Hi! Welcome to Dearest, an irreverent but loving investigation into the history and craftsmanship of antique jewelry — tiny objects that often tell us the bigger stories of their age — through pieces cherry-picked from current auctions and dealer websites.
Circa 1860, a Victorian 15k gold acrostic ring that spells “Dearest,” via a diamond central stone and (clockwise from top) emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz.
Despite being endlessly fascinating, antique and estate jewelry is still an underserved topic online. There are very few venues available for us to learn about the history and context behind individual styles or pieces of jewelry — and that, to me, is the most interesting part — so this monthly newsletter is a (chaotic and haphazard) attempt to rectify that.
The items I cover are predominately drawn from upcoming auction catalogs, so that means I have no set plan for what I’m going to write about — but I’m never happier than when I’ve come across a piece with a backstory that will allow me to dive into the history of the time and talk about what factors came together to bring that piece into existence. And if it involves defunct (but still trying!) modern monarchies or hot Arctic explorers, all the better.
I may occasionally include non-jewelry items as well, because sometimes these things are just irresistible. But I promise they’re worth it. Or maybe just awful? But that’s fun, too.
So, who am I?
I’m an enthusiastic dingus; hi! I’m not currently involved in the jewelry industry, but I spent around 13 years juggling various writing and editorial positions for JCK, a jewelry trade magazine that has been in print since 1869. JCK was where I fell in love with antique jewelry (eventually becoming the editor of their antique and estate section) and where I also learned to research my butt off, because I started out as a 20-something idiot writing for people who had literally decades more knowledge than I did. I survived a progression of downsizings until they eventually came for me, too, and I left the industry only to (sort of, not really) return in 2011 with a regular column for The Hairpin about antique and estate jewelry. That lasted around four years, and sadly the Hairpin and its Awl parentage have since gone to the Blog Graveyard.
Why sign up?
Because you don’t have time to scroll through a billion auctions and websites to find weird and wonderful nonsense and shout about it online. I mean, I don’t either, but I do it anyway.
If you enjoy what you’re reading and would like to sign up for a paid subscription as a token of appreciation, THANK YOU! For my paying subscribers, I will also occasionally send out short newsletters focusing on invividual items that didn’t make it into the main newsletter due to space or timing issues.
If you’re not up for paying, that is 100% cool, too! My main monthly newsletter will continue to be public and free for all to see. Because most importantly:
People like Dearest!
“I love Monica McLaughlin’s monthly antique-jewelry newsletter, Dearest. It’s filled with close-ups of weird and magnificent old jewels and curios, with gossipy, historical backstories for context. Memento mori, pig-shaped evening bags, coral diadems?? It makes me weak. I almost hate it!” — Edith Zimmerman in The Cut
“Dearest is a niche newsletter about antique and estate jewelry/curios that will bring immense joy to your life, one of the few I gobble up the second it hits the inbox. Yes, I do want to know the backstory of sea monster inkwells, despite not knowing they existed til 2 mins ago.” — Laura Nash, co-host of The Short Game podcast
“i came across an amazing item that sold on a sotheby's auction back in may. it's a 19th century box containing a collection of objects pertaining to the occult and witchcraft. i say "came across," but it's because i subscribe to an esoteric little substack called dearest. and monica, who writes the substack finds the most fascinating stories, mostly about jewelry, but also about interesting items like this.” — Moments of Perfect Clarity
“My favorite source for niche rich people drama.” — Meghan Racklin, freelance writer; Fashionista, Literary Hub, The Goods by Vox
“Monica McLaughlin’s Dearest may be the sleeper hit of this bunch, if we’re honest. It’s a newsletter about jewelry, principally, but by way of that, it is also about history, craft, wealth, and all kinds of other ephemera. Take for instance, her most recent missive, “Biggie's crown, Slick Rick's diamond eye patch, and a remembrance of Rammellzee.” Prompted by the recent hip-hop auction at Sotheby’s, which made international news, she tells the stories of all of these items, but also gives a whole window into how jewelry and hip-hop have been in a strange arrangement since the first breakbeat got dropped.” — Philebrity
That’s enough of that. Please feel free to hit me up with an email or on Twitter @rococopacetic if you have any questions or just want to chat, and tell your friends!