Paris Valentine with the Midas Touch

Okay, fellas, it’s time to think about making an impression on Valentine’s Day. You can do like every other guy in town and take the love of your life flowers. Or, you can score lots of  points by offering her a gift of the gods that’s 18 karat gold. In Paris, prices range from a couple of hundred Euros for a modest bauble from Tati’s “fine jewelry” boutique, to two or three  times that at Galeries Lafayette, or maybe 50 times that for the Cartier dream. What determines the cost? The commodity price isn’t the single determining factor. The cachet of a Place Vendôme house is worked into its fancy prices. There’s also the question of handmade vs. machine made, and how finely or crudely the item is crafted in terms of details, the clasp, etc. A three-gram, finely carved, perfectly balanced piece in 18K gold is worth considerably more than six grams of “nugget” jewelry.

For thousands of years, gold has been the metal of choice for jewelry, not only for its value but because it retains its luster. It represents riches for the person who owns it, happiness for the person who finds it, pride for the person who wears it.

Many pieces of jewelry common today have very early beginnings. Signet rings, used to stamp seals, can be traced back to western Asia in 5000 BC, and fancy betrothal rings to the ancient Romans. (The plain gold wedding band is a relatively modern invention, not appearing before the 19th century in England.) Earrings and ear plugs, worn by both men and women, appeared in Egypt’s New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC).

Not until medieval times did rings and other jewelry begin to be created specifically for lovers. Some items bore inscriptions, or “posies,” invented by the jeweler, like “Vous avez mon coeur” (you have my heart), “Sans de partier” (without any division) or “A ma vie de coeur entier” (You have my whole heart for life). Other romantic gold jewelry includes the “gimmal” ring created by Italian craftsmen in the 17th-18th centuries. It is essentially two rings that, joined together, form one. Each person wore one part until the wedding day, when they were joined on the bride’s hand. Italians also created the “fede” ring, a type of gimmal ring made in the shape of two interlocking hands.

In legend, gold is a sign of eternity possessed by those whose status exceeds that of simple mortals. The ancient Egyptians immortalized their gods in gold. In Homeric times, it was used on swords or shields to point out the status and exceptional power of heroes.

With the popularity of gold, lots of shiny wannabes have flooded the market: gold-tone metal, gold plate and vermeil (gold-plated silver), in addition to several grades of more or less “real” gold. How to know if you’re buying the real thing? Get out your magnifying glass and look at the underside or inside of the object. In the US, the exact gold content (10K, 14K, 18K) must be stamped on. Since 1993, when the opening of the European market began forcing France to accept lesser grades of gold than 18K, 14K and 9K gold has begun to appear here, originating primarily in Germany and Italy. Verify what you’re buying, and be sure of the message you want to send. If the gold content is 375/1,000 (9K), you like her a little; 583/1,000 (14K), you like her a lot; and 750/1,000 (18K), you’re head over heels in love.