It’s a fair question.
Health, safety and shelter must be our priorities during this time of global crisis. So why do some people continue to discuss, debate, and obsess over jewelry with each other?
The question was posed on PriceScope.com, a community of thousands of active jewelry enthusiasts.
Katherine, who contributes on the forum as PreRaphaelite, provided a response for the ages. Literally.
This community, PriceScope, serves an important cultural function, in a wonderful parallel to museums and libraries around the world. That is, it serves as a burgeoning repository for images, and offers the opportunity for open discussion and interpretation of objects of beauty depicted therein. The depth and breadth of its virtual collection would make a curator blush – and its ability to actively engage its community is the stuff of museum administration dreams …
… As such, our community is a secular sacred space, where people of all cultures can gather to witness and discuss beauty, and the objects that possess it, not to mention to edify and quantify the specifics that create or destroy that beauty.
The human animal has always craved beauty, perhaps more so in times of great stress. These pieces were without exception designed by human eyes, and wrought by human hands. They are often symbolic of our planet’s greatest achievement (love) but even if they measure up as nothing but eye candy with no greater purpose, they are still the clearest evidence we have of our species’ creativity and aesthetic imperative.
To put it another way, shouldn’t we be glad that the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum so precisely designed and carefully cultivated their own adornment?
We can behold Pompeiian jewels in museums today, giving us a taste of how they lived, adding to our understanding of human nature, softening up our brusque and brash daily struggle, helping us empathize with those who suffered so tragically, so suddenly. A little understanding goes a long way.
The hand-wringing over lower facet length, claw prongs, or gold versus platinum is far from petty; it is evidence of how much we still care about beauty, even as the world crashes. What some may see as silly indecision about milgrain is actually the attempt to reach out for precision in artful expression of the soul. Jewels are the quintessence of human adornment, our species’ most essential act, and a testament to our cultural progress over time.
The Romans carved bone bracelets and inlaid them with finely wrought gold wire. They carefully and painstakingly shaped emeralds and rubies into beads and strung them on gold chains.
When their cities burned, they didn’t stop loving the tangible evidence of their own creativity, especially not the precious jewels their souls found beautiful.
What pieces survive when we are gone and all other possessions are dust?
And we who wring our hands today over Old European Cut versus Modern Round Brilliant will sometimes be remembered for them, as we ourselves occasionally think of our ancestors as we experience their jewels.
As we watch the COVID-19 tragedy unfold in Italy, the parallels to the eruption of Vesuvius are heartbreaking. The uncertainty of who survives and who doesn’t is terrifying. But as maudlin as this may seem, the jewels that are passed down today, and during the days and weeks to come, may be all the more precious for having been so carefully crafted to precising instructions, designed at a specific moment in human history, to express the longing for expression of one 21st century soul. They will be in an exhibit someday, I guarantee it.
Now, imagine your photo, in a glass case, your name and vital dates on a little card, nestled adjacent to one (just one) of your earrings. The post will be bent and the metal fatigued. Finding your earring will be the career-defining moment of victory for someone. Curators will write papers on your earring for publication in scholarly journals. It will be the subject of interpretation within the context of events that unfolded over your lifetime, which future generations will lump together as a century.
Your earring will be seen by seven million people over the course of five years, and might even make the poster for the exhibition.
Would you care what kind of stone it was?