The Marriage Is Over, but the Jewelry Is Mine
January 18, 2018
LAYWER: Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, Esq – Diane Lloyde Roth met, and married, her Prince Charming.
He turned into a frog. Prince Charming No. 2: Frog. Prince Charming No. 3: Frog.
After Ms. Roth’s third divorce, she sold a Harry Winston band that Frog No. 3 had bought her and purchased three thumb-size gold and diamond frog pins. She wears them crawling up her blouse in a column toward her neck.
“My mother always told me I would have to kiss a lot of frogs,” she said. “Instead, I married them. So this was an inexpensive way to a new beginning.”
The story of postmarital jewelry has many strands. There are the emotional tales of rebirth and repurposing, such as Ms. Roth’s frogs. There are the stories of the strictly financial, like when a piece that was once a symbol of everlasting love morphs into a strictly salable commodity that helps to pay the mortgage, a child’s college tuition or a charitable donation.
Upon her divorce from Donald Trump in 1999, Marla Maples sold her 7.45-carat Harry Winston diamond for $110,000 and reportedly donated the cash to charity. It was a move that Mr. Trump called “pretty tacky.”
And then there are the tales of bitter court disputes, once the battle of the assets commences. Disputed jewelry is sometimes lied about, hidden, stolen and, in rare instances, brazenly worn in public.
“Horses, wine and jewelry — they always seem to disappear,” said Nancy Chemtob, a Manhattan matrimonial lawyer, herself divorced. “One client has a wine collection and the divorcing spouse has a party and the wine is all gone. The horse always dies. The jewelry gets sold, even though I wonder if he or she actually sold it. We never really know.”
Divorce filings typically surge at the turn of the new year.
“I know a lot of people feel it’s the stress of the Christmas holiday,” said Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, a New Jersey lawyer who is president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “But I personally think that people say to themselves, ‘It’s a new year, I want to start a new life for myself.’”
Limor Shaya-Rosenberg of Roslyn N.Y., would tell Ms. Chemtob right up front that she lied about the jewelry (yes she did) after her 18-year marriage snapped like a pearl necklace.
“I told my ex-husband I sold the gold Rolex he bought me in the Bahamas to pay for the divorce lawyer, but he knew I had it. He saw it on me,” Ms. Shaya-Rosenberg said. “I’m wearing it right now.”
“He said he bought the Rolex for himself, so it became a battle at the beginning,” Ms. Shaya-Rosenberg added. She said initially she held out hope that their problems might work themselves out, then realized that selling the jewelry meant the marriage was, at least for her, finally over.
A need for money prompted Ms. Shaya-Rosenberg to sell a Tiffany charm bracelet, diamond earrings, a diamond horseshoe pendant and more.
“There’s a guy here in Roslyn, at Gold Coast Jewelers, who became my new best friend,” she said. She even sold her diamond engagement ring to send her three boys to camp.
She has entered the realm of ex-spouses who seek to make a profit off their spurned jewelry, in an embarrassment-of-riches sort of way. Now that she has a son in college, she’s looking to sell a diamond Cartier watch.
“I do what I can to keep life stable for my boys,” said Ms. Shaya-Rosenberg, the marketing director for the clothing company Raffi. “I do what I need to do to survive.”
Ms. Chemtob can attest to that urge. Clients who can’t cough up the cash for a retainer for her services have offered her an Hermès Birkin bag — one sold in May at auction for $380,000 — a diamond ring, a pricey watch.
But she doesn’t take those items.
“We don’t do any of that,” she said. “I’m always sending people to 47th Street.” There, in the city’s diamond district, clients can sell their jewels for cash, then come back to pay her. Keeping in mind that the cost for particularly nasty, and moneyed, divorces can climb into the millions.
(Gay marriage has not yet suffered the blows of the jewelry battleground, Ms. Chemtob said. “Art,” she said with an air of finality. “In gay divorce, art is an issue.”)
