Jenna Lookner: The diamonds that weren’t forever

Posted:  Monday, December 4, 2017 - 7:30am

We all have a few stories in our lives that we know by heart. Those stories that you assume everyone —or at least everyone in your social circle and the adjacent ones — already has heard at least three times. One of those stories in my life is the infamous “Diamond Story.”

Not terribly long ago, and not terribly far away, I worked at a place that was occasionally enlisted as a location for photo shoots of all kinds. As the public relations director a large part of my role was to work with the media, as such, I was tasked with coordinating such requests.

It was probably August when the magazine — which I will not name here, suffice it to say it was a national wedding publication — contacted our organization. They wanted to do an east coast shoot and thought our facility might be the perfect place for it. Could they come have a look?

Within weeks I was touring a team of stylists around, making arrangements and setting dates for the photo shoot. Though the photos would run in a spring edition of the magazine, the shoot was scheduled for late November making for a chilly day outdoors (particularly for the models clad in the finest wedding apparel).

Gowns by Monique Lhuillier and Vera Wang shipped straight from the respective showrooms in Los Angeles began to accumulate in my office during the week leading up to the shoot. I had to explain to some colleagues just how revered those designers are, jesting that I probably had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of wedding dresses in fewer than a half-dozen packages.

On the day of the shoot, a crew of about a dozen people arrived on location. My husband, Ethan, who worked with me at the time (and was not yet my husband), had agreed to help facilitate by arriving early to allow the crew to set up and get early morning photos.

A lengthy and somewhat high-demand day ensued, and by 5:30 p.m. our coworkers had all left for the day and the shoot was nowhere near its conclusion despite assurances that it would not go past 5 p.m.

Swayed by the promise of Long Grain takeout and a six pack of good beer, Ethan begrudgingly agreed to stay for "one more shot" —as requested— and the cleanup, which left us walking out of the facility around 8:30 p.m.

After arming the security system and setting out into the parking lot, we encountered a contractor sized clear trash bag filled to the brim and sitting directly in the center of the empty lot. Tired and hungry, we both griped about the carelessness and heaved the bag in the back of my Subaru after a few jokes about mailing it back C.O.D.

We were house sitting, and the property had a dumpster on site, we would just roll our eyes and dispose of it there, we concluded. I could see a swath of white fabric balled in the bottom of the bag, I joked that maybe they had tossed one of those couture wedding gowns in haste.

The trash sat overnight in the unlocked car, and the next morning Ethan went to retrieve something else from the vehicle as he got ready for work. Due to the configuration of the kitchen windows in the lovely abode we were watching, I had a perfect vantage point to observe him walking up the driveway with a smallish cardboard box in hand, muttering and looking down at his hands.

He later confessed that he thought it was a lunch box and was scavenging for a cookie or some other wrapped, untouched morsel (I know).

Instead, he discovered something far more interesting.

"These can't be real," he said as he set the box on the counter. I immediately began rummaging through small baggies filled with glittering baubles of all types and sizes, and discovered an inventory sheet listing almost $300,000 in diamond jewelry, presumably on loan for the shoot from a very famous jeweler.

Having worked in fashion, I knew what I was looking at. These diamonds had somehow made it into a trash bag left behind on the location of a photo shoot. I will confess that several expletives and a great deal of laughter ensued.

"Would you go grab the rest of the bag?" I asked Ethan — he was two steps ahead of my question and nearly out the door.

Upon examining the contents of the large trash bag, we subsequently discovered two additional packages containing jewelry with a total value in excess of $900,000 (there were inventory sheets in each package, listing prices and providing photos of each item for identification). The additional packages were similarly bizarre: a torn up manila envelope and a shopping bag, .

We called work to let them know we would be late. We needed a few minutes to process.

Thinking back, I regret not taking photos. My loyalty to my job and the "client" inspired me to exercise caution that, in retrospect, was not necessary. Neither of those things, however, stopped me from a quick Google search of non-extraditing countries.

Alas, we're just not those kind of folks, even though the old "finders/ keepers" argument could have been exemplified by this particular situation.

We drove around a bit and let the shock subside. Still giddy, we entered our workplace with Ethan toting the trash bag in its entirety.

We went straight to the director's office and presented our findings. Several members of the board of advisors happened to be present and after some laughter (and fawning over one particularly stunning engagement ring) I was asked to use the phone in the director's office —with the aforementioned audience at my side — to call the editor of the publication.

It was 9:30 a.m. and they had not noticed the diamonds missing. A grateful, somewhat horrified conversation ensued and a staff member from the publication was sent driving at breakneck speed back to Maine to retrieve the jewels and hand deliver them to their rightful owners.

I had not-so-secretly hoped that they would reward us, maybe with that beautiful ring. At $37,000 it was one of the least expensive pieces in the lot, after all.

The publication did, however, make a $200 donation to our workplace via Paypal.

Later, when I told my father the story, his incredulous (and joking) reaction was: "You returned them? Why didn't you call me? Who raised you, anyway?" A laughing series of exclamations quickly followed by approval for our obvious decision to do the right thing and return the goods.

I often wonder whether I'll ever be able to top that whopper of a tale, though I'm optimistic about what stories life has in store for me.

“Live a Great Story” is the motto we've adopted for remembering my dad, some may have seen the bumper stickers from his memorial around town.

Not only does that slogan sum up my father perfectly, it's what he would have wished for all of us, and what I aspire to each precious day.


Jenna Lookner lives in Camden