The mysterious ring from Carmel.
One of the most interesting things you can do, when you shop for goods in the United States is to check the labels to see where the item you are holding in your hand was made. By doing this, you can learn a lot about American foreign policy and American trade policy--which are almost always tied very closely together.
I did not expect any of this to come to mind as I poked through a box of my late mother's odds and ends of jewelry. It wasn't her best stuff--that had been divided up already. And it wasn't the costume jewelry--that we sold at the garage sale. It was a box of things too valuable to get rid of, yet too quirky to have found a claimant in the family circle. It was in this shoe box I spotted the ring from Carmel.
The odd ring from Carmel is HUGE.
I remember very clearly the day my mother bought it, because I also recall urging her to purchase it, the ways teenagers do sometimes. It was as a teen that I developed my love of interesting jewelry, something that has stayed with me all my life.
Dad was at Fort Ord doing his thing with the Army Reserve, and we often visited nearby Carmel when he was there. Carmel had always been very artsy. It was the late 1960s, and big, ethnic jewelry was a hot trend, coming to America via Europe and Carnaby Street in London. Mom had a chic, taupe, knit sweater dress and, looking in the window at the unique things in one Carmel shop, we spotted the golden ring--something that seemed to have been made to wear with Mom's new dress.
Mom bought it and wore it a bit, made a splash as she always did, and that's about all I remember. Still, one doesn't easily forget a ring that looks like a giant mushroom hat.
The ring isn't really gold, but when we had the garage sale after Mom's death, I remembered its history and put it back in the miscellaneous box of stuff to save. Yesterday, when I had to stay indoors during our first rainy day of the season, I poked through the box and found it again.
Curious about its origins, I examined the shank.
No 14k gold mark, I'm sorry to say, but it turned out that this objet d'art was from Finland. Finland? Not a place one imagines America--much less Carmel, California--importing a lot of goods from in 1960s. Those were the days when Congress, at the behest of trade unions, kept goods from all over the world out of the US.
Was it worth anything? I used that highly technical tool of research (Google) and Googled it.
Since it did resemble a mushroom, I Googled "Finnish Mushroom Ring" at first, and nothing turned up, so I went on eBay and looked up jewelry from Finland. That's where I discovered that Finland, in the 1960s and 1970s, was a center for modernist jewelry. And there was more:
The ring we bought in Carmel was designed by Anhanger Hannu Ikonen for a company called Valo Koru in the 1960s. He worked in bronze and silver--our ring is clearly bronze. And what looked like a mushroom to me, is indeed the depiction of a fungus, but is actually renmoosblüte or, in English, "reindeer moss." (I had to look that up too.)
It isn't exceptionally valuable, but a ring like this one is still fairly rare and is now worth several hundred dollars. It is a stunning piece of cast bronze sculpture and it has an international story behind it.
Finland was at the borders of the Cold War--with Russia to its east and Europe to its west and it spent a lot of time trying to maintain some sort of neutral stance that would keep both sides at bay. But, I learned, the first hint of the changes ahead came in the 1960s, when Finland joined the European Free Trade Association--the beginnings of the European Common Market, and the EU--as an associate member.
That was a large opening for the West to woo little Finland away from the East and communism using trade as a carrot. And though Finland continued to trade with both East and West, communist political influence in Finland began to wane in the 1970s. The ring is a beautiful remnant of Cold War history.
Renmoosblüte, rendered in bronze, for a lady's hand.
Every object has a story to tell. From reindeer moss, to modern jewelry artists, to Cold War spies mixing with trade delegates in Helsinki, to posh importers for hip Carmel shops, this one could have a been a novel. You never know what might turn up when you dig through an old shoe box on a rainy day.
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