Thirteen Women...One Diamond Necklace...and a New Path to Friendship

updated 08/22/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Last September, 13 women living in or near Ventura, Calif.—mostly in their 50s and married with grown children—chipped in to buy Jewelia, a $37,000 necklace set with 118 diamonds with a total weight of 16.25 carats. They agreed that each would wear Jewelia for four weeks and get together when it was time to pass her on. Their club had only two rules: Each woman had to wear Jewelia if she ever went to Paris, and each had to wear the necklace at least once while making love. They hoped their arrangement would stimulate friendships, but nearly a year later it has done much more: The women say that wearing and sharing Jewelia—named after one of their favorite people, the late Julia Child—has made them feel energized, altruistic and sexier.

Jonell Richardson McLain, 59, real estate broker; married, two children: Last summer I was walking by Van Gundy's jewelry store and this necklace in the window caught my eye. I wondered what it would feel like on me, so I went in and tried it on. It was beautiful, but way too expensive, even on sale at $27,600. Then a few weeks later my mom and I were out shopping and, on a whim, I had her try it on. She's 87, and the necklace looked just as beautiful on her, proving it works for a woman at any age. That's when I came up with the idea of getting a group together to buy this necklace.

Nancy Huff, 56, property manager; married, three children: I remember Jonell talking about it for two months. She would go, 'Oh my gosh, I just saw the necklace again. You guys have just got to go see it.' Finally, one day we just got in the car and drove over to see it. Jonell was right—it was fabulous, simple and elegant. We went to the store and tried it on. As soon as we did, it was like, 'Okay, that's it—we're doing this.'

Tom Van Gundy, 53, owner, Van Gundy & Sons Jewelers: Jonell and some of the other women came into the store a number of times to try out the necklace. They were getting pretty excited. The necklace and the sharing idea behind it had a snowball effect. I saw they were serious about buying it, so I told them I'd drop the price if my wife could join the group.

Priscilla Van Gundy, 53, bookkeeper: I had recently lost my younger sister to cancer and I needed to reconnect with people, get out of my shell and socialize in some way. We'd been very close. So Jewelia was the answer. She helped me reconnect with life again.

Maggie Hood, 51, real estate agent; separated, two children: Even though we are all different and come from different backgrounds—some of us opposites politically—we all make it work.

Mary Osborn, 57, executive assistant; married: I'm the biker chick. I ride a Harley. I didn't want to join initially because I thought Jewelia was a recipe for disaster. How can 13 women own and share such a gorgeous piece of jewelry and not fight over it? But since I joined it's been just the opposite—where Jewelia is concerned, we all think alike. We share Jonell's vision. The first time I had Jewelia, I took her for a ride. I don't know how many people noticed her, but Jewelia liked having her hair blow in the wind. She ruled the road.

Dana Murdock, 58, bakery owner; married, three children: I had never been interested in diamonds, but wearing it now I see that people become enthralled with it. But mostly, Jewelia was with me at work. All my customers know about her. I'm an earth-mother type, and at first I felt some guilt wearing Jewelia. I considered pulling out of the group a few times. But whenever I come back and feel the warmth of the women, I forget about it. I still have my own moral issues about Jewelia, but for the most part I'm okay wearing her. My kids still think it's out of character for me, but they're amused by it.

Hood: I had Jewelia for most of February. I enjoyed wearing her, but for me it was a sad month because I'm separated and in the process of a divorce. It was the month I moved out, and with all I was going through and feeling like my life was fragmenting, Jewelia gave me a connection with 12 really awesome people. I felt they were supporting me through one of the most difficult times of my entire life.

Tina Osborne, 57, middle school teacher; married, four children: It makes you feel euphoric. The group had a fund-raiser where we collected nearly $6,000 to fight domestic abuse. When I arrived wearing Jewelia, people were saying, 'She's arrived, she's arrived. She's here.' And I'm looking around, going, 'Who's arrived?' They were talking about Jewelia, of course. I never in my life had so many eyes looking at my cleavage. Wherever Jewelia goes, she gets that kind of attention. With Jewelia on, I feel special, and that feeling definitely carries over into bed.

McLain: Jewelia is not about excess—she's about sharing. I really think having sex with somebody you love is really the ultimate sharing. And for women of our age to talk about it—that's revolutionary. We're feeling empowered.

Osborne: One of the things I most like about Jewelia is that she'll be passed down through generations of people and she'll have stories attached to her, stories that our descendants will tell. We want our daughters to wear it. My granddaughter wore it for a second when she was baptized. My daughter will wear it on her wedding day.

Huff: Jewelia has been tarpon fishing off Key West, boogie-boarding in Waikiki, she's watched the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve, she's gone ballroom dancing, she's been Fed Exed across the country. We're throwing around some other benefit ideas. We've even joked about doing a calendar like the nude calendar women in England—but we'd use our daughters' bodies!

Roz Warner, 60, gynecologist; married: Women of our age start to realize that women friends are becoming our mainstay. That's where Jewelia comes in. It's a sisterhood. At first when I had Jewelia she was shy and self-conscious. Then she got used to the compliments and was with me all the time, even when I was doing pelvic exams.

McLain: No one needs to wear a $37,000 necklace. But every woman should wear one now and then.

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