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Jewel of a Doctor

Broken Treasures Are Soon on the Mend at the Cristal Kingdom

February 25, 2001|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR

IT'S DIFFICULT TO WALK INTO THE CRISTAL KINGDOM IN SANTA MONICA and not be visually drenched. There are the Art Deco rhinestone parrots. The huge chunks of "meteorites." The gilded mirrors, the Diego Rivera watercolor.

Clara Ben Senyor eagerly opens the shallow wooden drawers to reveal a treasure trove of beads: carved amethyst, agate, dark African amber and clear Dominican amber crisscrossed with petrified termite tunnels. There are 4-inch Tibetan silver beads with prayers inscribed inside and broken necklaces salvaged from flea markets and estate sales for their parts. These are the jigsaw puzzle pieces that make Ben Senyor one of Los Angeles' most sought-after jewelry doctors.

She holds up an orphaned earring brought in by a UCLA professor who had lost its twin. "She said, 'If you can make me this earring, you're an angel,' " says Ben Senyor, who merely rummaged through her drawers to find the exact type of milky 1940s crystal beads used to make the originals.

At a time when vintage jewelry is hot, Ben Senyor's inventory of old fragments and her dedication to authenticity are in demand. When she gets an order to work on Victorian gold pieces encrusted with diamonds and rubies, she opens one of her art history books and studies paintings of a bejeweled Queen Victoria. Clients can be assured that she will use jewelry fittings and techniques from the right period. Ben Senyor strings and restrings, designs and redesigns settings, repairs simple scratches and undertakes major restorations.

She shows off an Art Nouveau necklace of silver links etched in the design of a woman picking lilies. As with all her work, it's impossible to see where the links were broken.

Before the Academy Awards, she always gets a rash of calls for last-minute jewelry repairs. "They have to wear this piece of jewelry, either because it goes with the dress or because it's their lucky charm for a big event."

Her skill with vintage pieces has gotten her noticed by professionals. "She has the expertise to fix jewelry properly so it still has integrity," says Linda Goldberg, a jewelry dealer who has commissioned Ben Senyor to refurbish Miriam Haskell faux pearl necklaces. "You need to have the pieces. You have to know your limitations. And you have to fix it so it looks like it hasn't been repaired," she says. "And she can do all those things."

Ben Senyor also does simpler, less high-profile mending--such as fixing a broken gold anklet for Sharon Marshall, a Sherman Oaks nurse.

"I always did this," Ben Senyor says. "I fixed things for my mom and my friends." Her background is as exotic as the jewelry in her shop: Descended from Sephardic Jews who were patrons of Columbus before being expelled from Spain, she was born in Turkey, raised in Israel and spent her young adulthood in Belgium, she says. She has been in business for 15 years in Los Angeles, the last nine at her Santa Monica store.

"If a piece of jewelry has been damaged or broken, I will always find a way to fix it," she says. "The impossible does not exist."

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