As I wrote a draft of this post, I had a bit of a revelation. So I've brought what I'd originally written at the end, right to the beginning. And the revelation is this - the reasons why most of us buy a piece of jewellery are quite different from why we wear it. Hold that thought.
I'm curious by nature, and given what I do, it's hardly surprising that I've asked myself why we wear jewellery in the first place. After all, it doesn't fill our bellies, nor does it keep us warm. So why? Here are the reasons I think we wear jewellery. Let me know whether you agree.
As a form of self-expression
This I completely identify with. It’s 100% me. I think you’d know a lot more about me as a person by looking at the jewellery I wear than if I emailed you my CV. I come back to my most favourite jewellery quote time and time again – Your jewellery introduces you before you even speak.
I reckon I’d need to see someone two or three times wearing their jewellery of choice to be able to tell what colour palette they prefer, if they are an introvert or an extrovert, and how they prefer to draw attention to themselves. I might even be able to hazard a guess at what their house might look like.
The self-expression element also helps us to ‘belong’. Human beings are first and foremost, tribal creatures. By wearing a certain type of jewellery, I’m identifying myself as a certain type of person, and as such will belong to a ‘tribe’ of people who like the same type of jewellery. It doesn’t mean that they'll necessarily be my friends, but it means we have something in common that may enable us to connect.
As a status symbol
This doesn’t work for me personally, but I can certainly understand it. Tiffany’s, Cartier, Indian weddings where the bride is dripping with gold and diamonds – there’s an element of “Look, I’ve made it” in all of these. Everyone from the Pharaohs to Lady Gaga made it their thing. And people do it with cars, houses and even their smartphones - so why not with jewellery too.
Not only that though. Wearing jewellery that has status associated with it is also aspirational. Remember Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's? She had virtually no money, but she still aspired to get something from Tiffany's because she saw her future self there. I've often thought that one of the things that makes life worth living is having aspirations. And if aspiring to wear the finest of jewellery propels a person to be their best self, then that aspiration is worth it's weight in gold.
Everything about jewellery isn’t for the observer. I went to an Ice Age art exhibition at the British Museum a few years ago, and they had some examples of Ice Age jewellery. In the collection there was a necklace with a pendant which was a little figurine. What was interesting about it was that the pendant was hung from the feet instead of the head, so it would appear upside down to the observer, but when the wearer picked it up to look at it, it would be the right way round. That piece of jewellery clearly existed for the wearer, not for anyone else.
A girl doesn’t wear a necklace she was given for her graduation to tell the world that she has a degree. She wears is because she thinks ‘I love this – my mum gave it to me for my graduation’. In other words, she wears it because of the way it makes her feel, and the meaning it holds for her – valued, special, loved. All this contributes to her confidence and her sense of self.
The importance of jewellery for instilling self-confidence quite simply can’t be overstated and is probably one of the biggest reasons why women wear jewellery today. Whether it's a statement ring or a dainty necklace, if a piece of jewellery helps complete your outfit and say to yourself, "Yes this makes me look like me", it's helped define your identity. And what could possibly give you more confidence than knowing who you are?
To remind us where we come from
Here I’m talking about heirloom jewellery. An heirloom is valuable to us not just because it may be made from precious components, but because it allows us to carry our history, family and ancestry along with us. I suspect that Princess Diana's engagement ring, which the Duchess of Cambridge now wears, will be passed down through the generations and is destined to become one of the world's most recognisable family heirlooms.
There are jewellers whose entire business is centred around creating new jewellery from old. I must admit, I’d never be able to do that. First of all I’d be too terrified to break apart something that’s so meaningful to the owner. Secondly, making jewellery requires heat, acid and force, and I can’t even begin to imagine how distraught I’d be if I spoiled a valuable, irreplaceable component that has so much emotion attached to it. The heirloom jewellery business is for those with a stronger stomach than mine.
That thought I asked you to hold right at the beginning? Here's why I said that. All the things I've said above talk about the reasons why we wear jewellery. But they're not why we buy jewellery.
I'm sure you've never thought "I really must express myself today - I'm going to go and buy a piece of jewellery." Or "I really need a status symbol, so I'm off to Tiffany's." Of course not. More likely you'd have thought "I really need some simple earrings that go with my work outfits." That's the reason why you're buying the earrings - you're buying them because of how they look.
The reason you're wearing them is because they're from that exclusive shop that like-minded people will recognise. Or you think "Oh, these are so dainty and subtle and I really think they suit me." When we say something suits us, it simply means that it expresses who we are.
So in short, we usually buy jewellery because of how it looks, but we wear it because of how it makes us feel. Until I started writing this post, it hadn't occurred to me to consider the difference between the two. It was quite a revelation and it explains a lot. Most of all it tells me that there's a lot more to jewellery than meets the eye.
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