The Power of Jewellery to Evoke Emotions

Unlike pretty much anything else we wear, our jewellery is filled with emotion.  While clothes express our personality and self-image through colour and style, and hair or makeup reflect what we want the world to think of us, jewellery works very differently.

It can uniquely bring back memories of an event, a person, a time in life or even a mood.  The closest thing we can think of with the same power is music.

Helen Walmsley-Johnson described this poignantly in her Guardian column, recounting how a burglary cost her a jewellery box with contents of little monetary value, but emotionally priceless:

. . . my mother’s pearls, my grandmother’s amethyst brooch, a heart-shaped rose quartz I’d bought in Baba B in Leicester when my mother died, and bits of twisted wire, beads, sequins and paper that my little girls had shaped into rings, bracelets and necklaces, with love, for me. It was heart-wrenching.

As jewellery has become more affordable and accessible, buying it has become a more everyday experience, with less thought put into buying it than used to be the case.  We think that’s an acceptable price to pay for the ability to buy jewellery more often, but nevertheless it would be a shame if we lost sight of the emotion involved in jewellery.

Jewellery that evokes memories

Emotions are triggered by much more than appearance

Jewellery can means many different things, and each piece we own can bring back different memories.  What does your jewellery say to you, and how does it make you feel? We’ve spoken to many women (and men) about this, and here’s what we found:

In Love – I’m Proudly Committed to Another

For most women we’ve spoken to, if they had to choose only one piece of jewellery to keep, it’s their wedding or engagement ring, or a symbolic equivalent.  It represents love, hope and optimism, and regardless of how our relationships end up, this ring reminds us of a time when anything was possible, and we truly believed happiness had been found.

Wedding Ring

My jewellery says I’m in Love

What surprised us was how often women admitted to having lost their wedding rings, sometimes without admitting it to their partner!  If that surprises you too, you may be interested in this New York Times article about dealing with the loss of a wedding band.

Loved – I’m Connected to Current & Past Generations

The next most common emotion we came across was also love, but this time of children or mothers/grandmothers.  Many women place something passed down from their mother or grandmother, or made by their children, as the next most important piece of jewellery they own.

Jewellery from past generations

My Jewellery Says I’m Connected to My Past

These pieces tend to be kept in a jewellery box rather than worn, and are rarely everyday pieces.  But the emotion is often at least as strong, or even stronger, than a wedding ring.

As your life partner relationship ebbs and flows, so can your attitude to your wedding band.  But a memory of your mother, grandmother or children is more likely to stay frozen in time, seen through a rose-tinted filter of history.

Proud – My Legacy for Future Generations

Something we’ve heard frequently is the importance of some pieces of your jewellery collection being classic and timeless.  The idea that you’re choosing something that will end up being worn by those that come after you can be a strong influence.

Jewellery designer Monica Rich Kosssan talks about the importance of designing timeless jewellery, judging this by the ability to pass something down to a daughter twenty years on.

Those familiar with Zayah will know our opinion on this – namely that pearls are the ultimate in timeless jewellery, and even the most contemporary design can work many years later with the right raw material.

This is one of the few areas where we see parity between women and men, because of the way a watch can work between fathers and sons. This was brought to life most effectively by Patek Philippe with their brilliant advertising campaign:

Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe – emotional advertising

Fashionable – I Belong To My Tribe

The easiest emotion to deal with in jewellery is about fitting in, and being up to the minute.  This plays to one of our most base needs to fit into the community or tribe we live in, and has been part of being human for millennia. Today, young (and less young) women spend inordinate amounts of time and money on how they fit into their peer group.  And jewellery plays a bigger part of that than ever before.

This is all part of the shift towards more affordable jewellery in recent decades. By bringing it in to clothing stores rather than jewellers, the retail fashion industry has made jewellery part of the “uniform” that the fashion-conscious adopt, and want to change from season to season.

The biggest sign of this is the appearance of jewellery by tills in retail outlets – it’s become an impulse purchase to complete a look, rather than something to savour and appreciate for its own sake.  The emotion here may be less “special”, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

For some, the rise of fashion jewellery as part of mainstream retailing has been one of the most significant factors in the growth of the jewellery industry over the last 30 years. Given the plethora of statistics around fashion jewellery, we believe you can’t argue with the numbers.

Charm Bracelet

Queen Victoria’s contribution to Pandora & Thomas Sabo!

