For what it’s worth
Cut into the history, business of jewelry with ‘Stoned’
Special to the Whig
Ever wonder how a stone’s worth is determined? Why we desire certain jewels? Or how a pearl is cultivated, or how diamonds are cut?
Yeah, me neither. I’ve never been that interested in jewelry. Well, let me clarify – jewelry’s great, but my bank account isn’t interested. But when I saw the giant, gleaming emerald on the cover of Aja Raden’s “Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World,” I was intrigued.
Each chapter focuses on a different jewel or piece of jewelry during specific moments in history, spanning from the French Revolution to World War II. Raden explains how jewelry is influenced by culture and, alternatively, how culture is influenced by jewelry.
The book begins by introducing of the concept of desire. Basically, humans desire to possess things that we see other people owning (and enjoying), and that desire is intensified when there’s a chance we might not be able to get it — the “scarcity effect.” However, Raden says what human desire varies by culture and time period, and can even be created by variables like sentimentality.
For instance, did you know that diamonds haven’t always been forever? The necessity of having a diamond ring to propose is a more recent idea. In the second chapter of “Stoned,” Raden reveals how the legacy jew- elry company De Beers actually created a demand for the jewel.
In the early 1900s, the diamond business was floundering. Americans were too preoccupied with the Great Depression and then the war to bother with luxury items such as diamonds. So De Beers did something ingenious: the company made the luxury items a necessity.
After World War II, the company put together an advertising team to create the illusion that diamonds have always been the way of showing affection. They played on the true story of how the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian proposed to his wife Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring in 1477 CE. Although the marriage was more business transaction than romcom climax, De Beers used the story to establish the cultural norm that diamonds are the only way to solidify a relationship.
“Stoned” also covers other fascinating moments in history: how the French Revolution was caused over a necklace, how Faberge eggs funded the start of the communist Soviet Union, and the creation of the modern-day wristwatch during wartime. Raden provides a great mixture of history, science and economics in each chapter.
Raden’s vast knowledge on the jewelry industry and her engaging, eloquent and humorous writing makes it easy to lose a few hours reading this book. “Stoned” – available at the Cecil County Public Library in print, audio and as an e-book – is enlightening, entertaining, and a great history refresher.
For more information and reading recommendations, visit www.cecil.ebranch.info or stop by any branch.