The Adventurine Posts In Memoriam: Penny Proddow

Penny Proddow identified the black and red vase that inspired the “Brygos Painter” Hat Pin by Lalique. Photo Christie’s

Jewelry History

In Memoriam: Penny Proddow

The American jewelry historian died 15-years ago

by Marion Fasel

March 6, 2019 [Updated April 7, 2024]—My colleague, co-author and friend, Penny Proddow passed away 15-years ago. I wrote this post with a compilation of her witticisms five years ago. To mark this anniversary, I updated it with more of her words and some photos. A pioneer in modern jewelry history, a beloved art history teacher at the Met and a classicist who enjoyed popular culture, not a day has gone by when I don’t think how lucky I was to work with and know Penny.

Bang! Every day working with Penny Proddow began in the same way. She flew into the R. Esmerian, Inc. suite of offices at Rockefeller Center chirped a cheerful “hello” to all before landing in the library where we shared a large conference table decked out with two phones, our Apple laptops, one HP printer and a table top marble sculpture of a polar bear by François Pompon. She would plop down one of her signature Louis Vuitton Speedy bags and dive right into the topic of day. She always opened the discussion with a bang!

Penny was not only dramatic, she was also seriously brilliant. A classicist, she could tell the story of any myth from Homer to the Aneid found in the hundreds of 18th and 19th century engraved gems in the office collection, bringing the pieces vibrantly to life. She added a lot of background to the history of 20th century jewelry too. During the course of her career, she uncovered many biographies and design sources of inspiration. The jewel in the photo above is called the “Brygos Painter” Hat Pin because Penny found the black and red vase with the scene at the British Museum that René Lalique more or less depicted in enamel and gold.

I realize this image is a bit blurry but I wanted to share it because it shows Penny seated at the conference table in the library at R. Esmerian, Inc. Photo Marion Fasel
This image is blurry, but I wanted to share it because it shows Penny seated at the conference table in the library at R. Esmerian, Inc. Photo Marion Fasel

Penny and I worked together for almost 20-years. At the aforementioned conference table, we wrote five books, countless articles for InStyle and executed any number of other projects. Some point along the way, I started writing down some of the hilarious remarks she would say off the top of her head. She never knew I was doing it. I don’t know when I started. I knew I wanted to remember her witticisms. The way she mixed metaphors, mashed up historical references and sliced through a day’s work with originality and charm is what I miss the most.

At Penny’s 2009 memorial at the Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 10 of my favorite quotes were put on the back of the program. In loving memory of Penny, I wanted to share more. If you knew her, I hope they put a smile on your face. If you didn’t know her I hope you get a sense that she was one-of-a-kind.

A 2004 image of Marion Fasel with Penny Proddow. Photo Craig Blankenhorn
A 2004 image of Marion Fasel with Penny Proddow walking in the streets of New York. Photo Craig Blankenhorn

Quotes from Penny Proddow:

I live wrapped around an exclamation point. It is exhausting.

I just talked to her. She is so polite. She pretended she knew me.

I am going to rename myself Punushka. I think I need a name with more sparkle.

I am a one trick Penny.

The week is young and everyone is bored.

My other name is Maritime Penny.

I am just a skin, just a pelt to hang on your guest list. Then I get there and you don’t really pay that much attention to me. You are over in the corner wooing Elle magazine.

Our scenario brings out everybody’s inner bourgeois.

When the going gets tough, everyone evaporates. 

We are all in this ship America together. 

We go from cloud 9 to cloud 6, but we don’t sink.

We are like the barn the tornado missed.

On the phone explaining why we can’t see somebody: We love you. It is just the centrifugal force that is the ferris wheel of New York.

I was thinking this morning as I was walking to work, tacky is just another word for you can see the darn thing. 

She is gone, went off with a bang and a few headlines.

The key to life is not to be pulled by oxen with a plow, but to keep a chariot with stallions.

We are in an office now where doors open and shut. It is like exit stage left and right.

Quiet in our office is not to be equated with dullness.

I want to tell her, he is sick of your calls. And you know she is calling from these Butterfield 8 locations—so she is not as down and out as she would have you believe. 

Kinko’s is like Shepard’s Hotel in Egypt. Everyone you know goes before your face.

There is always pressure coming from some direction.

What is it with these people? They shake your chain until you head falls off.

It is never anything less than asap with her.

Coolness starts at home which is usually where I have the most trouble.

I am a lily pond. My mind is serene.

Do I strike you as Mother Earth? No.

He is like a wild animal, you put out a piece of sugar and he comes around.

An idle mind is a mess.

You have no idea—it is brain surgery. 

Penny Proddow talking with Mena Suvari at an InStyle magazine event in Los Angeles around 2007. Photo Getty

On celebrities going to Africa: Well it is a good way for the world to get to know Americans considering our government is filled with war maniacs and sex perverts.

When the economy went south: I feel as though I am in a Charlie Chaplin movie. I am going to eat my sandal—my Manolo Blahnik sandal.  

During the heat wave: I am hanging in there—even though when I go outside I feel like I am being lightly sautéed. 

I could go a long way on the petrol that is praise.

We took it to its end and crashed over a cliff like Thelma and Louise. Now we are climbing back on the backs of the art department.

It is like Ocean’s 11, you are in or you are out.

We are not very good for things that come out of the blue, but we are really good at coming up with topics that drive everybody crazy.

As fashion forecaster Penny I can’t tell you if this is a blip or here to stay.

As soon as you give me a call we will go into battle formation.

He is with his Marco Polo team. I think he sees himself as Genghis Kahn.

