The Beauty of Sharing

The beauty of sharing a $37,000 diamond necklace

“The Necklace” details how a group of women found a way to share luxury.

Co-owned necklace helps owners and others

Sep 13, 2008

Daphne Gordon , Toronto Star, Living Reporter

When Jonell McLain first laid eyes on a diamond necklace sparkling in the window of a jewellery store near her home, she did something very out of character. She decided to try it on.

Slipping the single strand of white fire around her neck, she admired its beauty and marvelled at its price tag – $37,000.

Picture it: Here’s an attractive woman, just about to turn 60 and mother to two grown kids, who supports herself with a career as a real-estate broker and describes herself as a hippie – though not the fringey kind.

She’s not a jewellery lover. The only trinket McLain can be bothered with is a gold peace-sign pendant she received as a gift in 1972. So when she gazes in the mirror, the 15-carat bauble around her neck looks truly beautiful, and also morally indefensible.

Still, the diamonds worked their magic and four years after that turning point in her life, McLain will wear the necklace to lunch, where she’ll celebrate her 63rd birthday.

Then, in the afternoon, she’ll feel its cool weight on her neck while cleaning up her yard in preparation for a girls’ party. When the girls arrive, McLain will bestow the necklace on another woman, one of its 12 other co-owners.

The dozen women, who own equal shares in the diamond’s brilliance, knew each other only a little when they first bought into McLain’s necklace experiment, but they’re now close-knit friends who collectively call themselves Jewelia and aim to do good in their community.

So how did this brilliant bijou – and the friends that came with it – arrive in McLain’s life? The whole story is laid out in Cheryl Jarvis’s book, The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives.

But here’s the shortish version, as described by McLain during a phone interview with the Toronto Star from her home in Ventura, Calif.

Q: Can you tell me about the first time you saw the necklace?

A: I was really amazed, not being someone who shops for jewellery like that. I think excess is a huge problem in the world, with women my age particularly. I put the necklace back, thinking `Isn’t that interesting that some women wear things like this.’

Q: And?

A: Well, 30 years ago, I went to New York to hear Buckminster Fuller speak. Do you know who he is?

Q: Yep. (Until he died in 1983, Fuller was a supersmart American author, architect, inventor and utopian whose lifelong concern was the question: “Does humanity have a chance to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how?”)

A: So, he talked about how there is enough to go around if everyone shares. It really affected me. But I’d always wondered, how do you share luxury?

Q: So?

A: Well, back to the necklace. I later returned to the mall with my mother, who is now 90. I said `Mom, you’ve got to see this necklace.’ We went in, and they told me they were having an auction, and depending on what you were going to do with it, you could have the necklace. That’s when this idea came to mind. I called some people who I thought might be interested in sharing a piece of jewellery.

Q: Why?

A: I wanted to demystify ownership. Rather than it being about me having more than you, or me being better than you, the conversation could be about something more.

When I grew up we didn’t have this kind of status around. We didn’t have labels or luxury. People weren’t concerned with how you looked. But my generation of women were the first to be allowed to have careers. I got sucked up in it. I became a real-estate broker. I had two kids and they started wanting things. When you reach 60, you start looking at: `What am I doing here?’ It’s a time of re-evaluation. You realize that to do something nice for someone else is the way to be happy.

Q: So how did you sell the necklace experiment to a dozen other women?

A: I thought, if each person could offer $1,000, then it would be something we could actually afford.

I asked 50 people, and by the time of the auction, I had nine people. So I figured I could get 12. I went to the store and said I’m offering you $12,000, but we’re going to do something novel, something that makes a difference in the community.

Q: And?

A: Well, he came back and said `I can’t sell it to you for $12,000, because I would lose money. But I will sell it for $15,000, if my wife Priscilla can be involved.’ So we ended up with 13 people, and that number was perfect. Each woman could have it for 28 days a year. So we started our meetings, and we decide to try to make it mean something.

Q: Like what?

A: We had a fundraising event for the Coalition to End Family Violence, here in Ventura. Roz, one of the group, was a founder. We charged $50 each and by then people had heard about this quirky experiment. We raised almost $6,000. I think by now we’ve raised close to $50,000 for the community. Groups come to us and say `We need this,’ or `Could you do this?’ We’ve become so aware of things that can change this town.

Q: How does it feel to wear the necklace?

A: I go to places where people have done nice things for me and I put the necklace on them. We have 700 pictures of people wearing it, and all of them are smiling and happy.

What’s not fun is to go somewhere and be wearing it and have people look at you, like, `Who is this woman at the grocery store wearing a diamond necklace?’ So I say, “I see you’re looking at the necklace. Let me tell you what it’s really about.”

Q: What’s Jewelia’s current project?

A: We’re working on this great project, One City, One Meal. All the faith-based organizations are putting together this meal, and they’re inviting everyone, not just homeless people, but bringing the whole city of Ventura, 90,000 people, together.

I think we can solve every problem with the necklace. We have 486 homeless people in Ventura, at last count, and if groups would surround every one of those homeless people, they would disappear.

Comments on this story are moderated| Login to Comment Commenting Guidelines

Not all diamonds are blood diamonds

Many diamonds are from Canada. Our diamonds are not blood diamonds. That said, I personally would not wear diamonds because I do not find this stone particularly appealing.

Posted by SmellyCat at 7:13 PM Saturday, September 13 2008

What a wonderful idea, just…

Forgive me for sounding like a smug, self-righteous prig: a lot of people don’t understand what diamonds really stand for. I was one of those people, just didn’t know better, thought articles about blood/conflict diamonds was hype. If only it was. Please check these out: and

Posted by michelemichele at 8:53 AM Saturday, September 13 2008

What a great example

This is an inspiring story – and although I have reservations about a diamond necklace being the centre of it, the premise is excellent. Amazing what you can do when you think outside the box.

Posted by twinks at 8:42 AM Saturday, September 13 2008


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