- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

A gold jewel-encrusted trash can, Monopoly set, mousetrap, hourglass, pacifier, sardine tin, U.S. mailbox and — last but not least in these technophile days — a cellular phone.

These and 11 other unusually crafted everyday objects make up the “Sidney Mobell Collection of Jeweled Art,” which had its official debut Thursday at a reception and dinner in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Appropriately enough, the dinner took place inside the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection — almost the equivalent of chowing down inside Fort Knox or the Federal Reserve vault in New York City. The million-dollar pieces designed in the past 35 years by Sidney Mobell, 77, a philanthropic San Francisco-based jeweler, are part of the same holdings as the famously historic Hope diamond and will be on exhibit there through Sept. 15.

At once boyish and charming, the honoree donor was as pleased with accolades accorded him by Smithsonian officials as if he had been given the priceless Hope diamond itself.

“It’s the first letter I’ve ever received in this mailbox,” Mr. Mobell effused while showing off a formal note of appreciation that Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small and Cristian Samper, director of the Natural History Museum, had inserted into the 23-carat gold-plated box.

“I’m going to frame this in gold,” he said only half-jokingly.

The museum has been collecting some 125 million specimens of every variety throughout the years, but symbolically anyway, Mr. Mobell and his passion represent a life force of a special kind. Mr. Small, in his remarks, identified him as “a liver of life” and someone who “has had his priorities straight.”

Museum officials handily managed questions about how such seemingly whimsical artworks fit in alongside more august gemstones in an institution dedicated to scientific research.

Mr. Mobell at least was on target, referring to his creations as “the earth’s treasures — gold, and all the metals come from the earth.”

Mr. Samper cited Mr. Mobell as representing “the kind of innovation that has made America great” and the mundane objects as a window on the country’s history.

“From time eternal, gemstones have been symbolic of power and wealth,” noted gem collection curator Jeffrey Post, who added that using precious materials for such mundane objects “challenges our sense of value.”

The sardines are blue foil-wrapped chocolates resembling tiny cigars, but the sand grains in the hourglass are 200 tiny Russian diamonds. The mailbox — which reads “Approved by the Postmaster General” — is decorated with a sapphire-eyed eagle. Ever the salesman, Mr. Mobell was overheard boasting “there are only two left” of 200 hourglass necklaces made to date. Nearly all the rest of the objects are unique and have been hailed in TV, sport and celebrity forums all over the world.

“One day, my great-grandchildren are going to see this collection and say, ‘Gee, he’s in the Smithsonian.’ I’ll leave it at that,” a visibly moved Mr. Mobell said at evening’s end.


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