though our Parents are revolutionaries. , we imagine our grandfather giving a favor in the form of an old emperor, who is too important or too fragile to travel, to scour his treasures across the country with a messenger.
Sometimes they say that our grandfather himself gifted it to the new bride. In the months between getting married and moving to the Midwest, our moms and dads went to pay tribute to Mashhad. We imagine him slipping the ring on his finger. As it collapses under its own weight, a turquoise hyacinth blooms on the first day of spring.
He will die before returning to Iran after 14 years. He will die before we have a chance to meet him.
There is no photo of him in the house. We have this ring. Turquoise, diamonds, white gold. When our mother holds my sister and makes me look at her, touch her, study her, she warns us not to lose anything, then turns a blind eye. We try it for size and maybe a few more.
less decency. Although as good Muslim girls, we will not accept it.
less browning. Because we suspect there is some connection between being a woman and the whiteness of white gold.
We each have a nameplate necklace in warm, yellow 18 ct that we wear to school, to bed, to the shower; The most beautiful of dog tags, they mark us in Arabic script.
They are child’s play compared to this ring.
Someday, we will give up our boyhood for the sake of womanhood. We would trade the nude yellow trinkets for cold stones and white gold: we would trade the sun for the moon.
Only one of us will get the sky. There’s a turquoise ring and two of us.
A few winters ago my partner and I decided to get married. I announced that I would choose my own ring. First of all, don’t tell me what to wear. But at the same time, I have fond memories of going ring shopping in Iran, a family affair with fiancées choosing their own halo. An American down-on-a-knee proposition with a surprise stone is a public display of perceived private intimacy—you pretend intimacy to the audience, social media avant la letre, In Iran you accept that you and everyone else will have an opinion about mother’s bling and will go beyond it by trawling through jewelry stores.
My hybrid, hyphenated way was to do it alone. Carrying only the weight of your taste. my own values. no family. Just as my parents left their parents to study and then live in America – they came to Cleveland for graduate school in ’78, but then the Iran-Iraq war kept them away in the ’80s, And after that, one thing went on for another, from one year to the next – I drove thousands of miles between us when I went west to do my PhD at UCLA.
I set an intention to find a ring: yellow marquise diamond, yellow gold band. From those days of playing dress-up with my sister, I was wearing white gold.
All gold jewelry is made of an alloy that combines a relatively soft, pure, yellow metal with harder ones that keep their shape. The lighter the mixer, the lighter the result.
A 14th-century manuscript by a Mongol court historian provided recipes for a rainbow of gold: white, black, red, yellow, green, and more. Then in 19th-century Iran, jewelers took a liking to yellow gold in such a rich color that it dripped like a sunset. The turn of white gold in the 20th century – and until the 1970s, on the verge of revolution, when my parents got married – coincided with top-down Westernization: white was better. Intellectually and politically, my parents and their families rejected this “Westoxification”, as in revolutionary colloquialism. But culture runs deep, bone to marrow.
Decades later, a brown woman in America, I like my bling to match my skin. Beautifying whiteness – whether in the color of the metal or the clarity of the stone – enhances the power of white. Embracing yellow is one way to embrace brownness.
Intent set, I found myself at a Beverly Hills jeweler after getting a haircut, which was drawn by a red-and-yellow clearance banner. I was shocked. From “hello,” I recognized the shopkeeper’s accent as Iranian. Vitrin was lit up with ordinary items. Diamonds and sapphires, garlands of pearls reached Damascus from here. No turquoise. They considered themselves above it – it was the type of installation that required a pause in front of the door. But what could be better than heaven?
Still, two items caught my eye: a pair of evil eye studs and a diamond solitaire. I asked to try the ring.
Solitaire was set in 14 karat gold, the American standard. Darker, darker, and rougher than the 18 karat shimmer on my neck and wrist—but pale nonetheless, a non-negotiable one. The stone was just the right size, reserved with no impurity, and at any rate, as big as the budget allows—in fact, bigger than I had hoped, thanks to the liquidation sale. And the cut was exactly what I wanted: a doe-eyed marquee, the corners sharp and unshakable. but white.
I took a business card and went home on the bus.
A few weeks later, after spending hours scouring the Eastside and the Internet for vintage yellow diamonds—all wildly more expensive than my clearance marquee—I moved back in with my fiancé. A lot of stock was cleared. The vitrines were filled with emptiness, so many mines erupted in an arid landscape.
My love was still there. Left behind, waiting. Not yellow, not perfect, but mine. I took it home.
Also, at the last minute extravagance by my partner, the evil eye catches on. One eye rests in my right ear lobe, the other in the piercing (I always wear my earrings asymmetrically; the other sits securely in its box). Dust-shaped diamonds with central sapphire. I wear it in the shower, to bed, to teach. Open and without blinking, flickering.
At my wedding this fall, my mom let me choose my own gift. Anything out of his drawer.
I chose the old big bling. I am not the modern, submissive Muslim woman that my mother wanted, nor would my grandfather have imagined a good wife as a daughter-in-law or granddaughter. But this ring is my heritage. In all its complexity and my ambition. I wear it as a ring among many, a grand struggle.
The turquoise eye looks at me and guards me. White gold tends to yellow like the moon to the sun. Diamonds spin the rainbow. Trade lighting for lighting.
Mariam Rahmani is a writer and translator based in LA. His translation of the contemporary Iranian cult hit “In Case of Emergency” by Mahsa Mohebli came out in 2021. She is currently working on a debut novel.
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