My daughter just came home from one of those fancy vacation resorts, the kind where people play golf, lay beside a pool and drink exotic concoctions of rum and fruit juice. Then they go shopping for gold, diamonds, expensive watches, tiaras. These things are cheaper there. I don’t know why.
(They also buy sterling silver bracelets for everybody. The bracelets go into drawers where they remain unworn to this very day — fifteen years later. Don’t ask me how I know.)
Sure enough, her husband loaded her up with gifts enough to cover anniversaries, birthdays, Christmases for the next five years. No more surprises but plenty of sparkle. My daughter likes sparkle.
I have new jewelry too, gifts from two friends. One necklace is made from knotted rubber. The other is paper. I really like these necklaces. I’m not a sparkly kind of woman.
|Rubber and chain, Boo Poulin|
So, you ask, if a diamond necklace costs $1000, how much should one expect to pay for a necklace made of paper? Or plastic? Or rubber? Does the price of any object — wearable or not — depend on the rarity of the material from which it is made?
(I can see some readers saying “YEAH! WHY?” While you read this, think for a minute. Why is a Tesla 4 times more expensive than a Ford? Both do the same exact thing — takes you down the road on rubber tires inside a metal shell.)
Precious material — gold, diamonds — is valued on the basis of an international standard based (in theory at least) on its rarity. This rarity is overlaid by a system of measurements: clarity of stones, purity of metal, weights and color.
The rarity thing is manipulated by international decisions not entirely clear to me. But historically and even today, the scheme smacks a lot of a patriarchal system of values. If rarity is the only yardstick, then why isn’t a recently discovered mushroom — the only one ever found — the most valuable thing on the planet? (Here’s more food for thought: if suddenly people discover 8 of such mushrooms, will they immediately begin establishing value by some standard of size, or color, or solidity? My guess is: yes, we humans like profiling; we invent all kinds of “categories.”)
Back to jewelry. After you get past the materials thing, what you have left is design and that’s where the rubber meets…well, you know.
|"Jealous Husband" by Alexander Calder, 1976|
The sculptor Alexander Calder was one of the first ARTISTS (capital letters) to fuse fashion (wearable) with Art (sculpture, painting). He apparently made wire jewelry for his sister’s dolls when he was a mere child of 8. During his lifetime (1898 - 1976), he designed some 1800 documented pieces of jewelry — mostly made of twisted scraps of copper and brass. Today, these pieces sell for many tens of thousands of dollars, certainly not because of the value of the material but because they are significant pieces of sculpture.
Good designers turn the wearers of their jewelry — whether the art is mainstream or radical — into pedestals.
|Early (1971) brooch by Albert Paley|
Albert Paley’s formal training was as a jewelry maker. He incorporated gemstones and sometimes, precious metal. But the true hallmark of Paley jewelry — aside from those amazing designs — was scale: pieces kept growing until they became gates! Compare photographs of his early jewelry with those of his gates, and pedestals. (Or the Strong Museum sculpture! Shrink it and it could be a kilt clasp.)
(His early art was very ‘art nouveau’ but muscular. Curiously, many of those pieces would look totally at home on “Game of Thrones.”)
In his 1976 book THE NEW JEWELRY, writer Peter Dormer says “Jewelry is a decorative art and what matters is…whether or not it gives pleasure to the wearer and spectator.”
Paul Simon’s song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is one of my favorites. And I’m delighted with my new necklaces.
Thanks, Alex. Thanks, Boo.