The Great Game: A Quest for Bling in Hard Places

When I travel to other countries for work or pleasure, I usually try to get a sense of the jewelry that’s on the market for the people who live there. I used to take pride in finding things I thought weren’t intended for the tourists, something more authentic.

This category of “for the people” jewelry included some funky yet unworkable pieces, like a pair of Kazakh earrings so heavy that my earlobes would ache after 10 minutes.

Or that Turkish looking bronze ring that I found at a little shop in the Xinjiang region of far western China. I convinced myself that the bright “robins egg”  blue center stone could be Persian turquoise, because after all I was basically in that part of the world. (As a qualifier, I had not started to study gemology at that point.) It turns out that glass is a common imitation for nearly everything, everywhere.

Silver and alloy Kazhak earring, and bronze blue stone ring from Xinjiang, China.

I managed to find some of the best things in places where I had very little time to shop, like Afghanistan. I was on my way out of Kabul after a weeks long reporting assignment for CNN which was cut short when some low-level militants attempted to kidnap me. The journalist Daniel Pearl had disappeared in Pakistan a few days earlier, and apparently others had the idea that a foreign journalist might be worth something. CNN really wanted me out of there. But not before a side trip to Kabul’s Chicken Street and its humble shops.

I found a garnet ring that I wear often until now, 17 years after I bought it for $50.00 U.S.  In another part of the country a couple weeks prior, I and Charlie, my cameraman, had flown to Herat in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran.  The assignment over, we were on our way to Herat’s tiny airport to fly back to Kabul on literally the only commercial Afghan airplane that the Americans had not destroyed in the massive bombing campaign following September 11th.

But first, I had to make just one quick stop at a jewelry store.

Charlie declared me crazy, once we were back in the car, as I admired my new two-tone brass and silver drop earrings with lapis.

Garnet and silver ring from Kabul, Afghanistan. Silver, brass and lapis inlay earrings from Herat, western Afghanistan.

​I love these pieces for the personal story behind them as much as for the Central Asian design that I have been drawn to ever since.

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