Having said that, we should also remember that history repeats, and the fashion of the day is often a revision of something that came before.  We were tickled to read that today’s popularity of charm bracelets isn’t down to Pandora and Thomas Sabo, but Queen Victoria!  In the same article, the Jeweller magazine reminds us of the emotions of jewellery going back to ancient Egypt and China.

Successful – I Know I’ve Made It, and Want You To Know Too

At the other end of the scale, the purchase of a piece that has been coveted for many years – usually a brand rather than a specific piece – is something many professional women can associate with.

The designers that usually get mentioned when we ask women about this kind of purchase are Tiffany and Cartier, and to a lesser extent Mikimoto.  There’s something compelling about dreaming of unwrapping that famous Tiffany Blue box, and Cartier fans have their equivalent.

Tiffany jewellery

Nothing says “I’ve Made It” like Tiffany (or Cartier)

What’s important here is that the piece is something you have bought for yourself – perhaps after a promotion or big deal.  But it’s totally different to being gifted a yearned-after piece say to celebrate the birth of a child.

It’s quite an intriguing thought – that the same piece of jewellery on the same person can feel so different.  But it’s one we can relate strongly.

Joyful/Beautiful – I Enjoy Pleasure for Its Own Sake

Before we got into jewellery making for ourselves, one of our pleasures in life was discovering new jewellery designers in favourite haunts like Greenwich Market, and buying pieces simply because they looked fabulous.

It’s not to say we don’t do that anymore – just that it’s no longer possible to see new work with the simple pleasure of simple appreciation of its beauty.  Before we can stop, we find ourselves evaluating the workmanship, trying to gauge the material, assessing the price point and overall treating it as work 🙁

Lalique jewellery

Beauty courtesy of Lalique

But nevertheless, today we’re spoiled with wide availability of handmade, interesting designs and accessibility of new designers via the internet.  It’s never been a better time to experience the pleasure of discovering new jewellery and appreciating it just because it looks fab.

American Jeweller and teacher Bruce Metcalf investigated some of the emotions we’re touch on here in a long but insightful essay on “The Nature of Jewelry”.  It was written back in 1989, and while we don’t hold with all he says, it’s an intelligent and thought-provoking piece.  We particularly loved his comment that:

But the urge to decorate satisfies psychological purposes, too. Jewelry beautifies, within the value system of the local culture, and sometimes renders the wearer socially or sexually desirable. One cannot underestimate the power of jewelry to enhance self-image and to alter social perceptions.

Principled – Our Planet & Society Matter to Me

The “green” agenda is here to stay, more powerful than at any time in history.  At Zayah, we’ve recently been exercised by the question of sustainability and ethical practices in jewellery design, and it’s given us plenty of food for thought.

Unlike organic food, waste recycling and alternative energy, there are few reference points or impartial bodies to help us buy jewellery with a clear conscience.  You may have seen our first foray into the topic, with our article on 3 ethical and sustainable jewellery stores. It’s made us look again at the way we choose our own suppliers and materials.  We’ve always done this with care, but we’ve realised there’s much more to do.

FairTrade Gold

FairTrade Gold – one of the few well defined areas of sustainability in jewellery

For many, the attitude of the store they buy jewellery from is as important as the jewellery itself.  For some it’s about avoiding questionable materials like “blood” or “conflict” diamonds or “dirty” gold. But for others they want to make a positive statement, not just avoid a negative one.  So for example, we recently met a Colombian lady who has been working with farmers from her homeland to develop jewellery from the Tagua nut, sometimes known as “vegetable ivory”.  She has the most lively, colourful pieces, but equally important is the sustainable nature of the materials and the emphasis on a fair deal for the people involved at every stage in its production.

There are many such jewellers around, and our understanding is that for their customers, knowing that the proceeds from their purchases are fairly shared with the less well-off is a very important part of the buying decision.  This movement is knocking on the door of mainstream, demonstrated for example by the Green Showroom at the 2016 Berlin Fashion Week.

For women who choose to buy ethical and sustainable jewellery, the emotions are an extension of their overall attitude to the planet, and represents a sense of maintaining their integrity.  It’s a powerful attitude, and one that is difficult to argue with, at least at face value.