When you ask her about him, she is so secretive—as though he was President Bush during a terrorist attack.

Let’s not be optimist. Let’s look life in the face for what it is. We have terrorists posing in the Richard Avedon mode. They look like Vanity Fair contributors.

Someone has actually called me—so unmodern. What an interruption.

I am not the greatest “suit”—but I do have jackets and skirts!

My executive skills need to be polished. 

We have two big things in this country—the government and Hollywood. And you never know which one is going to be more irritating.

I have such a back-log of things in my mind, I am going to leave my brain to the Jewelry Institute.

What is your name? I know you like my twin brother I just can’t remember your name at the moment.

I am shadow boxing with myself—Million Dollar Penny.

Elsa Peretti (seated), Marion Fasel, Tiffany Chairman William Chaney, Penny Proddow and Tiffany Vice President Frank Arcaro at the Japan Society in 2001. Penny and I were showing Elsa the pages of our book, Bejeweled: Great Designers, Celebrity Style, featuring her work after she presented a talk. Photo via

It is like when the printing press was invented, the monks said “we are going out of business.”

 It is my type of affair, unpopulated with really good food.

You don’t need to put me in a torcher chamber, just give a series of New York sounds and I will tell all.

I am turning over new leaves. You won’t recognize me in about 5 days time. I will be like a Redwood.

While eating Swiss chocolates: These are good but nothing beats M & Ms, something America did with little fanfare. Can you imagine making chocolate what your country is known for?

It is one thing to do an homage and do it nicely. It is another thing to fuck up the homage and just make it grand theft! 

I feel like Baron von Munchasen. I am in sporting trim.

We are looking for the 5th watch for the page. It is elusive like the Third Man.

He gives her the big stage kiss goodbye. Meanwhile it takes me a whole elevator ride to figure out who he is.

I looked as though I opened up the Far East with my armada.

I can’t believe you asked her about the deadline. I feel like an ostrich with my head in the sand. 

If I wanted to kill myself—which I don’t because I love life—I could call their pr department and see what they could dig up. 

We have drunk the wine and squeezed the grape. Now we have to smash our glasses and send Marion to Basel for more watches.

It is so cold outside you could put Chapstick on your cheeks.

On the phone to someone in Connecticut: Oh well that is good, we are chilly in New York but we do like to hear people are chillier.

We have jumped into the pool and the water is cold.

Though shall not be curious is like the 11th Commandment. If you are curious you will break ever other commandment. You will steal. You will lie.

It is a Winston Churchill moment, “We are in hell, walk on.”

I am trying not to behave like a lunatic with people I don’t really know all that well.

I feel like Jerry Maguire, “Show me the jewelry.”

It is a love nest situation. That is why he is falling asleep during the day. When the night is more alluring than the day that is what happens. As a creature of the day that is what is driving me crazy.

Like Humphrey Bogart, he has been through a Rick’s Place type of experience with everyone making a little on the side.

He is not interested in any of his calls. It as though they are spam.

Call someone to rescue us from our book tour.

My circuits are sparking

I have become an instant authority

You could get very bitter in the fashion world couldn’t you?

I think I am tired but she is pulling the sleep from her eyes.

Jewelers are many things but drug addicts no. They are too concerned about where is the money. They would want cocaine on memo!

Penny Proddow, Wynonna Judd and Marion Fasel during Wynonna Judd Rocks Vegas to Raise Money for YOUTHAIDS Sponsored by Diamond Trading Company and InStyle Magazine at Wynn Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2005. Photo Getty

In Style is like surfing. Sometimes it is wonderful. Sometimes you have to be resuscitated for air.

These people have all the romance of a refrigerator.

I wanted to be on the vanguard but no one else would ride the first wave.

You go off and get a job and say you know me, but no one checked with me what my experience was like.

His words are like Nester—smooth. They fall like snow.

It is clean, clean, clean—whistle.

You know what is wrong with the world? It has proliferated. You used to have the three pyramids and that was enough.

On Jennifer Lopez: We have said it was nouveau in the past, but this is the money you need to keep your top of the charts status. It was like when the Russian nobility traveled. This is how they traveled.

On Jennifer Lopez: She seems mercenary in her choice of men and movies.

I hope our architecture makes us the Frank Lloyd Wright of the prairie.

Too much of anything is not good—except free time. I can’t have enough of that.

At the 2008 Tucson Gem Show, Roger Merians, Penny Proddow, jewelry designer Suzanne Felsen, InStyle’s Martha McCully. Photo by Marion Fasel

On the first Gucci collection without Tom Ford: The kitten has lost its claws.

On an English jeweler’s generic collection: They put too much water in the tea.

On Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry: They are mind staggering pieces because they are so potent. They just don’t look borrowed.

As Bob Dylan said, “The answer is floatin’ in the wind.”

I told her all you need is jewelry. It is better than a nap.

This is not one of those problems you can just solve with a 6-week war.

I had to hear her entire story on how she lost her jewelry. It was an epic—Lord of the Rings.

I don’t know why these people are telling me their history. With the jewelry they create, I would be embarrassed. It has taken three generations to produce this? I think the monkeys and dolphins evolved faster.

He is like Silly Putty at this point. He neither gives anything away nor holds anything back. He is loose.

I am putting you on hold so we can have a great summitry—I’ll get back to you in 3 seconds.

They are so honored to know me, it is like I have fallen in a vat of honey. 

There will be something that turns us into Michelangelos again. The ceiling is above us.

Related Stories:

Jewelry Gene: Jewels in the Bloodstream by Penny Proddow and Marion Fasel

Profile on Penny Proddow by Chris Hedges in The New York Times