Monday, August 15, 2016

Why Do You Wear Jewelry?

Have you ever heard someone say that jewelry serves no purpose? That it's simply a vain way to decorate oneself? I have. Some will go so far as to say that in today's strained economy, jewelry is a decadence that one can do without precisely because it has no practical use. But I would beg to differ.

As someone who has always been fascinated by history and particularly archaeology, it has been my observations that we can learn far more about people and times past by looking not only at the practical artefacts (such as pottery or furniture), but also to items like jewelry and clothing. These items help us answer not only questions like "how did they do this", but perhaps more importantly, "why did they do this".  So back here in 2016, perhaps it's worth asking why one wears jewelry, rather than to what end.

 Let's look into this deeper:

Jewelry can be a capsule: As noted earlier, jewelry much like clothing has often served as a way to readily identify someone in the frame of their time and society. With visual cues and symbols, these items can be indicative not only of a time period, but also of mores and belief systems that help us readily recognise one another. Let's use this one as a simple example: From someone wearing a cross at their neck, you would assume they they believed in some denomination of Christianity, no?

A fine example of suffragette jewelry, displaying the ever-present green, white and violet colors of the movement. Photo courtesy of 
Here's another: In a time when women sought the right to vote, suffragettes in the late 19th and 20th century UK would wear brooches with gemstones in the colors purple (dignity), white (purity) and green (hope), which allowed the quiet display of one's political views. Some even say that the colors would spell the acronym GWV, meaning "Give Women Votes". The implication of this color symbolism was not clandestine, and so those displaying such colors were often arrested on suspicions of sympathy towards the equality of women.

A cloak brooch of later years, made in gold and various gemstones. Indicating that it has bridged the gap between being strictly practical and a jewel.
Jewelry can be practical: While most items I will mention here are from times past, it is worth mentioning that some did serve practical purposes. In a time of heavier clothing and definitely prior to the coming of the zipper, brooches were commonly used as a way to fasten things together. From cloaks to skirts to bags, these accents would start out as bits of steel and iron and would slowly evolve into the beautiful and intricate pieces we see even today. 

The chatelaine was the equivalent to a women's purse today: carrying anything and everything needed for everyday life. Photo courtesy of 
Similarly, the chatelaine would come into fashion as a solution to a lack of pockets. It is essentially a decorative belt which has a series of chains suspended to it, allowing housekeepers of the 19th century to carry everything from scissors and keys, to household seals and even thimbles. In the case of the wealthy and regal of the 16th century, this belt would have a chain that would carry their watch, a true sign of wealth and status. 

Hardly inconspicious, this Cartier timepiece present in this year's SIHH  High Jewelry Watch Collection represents everything people mean by blurring lines between watch and jewel. Photo courtesy of 

But even today, the timepiece is considered by some as jewelry, due to the incredible craftsmanship and delivery of gemstones and precious metals on the outside of already complex movements within. Curiously, a timepiece is fundamentally a practical tool, as it tells the time. 

Jewelry can be symbolic: This is the factor that I find most important in what I do. Outside of everything else that we've discussed so far, people wear jewelry most importantly because there is usually a symbolic meaning to it; something that resonates with them personally. Most people in the industry will make reference to bridal when discussing the symbolism behind jewelry and it's easy to see why: engagement rings and wedding bands have become the ubiquitous symbol of marriage, new beginnings as a couple and everlasting companionship. But just for fun, let me give you another example I experienced recently:
Refurbishing Jewelry: bringing life back to jewelry one piece at a time. Photo courtesy of 
A lady came to me the other day with questions regarding the jewelry she had recently inherited from her mother's estate. Out of respect for her mother, she wanted to wear these rings; but she could not comfortably wear these pieces that unfortunately did not reflect her personality and style. She was rightly conflicted, hoping desperately to keep them in the family, for even her daughter to pass on in time. So I immediately proposed something pretty cool. By refurbishing the ring, we could make use of the stones that are in the original, to create something that is more in keeping with her personal style. Furthermore, I suggested that her daughter join us in the process, that way it would be something that they could envision and create together.  

I don't know about you guys, but the idea gave me a thrill and for the lady, a happy tear. Not only are we taking something belonging to the family and passing it on; we're creating a lasting and cherished memory of loved ones working on items symbolising loved ones. 

So I guess what I'm saying is that we all have reasons for wearing jewelry. What's yours?