Excerpt: 'The Necklace'

The true tale of how one piece of jewelry changed 13 women's lives.

ByABC News via GMA logo
September 11, 2008, 6:31 PM

Sept. 12, 2008 — -- Thirteen women had their eyes on an expensive diamond necklace. None of them could afford it alone, so they came up with an unusual agreement. They decided to buy the piece of jewelry together and rotate it among themselves.

In "The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives" author Cheryl Jarvis documents the California's women's stories and how the agreement affected their lives.

Read and excerpt below and check out other selections featured on "Good Morning America" by clicking here.

Jonell McLain, the visionary

Making an idea happen

Jonell mclain was sitting at her desk looking at the piles of paper surrounding her, struggling not to feel overwhelmed. She wondered why she could never clear her desk, never cross off the forty-­five tasks on her to-­do list. Were there always forty-­five things on that list? It sure seemed so. She felt like Sisyphus, the king in the Greek legend who was condemned to push the same rock up a mountain, over and over. Some days she felt like all she accomplished was moving piles. Some papers she could swear she moved a hundred times. Part of the problem was that she was full of ideas, so she was continually adding projects to the list. Executing them, well, that was a skill she ­hadn't yet mastered.

Today, the list ­didn't make her queasy as it often did. She'd just finished a deal on a house and so was feeling the high that real estate agents feel when they finally receive their big commission checks. This one represented three months of work and emotional exhaustion. People bought homes when they were undergoing major life transitions, so naturally they were on edge. The shock of prices on the West Coast made those buyers moving to California especially anxious. Because the work was so stressful, Jonell always rewarded herself after each closing.

She ­hadn't decided what to buy herself this time, so she headed to the mall just to buy her clients a box of See's candy, part of the gift basket she'd have welcoming them to their new home.

The Pacific View Mall was the only mall in Ventura, a California beach town sixty miles north of Los Angeles. Jonell moved her wiry frame quickly through the dusty-­pink shopping enclave, stopping only to glance in the window of Van Gundy & Sons, a decades-­old, family-­owned jewelry store, the Tiffany's of Ventura. Usually Jonell's glances were as quick as her strides, but this time she stopped. She stared.

In the center display case a diamond necklace glittered against black velvet. A few years earlier she'd searched unsuccessfully for a simple rhinestone necklace to wear to a formal event. Now here it was, the exact one she'd had in mind. She recognized the style as the necklace version of the tennis bracelet, so dubbed after tennis champion Chris Evert lost her diamond bracelet during the 1987 U.S. Open and stopped the match to search for it. The diamonds were strung in a single strand all the way to the clasp, the center diamond the largest, the two closest to the clasp the smallest. The gradations were minuscule, the effect breathtaking.

But this was Van Gundy's. There was no way this necklace was made of rhinestones.

Jonell rarely wore good jewelry, though she owned her share of it—diamond wedding rings from two husbands, 14-­karat-­gold earrings, pricey watches. Luxury jewelry was something else. Hmm, she thought, wonder what a really expensive piece of jewelry looks like up close? What it would feel like to wear something so lovely and extravagant?

On a whim she entered the store. "Could I see the necklace in the window?" she asked nonchalantly, as if she did this every day.

She reached up to touch the delicate gold chain she wore. Back in 1972 a boyfriend had given her this necklace with the peace symbol pendant, and in 2003, at the start of the war in Iraq, she'd put it on again. She placed the diamond stunner over her old gold charm. It was, she thought, simply exquisite—and exquisitely simple.

She took a breath, and as she breathed out, she asked the price.

"Thirty-­seven thousand dollars."

Jonell ­couldn't stop the gasp. All she could think was Who buys a thirty-­seven-­thousand-­dollar necklace?She looked in the mirror again. She ­couldn't help but think about the choices she'd made in her life, the ones that guaranteed she could never afford a necklace like this. She thought about how different her life might have been if she'd married a wealthy man or invested herself more in a career. If she'd worked harder, maybe she could have generated the kind of money that would enable her to indulge in this kind of luxury. In the end, none of this mattered, not really. In a world overflowing with need, the idea of owning a thirty-­seven-­thousand-­dollar necklace was morally indefensible to Jonell, who'd mentored disadvantaged kids for six years. Lost in these thoughts, she heard only snippets of the saleswoman's description: 118 diamonds...brilliant-cut...mined from nonconflict areas...15.24 carats.

Fifteen carats sounded ostentatious and Jonell ­didn't like ostentation. She appraised it again. There was nothing ostentatious about this necklace. The diamonds were so small, just right for her five-­foot-­two-­inch frame, yet circling clear around her neck they felt substantial. What was magnetic was their radiance. She'd never seen diamonds shimmer like these.

Jonell hesitated to take off the necklace. After admiring it another minute, she laid it back on the counter and thanked the saleswoman for her time.

Over the next three weeks Jonell was surprised how often she thought about the diamond necklace. When she was back at the mall with her eighty-­six-­year-­old mother, Jonell noticed the necklace still in the window. "Mom, I want to show you something," she said, excitedly leading her mother into the store as if she were seven and heading for her first Barbie. "Mom, try it on." Her mother's eyes widened as she clicked the clasp. "It's beautiful," she whispered. Jonell's mother knew quality, so her admiration told Jonell that the design was classic, timeless.