Tatiana looked forward all day, indeed all week, to this moment; the special time when she could curl up in her easy chair and watch The Antique Road Show. In her lap, she cradled a small dark-blue velvet bag with a woven yellow draw string. She wrapped her hands around it cupping the soft velvet, and letting her thumbs gently trace the content’s shape through the cloth.
During commercial breaks, she loosened the draw string and peered at her treasure inside nestled in the golden sheened satin of the bag’s lining. As the show unfolded, she felt an expected rapport with the purveyors of the articles which the experts examined, after all she too had a strange story and a beloved object of great value. However, she also distained the anxious looks and what she felt, feigned surprise when the experts identified something of value.
She enjoyed forecasting the way that the exchanges would begin. As each was presented, she made private bets with herself, to predict which of the standard stories was coupled with the owner and item on camera. Like a child with a favorite story, she knew most of the introductions by heart.
“I found it in an old trunk in the attic……”
“I bought it at a garage sale for next to nothing….”
“I inherited it from my grandmother, it has been in the family for years….”
Today Tatiana’s attention kept wandering for tomorrow was March 15th, 2017, her twenty-fifth birthday, and she had a date with her boyfriend, Peter. She worried about the planned date for, although she loved Peter, she suspected, through various subtle and not so subtle, hints that he had dropped over the past month, that he intended to ask her to marry him. Her dilemma was complex; she knew that she would accept his proposal, and looked forward to becoming his wife, but she also worried about what marriage entails. She didn’t fear the living together and increased intimacy – no, she looked forward to this; what she feared was her belief that there must be no secrets between husband and wife. This meant that she would be obliged to show him her treasure and tell him its story.
When the Antique Road Show ended Tatiana undid the yellow draw-string and emptied the bag’s contents into her hand. Her eyes sparkled with pleasure just as the diamond fractured the evening light and glowed as if on fire. She paused and touched its flawless surfaces, which seemed to her to be accentuated by the contrasting coarse leather necklace from which it hung. She slipped the leather over her head and let her diamond hang on her chest in the exact location that Elizabeth Taylor had worn hers. She walked through her apartment pausing in front of each reflective surface to admire herself wearing this extravagant article. She recalled her mother telling her that she had joined the thousands who viewed the Cartier display of the 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond in 1969. She recalled her mother’s glowing comparison of the two diamonds, and her conclusion that their diamond was of equal quality and size.
As she walked Tatiana mused about how to make her revelation to Peter. Should she start at the beginning or tell about her parents and then work backwards? Of course, Peter already knew most of the details of her parents’ story. He had met her mother and knew that she had raised Tatiana as a single parent. He knew that Tatiana’s father had left her mother a few months after Tatiana was born and later divorced her. Tatiana’s mother had even revealed that for a while, she tracked her exe’s activities. She marveled at his sudden apparent wealth manifested in a new wife, an expensive house, jet-setting, cars, boats, and then, after a few years, an unexpected spiral into obscurity. So, she concluded, it might be better to start from the beginning.
Tatiana wanted her story to impress upon Peter that possession of a beautiful, unusual and valuable item brought its owner inner peace and a sense of superiority. She wanted him to understand, and agree, that ownership far outweighed any temporal riches which they might garner through taking and selling it. She had heard stories about lottery winners whose sudden riches brought misery and speculated that an infusion of several million dollars might, likewise, disrupt and destroy their happiness. Tatiana worked as a beautician cutting hair in a local salon, she was good at her job and made good money. When her wealthy clients talked to her, often unconsciously bragging about their houses, jewelry, expensive cars and lifestyle, she nodded with complaisant pleasure as she whispered to herself,
“And you don’t know what I own!”
After Peter’s proposal and Tatiana’s acceptance they adjourned to Tatiana’s apartment for coffee. She had already alerted him that she needed to tell him a precious secret. He sat beside her, patient and loving, looking at her intently while she sat silent. She held her coffee in her hands and admired her engagement ring. It was a beautiful diamond in a tasteful setting; she would have expected no less from someone who worked in a jewelry store. At last, she began:
“My great-great-grandfather was a Russian serf who lived in the open steppes close to Lake Baikal.”
Peter looked at Tatiana more intently and interrupted, “Isn’t Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake, calculated to hold 20% of the world’s surface freshwater? I recently read about a treasure hunt out there looking for the lost Romanov treasure. I recall that the article got my attention.”
“Yes,” Tatiana was warming up to her narrative, “Lake Baikal is where Admiral Alexander Kolchak is reputed to have lost the majority of the Romanov treasure. Stories differ on how he managed to do this, one tells of a transport derailment and another of carts frozen to the ice and sinking when the spring thaw came. What is important in our family is that my great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother were there.”
“Awesome!” Peter clapped his hands in excitement, “Are you sure, they were there when the Romanov treasure was lost?”
“Well, yes and no. My great-great grandfather witnessed the transport’s passage. It was very cold, and he kept concealed for fear that he would either be conscripted or killed. He was there when one of the carts hit a frozen rut and spilt. Most of the boxes remained intact but one spewed gold on the ground and another, the one of interest, dropped a horde of Romanov crown jewelry on the ground. My great-great-grandfather watched Alexander Kolchak’s men retrieve the fallen treasure, and meticulously scour the area to make sure that they retrieved everything from the snowy ground. He was still there concealed in the undergrowth when they left. Long after they had disappeared, and their voices were swallowed up by the silence of the steppe great-great-grandfather emerged. He stood where they had stood and tried to understand what he had seen. That’s when he saw the gem. It was half concealed in a bank of snow. The snow glistened in the sunlight as each snow crystal caught the light but the diamond shone brighter and more brilliantly. He picked it up. It was set on a golden chain.”
“A Romanov diamond!”
“Yes,” Tatiana hesitated, and drew her velvet bag out of her purse, opened it, and poured the contents into Peter’s hands.
“Wow! Amazing! A Romanov diamond! This one is huge!” Peter stood in excitement and then sat down again, “So why did he keep it?”
“Simple, for what else could a Russian serf do with a diamond? Great-great-grandfather determined that their only option was to leave Russia. He and great-great-grandmother immediately began to plan a getaway. They had always wanted to escape from the debilitating war between White and Red armies; now, the diamond gave them their final impetus. They left on the day that they heard the miserable rumor that Romanov family deposed on March 15th 1917 had been murdered on July 17th 1918.”
“What a story!” Peter took out his jeweler’s monocle and held the diamond up to the light. Obviously, they made it, but what about the gold chain?”
“Yes, they made it. They took the route described by Ayn Rand in her book ‘We the Living’. When they were clear of Russia, great-great-grandfather sold the gold chain to pay for their continued journey to the US. At first, they thought it too risky to attempt to sell the diamond but soon came to see it as a good-luck talisman. Odd really, because most large diamonds have always been regarded as being cursed. So, they kept it, and in time, passed it on to great-grandmother, and she to grandmother and she to mother. My mother had told me that of all the husbands, the only one who reacted negatively was my father. The others endorsed the concept that the jewel brought an inner peace and sense of confidence and security more valuable than any sudden riches that it might bestow.”
Peter was getting very excited. He stood and drew Tatiana into his arms. He kissed her. Then he murmured, “I hope that I am wrong, but surely, you do realize that this beautiful gem, which I hold in my hands is probably not a diamond, worth, who knows, several millions!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ll need to verify in the store laboratory, but I think that it is a modern high-grade cubic zirconia worth several thousand, probably a copy of the original made by a specialist copy shop such as The Jewelry Prop Shop.”
Tatiana groaned, “My father, his sudden riches!”