Getting stoned in Rio – Guest Blogger – @L_e_a_h
I bumped into Leah on Twitter and we found we had something quite cool in common: our recent trips to Rio de Janeiro. How happy was I that this lovely lady shared the same love for jewellery and all things H.Stern? I had to ask her to tell us all about it! x Mrs O
I’d saved the serious shopping for my last day in Rio de Janeiro. Six days had flown by, and it was time to get down to business. There was a purse I’d spotted on day one, and shoe shopping was a must. After one last meat-filled lunch overlooking Copacabana Beach, I was ready to earn some AmEx points.
Along with my friend and hostess, Xochitl, I was dropped off in the fabled shopping district of Ipanema. There was the usual hustle and bustle, but something was amiss. The first store I tried to enter was closed…and the second. ..and the third! Thanks to Carnival, most of the stores were shut down. So much for that purse! We found teasing ourselves with window shopping simply unbearable, so Xochitl called her driver to pick us up.
“STOP!” I practically slapped the iPhone out of her hand. Bells rang. Clouds parted. Angels sang.
There before me was the god of gems, H. Stern. Well, not Hans Stern the person, but H. Stern the jewelry store. More than just any old jewelry store, this was the world headquarters of H. Stern! My knees buckled, and I murmured something like, “Must go there.” Famous the world over for their innovative design and fabulous gemstones, I couldn’t get across Rua Visconde de Pirajá fast enough.
Through my research of Rio, I discovered that H. Stern offers tours. In fact, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Images of me dripping with gorgeous jewels flashed through my mind. Yes, I was going to be fawned over like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, you know, after she cleaned up. I couldn’t wait to be elbow deep in diamonds and precious gems.
Greeted with English and smiling faces, Xochitl and I walked through the huge glass doors that kept out the reality of Rio. After all, this was H. Stern, fantasy land for those with limited resources and playground for those with money to burn. We were passed to three different people before reaching a giant counter. “Welcome to H. Stern. How may I help you?”
Xochitl and I indicated that we’d like a tour. Swiftly we were handed cards to fill out, as well as plastic lanyards to be worn around our necks. Anticipation mounted. I knew we were close; I could smell the gold from the lobby. Escorted to yet another counter, we were asked our language preference. Headphones and MP3 players were given to guide us through the tour’s first part. Sternly (no pun intended), we were instructed not to take pictures, as not to disturb employees working with the jewelry. Yeah, like I was going to adhere to that policy. I pulled out my iPhone.
In a darkened room with lighted and numbered display cases, we were led by our audio tour through Brazil’s gemstone mining history and their jewelry-making process. With each display more beautiful than the next, we saw rocks go from raw gemstones to finished loose stones. Emeralds of varying colors and sizes were lined up to demonstrate variety. Giant amethysts, from lilac to deep purple, made me giddy. The bowl full of aquamarines mimicked Rio’s beautiful blue coastline. We were both mesmerized.
Sandwiched between the displays were windows showcasing artisans. There were actual employees working in creation and design, cutting, polishing, goldsmithing, classifying gems, as well as setting them. It was fascinating to watch the number of steps taken to bring one piece of jewelry to fruition. The meticulous care taken by cutters, the creativity by the designers, and tedious work of setting gems left me dumbfounded. I could have lingered for hours, but part two of the tour awaited.
Escorted by yet another person, we were led to a large room filled with tables and chairs. An older woman with short, grey hair greeted us. She was dripping in gold and looked très chic in her all-black outfit. We were offered a seat at her table as well as something to drink. Flanked by two young ladies, one was dispatched for coffee and the other for trays of aquamarines and Imperial topaz, the rarest variety of topaz. Mined in Ouro Preto, just a short drive from Rio, we were told that the colors of Imperial topaz range from peach to pink to orange to champagne to brown. I’d never heard of this kind of topaz and was eager to see it.
Our consultant quizzed us on our jewelry preferences until the goodies arrived. It was as if a spotlight shone on the tray full of rings. The white gold and gems dazzled against the felt; my eyes must have been a big as saucers. One after another, I was handed glorious gems. They slipped onto my finger as if made for me. I loved them all, but one in particular stole my heart. I ooohed and ahhhed at the oval-cut aquamarine that graced my right ring finger. I was certainly smitten.
A few punches on her calculator, the keeper of the jewels showed me the price of the ring I coveted. “Is that in US Dollars, minus the tax?” It had already been explained that any H. Stern purchase by an American was duty-free. As suspected, that was my out-the-door price. I looked at the numbers on the calculator once more. I guessed it was a reasonable price; I didn’t know much about the price of aquamarines. But there was no way I was going to make that kind of purchase without my husband. I reluctantly slid the ring off my finger and gently placed it back into the tray. I longingly glanced at the object of my desire once more before being whisked off to the third part of the tour.
Xochitl and I were escorted to yet another showroom, but this one was set up like a traditional store front. A gentleman led us through the maze of jewelry display cases, stopping and explaining each collection and various types of gemstones. Patient and accommodating, he allowed us to try on whatever we wanted and even chose a pair of green tourmaline earrings that complimented my eyes. This guy was smooth, let me tell you.
After exploring the more traditional jewelry, we were passed off to yet another person and shown H. Stern’s contemporary collections. I always thought of myself as a traditional kind of girl, but after seeing designs by Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar Niemeyer, I changed my tune. Pieces in this gallery were inspired by nature. From chunky and bold to delicate and understated, I could have left with every single piece. The smoky quartz ring from the Highlight Stars Collection sent me into a near frenzy. This 18-carat gold, chunky cocktail ring was emblazoned along the sides with the signature Stern star. And beneath the huge smoky quartz was a giant Stern star. Through the beautiful central stone, a lovely eight-point star shown through. I was in love.
The last part of our tour concluded in the gift shop. Talk about anti-climactic! Xochitl and I browsed the various tchotchkes, but might as well been looking at a pile of junk. Nothing was going to satisfy my jewelry desire in the gift shop.
Reality and a Continental flight were waiting beyond the same glass doors that’d welcomed me just two hours before. With the Pretty Woman high almost worn off, my mind drifted back to the smoky topaz star ring. I smiled. I knew I’d come back to Rio and H. Stern. But the next time, I’d leave with my right ring finger adorned with stars.
Who is Leah?
With a severe case of wanderlust, Leah Walker lives by the motto, “Life is too short to live with a someday attitude.” When she’s not in Houston, Texas dreaming about travel, she’s being groped by airport security, getting her passport stamped, seeking out street food that won’t make her sick, and writing all about it on LeahTravels.com. Leah can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
- How I fell in love with Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (mrsoaroundtheworld.com)