Wednesday's Seattle Times (February 20, 2013) was literally bursting with information about jewelry. Page A5 had a full-page ad for Porcellos Estate Buyers claiming they were desperate to buy jewelry and coins. Page A7 had an article about a big diamond heist at the Brussels airport. The robbery was timed to the minute and went so smoothly that police are convinced it was an inside job. Pages A8 and 9 had an illustrated article entitled, Dark Side to Glitter of India's Gold Love addressing how the Indian cultural traditions of buying gold jewelry for a daughter's dowry and hoarding gold is actually damaging the economy of India. Page A8 and A10 gave us an update on the famous diamond rings of Linda Mastro. Linda is the wife of Michael Mastro, a former Seattle real estate magnate currently being held after fleeing the country to avoid turning over Linda's humongous (27.8carat and 15.93 carat) diamond rings to bankruptcy court. And to think there are people out there who consider jewelry silly stuff!
All of this attention to diamonds and gold is no surprise to me. While most of the work I make is about expressing an idea, the majority of the jewelry in the world is made for a different but very traditional purpose. Ostentatious display, or flaunting your wealth, is as old as jewelry itself. Diamonds are beautiful and gold is the queen of all metals and when you wear them on your body you send a message about what you value to the rest of the world. A diamond engagement ring declares that a woman is betrothed but it also shows the world what kind of money her prospective husband has. Michael Mastro wanted to display his success so he purchased outrageously extravagant baubles for his wife. You can't wear a mansion or a Bentley but diamonds can go everywhere. And while parents in India claim they are buying gold as an insurance policy for their daughters, it is also about impressing the community with how big a dowry you can give her.
The Marilyn Monroe version of, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) says it all in the lyrics of the title song, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend:
“Men grow cold as girls grow old
and we all lose our charms in the end.
But square-cut or pear-shaped
these rocks don't lose their shape
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
So you don’t like diamonds? The materials used in jewelry are always political. Jewelry made from more modest materials also communicates your values. A contemporary jewelry artist, Gustav Reyes, makes rings from salvaged wood and his customers are often people concerned about the environment. (See the current issue of Ornament Magazine Vol.36#2) I have been using real money in my jewelry for a very long time as a comment on American culture. Below is a new bracelet we are making made from copper pennies (1981 or before) and shredded American paper money. I keep changing the title of this bracelet, but right now I'm calling it, “I Have Money”. It is completely handmade and retails for $450. I’ll let you decide if it is ostentatious.