Laws vary from state to state regarding marital jewelry. Semantics plays a part. In one case Ms. Chemtob handled, a mother-in-law gave a daughter-in-law a ring that was a family heirloom. During the court proceedings, the mother-in-law requested the return of the ring. The daughter-in-law insisted it was a gift. Recognizing that she might be compelled to return it, she turned the ring into a pendant.
“The husband comes to me, says, ‘I was at an event at school and I noticed she was wearing a pendant,’” Ms. Chemtob said. “He confronted the ex-wife, who said to him, ‘I don’t have a ring. Nobody asked me about a pendant..’”
In a broken engagement, a ring’s return is often requested. In New York law, “If the marriage doesn’t happen — let’s assume it’s a man and a woman — she has to return the ring,” Ms. Chemtob said. “If they get married, it’s hers.”
If a letter from the lawyer is deemed necessary and sent, the ring is often sent back, Ms. Chemtob said. But sometimes it isn’t, and “we hear that it was sold to buy a couch, because there’s a lot of animosity when there’s a broken engagement,” she said. “Eighty percent of the time, it comes back.”
The engagement ring, after the wedding, is the only piece of jewelry that is separate from marital assets. The bride gets to keep it, no matter where the marriage ends up.
But in the case of all other jinxed jewels, there are plenty of jewelers ready and waiting to repurpose them. Ms. Roth, who owns L’Armoire, a clothing, home and jewelry boutique in New Canaan, Conn., has created something of a side business out of designing new lives for divorce remnants.
She took apart a client’s sapphire engagement ring and diamond wedding band and transformed them into a Maltese cross-style cuff. Another client owned a large ring — “Garish, she thought it was hideous, but it was a gift,” Ms. Roth said — that she turned into a platinum and diamond ankle bracelet. She has taken diamonds from wedding bands and placed them in lizard pins, in necklaces. She has taken pink and blue sapphires and the cacophony of colors in tourmaline and turned them into bracelets.
“Divorce is the death of a relationship, a defining moment,” Ms. Roth said. “This gives people, in my case, for the most part, women, a sense of control.”
And a reminder that life goes on. People become attached to their jewelry, said Danielle Halikias, a sales consultant for M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans. “They don’t want the original object to remind them of the sadness,” she said. “A lot of people don’t want to part with the stone. There’s an energy to it, so they transform it.”
Which makes some people downright businesslike in their dealings with romantic remnants. Jordan Fine of JFine Diamonds in Rockefeller Plaza tells a story of a couple who came into his shop one day and bought a diamond engagement ring, priced at about $28,000. While the would-be groom was sitting with the shop’s bookkeeper, the bride-to-be pulled Mr. Fine aside and said, “Can I meet with you later?”
Mystified, Mr. Fine agreed.
She returned with a glimmering engagement ring, kept from a previous commitment. She told Mr. Fine she hoped to put its value toward a bigger bauble. The caveat: Mr. Fine couldn’t tell Mr. Right she had been engaged before.
“She obviously kept the ring from No. 1 and was using it to prop up No. 2,” Mr. Fine said. Final value: $35,000.
Mr. Fine is circumspect; he doesn’t name names. Jewelers, like psychologists and hairdressers, inevitably know the story beneath the story, like the tale of a man who was a client of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, where Mr. Fine does business in pink diamonds.
The man bought a pink diamond for a woman the owner assumed was his fiancée. A year later, the man brought the ring back and asked the owner to have it resized for a second hoped-for fiancée. Soon after, he returned with a third woman and asked the owner to take the stone out of the mounting. Together, the man and woman designed a new ring.
The store hasn’t seen him since, so the thinking is that that one stuck.
“He bought the ring, then went shopping for the woman,” Mr. Fine said.
Leslie Korngold, a semiretired lawyer and journalist from Stamford, Conn., created a choker from her engagement ring, after the psychologist she and her spouse were seeing suggested they should get a divorce. She remarried years ago, but continued to wear the strand.
“I really liked the necklace I made it into,” she said. “Things happen. I moved forward. You cannot attach emotions to tangible things.”