A Perfect Gem

Rhinestone Rosie does jewelry right.

WHILE OTHER GIRLS were putting fancy linens and brand-new toasters in their hope chests, Rosie Sayyah was filling hers with mirrors, cut-glass baubles, and favorite pieces from her rock collection. Growing up the daughter of secondhand-shop owners in Orlando, Fla., she had very different ideas about what makes something precious and worth saving. She still does: Having pored over every library book she could find on costume jewelry repair and history—and after hanging around a now-defunct hobby shop for countless hours gleaning all she could of metallurgy and solvents from the men who made meticulous miniature train sets—Rosie became Rhinestone Rosie about 20 years ago when she opened up shop on a quiet but crafty block of Queen Anne.

You won't find any precious gemstones at Rhinestone Rosie (606 W. Crockett St., 206-283-4605), but that doesn't mean that the rows of necklaces and bracelets and the cases full of broaches and earrings that fill the shop aren't absolutely gorgeous. And it doesn't mean that Sayyah doesn't carry a number of very pricey pieces: You can get out the door quite nicely for less than 20 bucks, but if you've got a grand or so burning a hole in your pocket, Sayyah has a chunky, autumn-toned 1962 necklace and earring set from Christian Dior that you might want to take a look at.

Colorful, expressive retro broaches can be downright cheap, a pirate's chest in the back serves as a dollar bin for the adventurous and extremely patient, and elegant and bold rhinestone necklaces go for around $40 (sets, distinct period pieces, and costume pieces made by couture designers go up from there). A mannequin stuck with big, flowery pins and shiny, bejeweled animal-themed kitsch displays the sort of tweed-jacket decor that's all over the enormous current issue of Vogue—probably at far less than what the department stores will charge for this latest installment of American nostalgia.

BUT SAYYAH DOES more than sell. The Antiques Roadshow go-to girl (she's been on-camera in four cities and serves as their rhinestone expert) repairs broken pieces, appraises estates, replaces missing stones, rents out her wares for special occasions, and restyles your treasures based on era-specific aesthetics—or your whims. Like many gifted artisans who are schooled in the nuts-and-bolts aspects of their trade, alterations and re-creations are where Sayyah really shines; if you have a vision of new life for some near-death but formerly lovely object you found in your grandmother's jewelry box, Sayyah can help you make it come true. I even have a friend who once commissioned her to make a tiara for a cat (don't ask me why he needed a tiara for a cat, but it turned out beautifully). An engaging and entertaining speaker, Sayyah also gives lectures to ladies' groups and classrooms about the history of costume jewelry.

More than history, however, Sayyah is concerned with the present. Her daughter Lucia, who works next to her mom in the shop, recently launched a line of semiprecious jewelry, and the phone rings constantly as the two women work. The past few years have seen a resurgence in costume jewelry, and Sayyah sees the revival as a reflection of the times: We want to look good and feel pretty, but our bank accounts are making it increasingly difficult to do so. References to the past always play an important part of every season's "new" looks, and this fall's accessories play with the '50s and the '80s (which, of course, were toying with the '50s, too). If you're going for the look that Sarah Jessica Parker has in those ubiquitous Gap ads, Rhinestone Rosie can definitely help you get it.


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