Discerning – I Appreciate Fine Craftsmanship

Before modern manufacturing, and going back further to before the industrial revolution, jewellery making was the exclusive domain of master craftsmen who learned their trade over a lifetime, starting with many years of apprenticeship.  The only way to produce jewellery was through painstaking, highly skilled hard work.

Today, that’s no longer necessarily the case, but there are many jewellery designers around who still work that way.  It’s not exactly a dying breed, but it’s certainly no longer commonplace.

And for many jewellery buyers, they seek that craftsmanship not just in their jewellery, but in many other aspects of their life.  Perhaps those pieces won’t be the most fashionable, but there’s almost a pride in such makers’ acknowledgement that they don’t seek that.  Their ethos is closer to the timeless Coco Chanel quote

Fashion fades, only style remains the same

But today, there is a definite resurgence in craftsmanship, and it goes much wider than just jewellery.  More people listen to their music on vinyl than since digital music became cheaper than analogue, and high end turntables like the legendary Linn Sondek have never been appreciated more.  Bespoke shoes and suits are routinely featured in the popular press, and the demise of paper notebook in favour of iPads is premature thanks to premium brands like Moleskine and Leuchtturm1917.

And jewellery is no different.  Despite, or perhaps because, we can buy relatively affordable intricate pieces that are mass manufactured, many women value a version of the same thing created by craftsmen.  And then there are the pieces that just won’t be mass produced, either because it’s not cost-effective or it’s just not possible.

The best example in our eyes was something we came across in when we met Shaun Leane earlier this year.  He talked passionately about the importance of the great traditions of jewellery making, and we were overwhelmed by Shaun Leane’s “Queen of the Night” necklace for Boucheron, which he was asked to make to commemorate their 150th anniversary.

As a piece it’s of course magnificent.  But the jaw-dropping moment came when we realised that the little buds open to reveal exquisite jewelled flowers.  Shaun’s pride was as much in the mechanical work to open and close each flower as in the overall beauty of the design.  His fascination with the mechanical aspects of the Victorian grand era of jewellery making comes across when he speaks.  In the same vein, he talked about being taught that the finish of the (unseen) back of jewellery pieces was as important as the front.

Shaun Leane fans, particularly those that buy his more up-market pieces, clearly share his pride in the craftsmanship and tradition of his work.  To a lesser extent, other modern-day commercial successes like Bill Skinner and Alex Monroe also come from that background of the master craftsman.  There are also 21st century versions of this attitude around us, with the introduction of technology into jewellery design.  Our current favourite is Katharina Mischer who we met recently, one half of the amazing Mischer‘Traxler Studio. You may have seen our views on their Curiosity Cloud, and if you like that, you’ll love the Mischer Traxler views on science in jewellery.

We completely understand the appeal of this kind of jewellery, old and new – and share the emotions of awe and even reverence when we see it at its best.

Individual – I am Unique, and Value the Uncommon & Alternative

The need to be an individual strikes deep into many, and is the other side of the coin which encourages conformance to peer pressure.  For those women who find it important to show they don’t march to the tune of others, it’s also important to make a similar statement with their appearance and jewellery.

Many environments create a defined or unspoken uniformity of appearance – from fast food outlets to accountancy and banking, and in their own way even “funkier” places like tech startups and coffee bars. (Have you met many baristas without piercings and tattoos?).  And it’s even more stark outside the world of work, say at nightclubs, dinner parties and shopping malls. Ironically, in an effort to stand out, many women end up looking like each other.

Our experience is that many women register their protest with their accessories – particularly jewellery and shoes.  And this goes to the heart of what we think jewellery is about – the pursuit of the alternative, the interesting, the distinctive.  It may not be for everyone, but to us and our customers, jewellery is an opportunity to show your individuality in a world that is full of pressures to blend in.

That’s also something that appeals to us in other areas of style and design.  You may have seen our article on shoe designers who make you think again about your shoes, and we regularly feature jewellery designers who are breaking new ground with their work.

For us, this is the place where art meets jewellery, and the emotions we feel (and hope we generate with our own work) are the same ones that contemporary art can create – pleasure, intrigue, thoughtfulness and curiosity.

We’ll close with the words of business writer Andrea Hill on what she looks for in jewellery, which best sum up our emotions around jewellery:

So when I look for jewelry, I want it to have artistic merit. I want it to have been conceived of and created as part of a thought process about beauty, and craftsmanship, . . . I want to know that . . . it will mean something to me.