Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Jewellery

To me, one of the great mysteries of human life is the phenomenon of jewellery. It is common to all societies that I know of (and, by extrapolation, probably a great many that I don't). From bracelets to nose-piercings, it is also an ancient custom. Some jewellery serves a ceremonial purpose, or serves as a formal indication of status; other jewellery is purely decorative, and indicative of nothing more than the tastes of the individual. In most cultures of the West, plus a couple of the East, a wedding ring is a sign that a man loves a woman enough to part with a substantial quantity of money.

Beyond, however, that particular ritual, I don't understand the compulsion of people to make, buy, or wear jewellery. Now, nobody needs a 48" plasma screen TV, but at the very least, you can watch TV on it, and one assumes that to whoever buys such a thing, the picture is worth it. What exactly can you do with a $400 necklace?

A gold Rolex watch glitters a bit more than a $30 RadioShack special (oh, for the days of RadioShack!), but it offers relatively little improvement in its accuracy, and at any rate, most people buying watches don't need to-the-millisecond timing. The Rolex might last a bit longer, but the cost probably doesn't justify it.

So what is the human attaction to things that glitter?

In some cases, it probably remains a sign of status, not unlike a Mercedes or a Rolls-Royce. The majority of people driving such cars do not need them, and the advantages likely do not outweigh those of a VW or a well-built Subaru. Still, they serve some function, they're useful, even if only slightly more so than other vehicles. What function does a platinum ring serve?

I can intellectualize and theorize about jewellery, but I'm not sure that I will ever truly understand the desire to own it, or to buy it, or to wear it. I suppose that in the end it is one of those things that must be experienced in order to be understood.

I certainly hope I never do.

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1 comment:

Emily Gusba said...

Well, much jewellry is certainly tied to a display of status. But there's sentimental value to a lot of it - gifts from loved ones, family heirlooms, etc. Another example is that many pieces mark occasions or milestones - high school or university class rings, wedding rings (in addition to the monetary and ownership aspects). But also, some of it is just really pretty - like portable pieces of art. It is nice to wear something pretty just for the sake of wearing something pretty, too. Like hanging a painting on the wall.

As to the Rolex question - your point on precision/functionality is well taken. But sometimes functionality isn't everything - humans clearly have a desire for appealing design. Otherwise we'd have designed the ideal standard series of houses and buildings, and would just repeat them ad nauseum as appropriate.

But yeah - lots of times it is just people showing off.