Tossing Lines: Let them eat pearl necklaces

Some wealthy people have egos as big as their bank accounts.

A front page news blurb in the Day on Nov. 15 announced the sale of Marie Antoinette’s pearl pendant for over $36 million (actually $32 million plus a few million in fees). Being staunchly middle-class, I almost choked on my corn flakes.

The “one percent” are, of course, way richer than you and me, and, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said “They are different from you and me.” Yes, they truly are.

Now, I appreciate that this pendant may have touched the very skin of the famous queen, conjuring all the mystery of that intimate liaison. She was a considerable figure of her time, whose activities during the War of the First Coalition around 1792 were considered suspect, resulting in her imprisonment and subsequent execution by guillotine for high treason in 1793.

While I don’t begrudge anyone their wealth, such high-end frivolity makes me think of how big money can make the world a better place. For instance, the fabulously wealthy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation realizes there are humanitarian causes for wealth to support that are more pressing than owning a pearly trinket.

Like childhood hunger, health care for the poor, disease, human trafficking, drugs — things that seriously threaten the welfare of our communities.

I know, I know, I whine because I don’t understand, I’m not rich. Fitzgerald was right. They’re different than me.

But with museums full of cultural artifacts, what kind of person needs to possess such a thing, at such a price?

Maybe I’m overly sensitive because I do know a thing or two about pearls.

While this column was incubating in my brain, my gorgeous wife walked into the room, looking just like Marie Antoinette, exclaiming “Look what I found!”

She wore the add-a-pearl necklace I bought decades ago, when money was tight and we couldn’t afford a whole necklace.

At the time, I probably paid about $100 for the necklace with three or so pearls strung.

The necklace remains unfinished today because, well, we pretty much forgot about it. The add-a-pearls had been out of sight, out of mind, evidence of jewelry’s overall inconsequence in the theater of life.

Sotheby’s claimed the Antoinette pendant hasn’t been seen for 200 years, further inflating its value. Well, our add-a-pearl hadn’t been seen for 20 years, yet I don’t think that impacted its value.

The rich are easily duped, it seems.

A foreign jewelry executive gushed before the auction: “The Marie Antoinette pendant is simply irreplaceable. This is about far more than the gems themselves: Marie Antoinette’s jewelry is inextricably linked to the cause of the French Revolution.” I disagree. Unless, perhaps, she wore it when the guillotine fell.

Maybe the $36 Million Dollar Man (or Woman) might consider going with an add-a-pearl necklace instead of the queen’s, leaving a difference of about $35,900,700 for a charitable contribution to improve the world we all live in.

That’s a lot of corn flakes. But then, some egos have huge appetites.

John Steward lives in Waterford and can be reached at, or visit


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