And now back to shiny things…
Because the story I am writing involves the theft of a fabulous ruby necklace, I have been reading books about jewelry. One very entertaining book, Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden, focuses on the role of gems in history.
I had heard the story about DeBeers and “A diamond is forever” before—even before my daughter informed me that Adam, who Ruins Everything, had ruined diamonds for her. Stoned provided more details: the relative unimportance of diamonds early in our history, the difference that improved cutting techniques made, and the way that DeBeers turned them into something everyone wanted with clever advertising and choke-hold on the supply.
I hadn’t heard the story about Spain flooding Europe with New World emeralds and drastically reducing the value of their own crown jewels. Nor had I realized just how scarce, and prized, pearls once were.
The relationship between scarcity and value is interesting. I am sometimes amazed at the things we can create now—the materials, the finishes, the new techniques. Beautiful things are widely available to us. In fact, we fail to notice quite how many treasures we have because they are so very available and cheap.
For example, I have a bracelet I like--stretchy, silvery, and glittering. Now, my mom isn’t into jewelry. She has very little of it herself and no idea what is currently in stores. She saw me wearing the bracelet and asked when I’d gotten it. From her tone, I think she expected to hear that it was a special anniversary present. Instead, I said, “Six dollars at Walmart.”
Someone more familiar with today’s little girls would have recognized the style right away… but does that make the bracelet any less beautiful?
It’s not a rhetorical question. If you glance at it, think “cheap costume jewelry”, and look away… certainly you appreciate it less. But I think it’s fabulous. I hold my wrist up to the sun and watch it glitter. It isn’t durable (I’ve broken the stretchy cord on several already) but it is pretty. And what attracted humans to gems in the first place, if not their color, translucence, and sparkle?
And the bracelet is just the beginning! Little girls’ wardrobes are full of sparkle and shine that I would have begged for as a child, had it been available. (I did have shiny black patent leather shoes…)
We also now have the ability to synthesize precious stones—rubies, sapphires, diamonds. They are no less attractive for having been made in a lab, and there are many more of them to go around. Apparently some fancy watches have a crystal (the glass front of the watch) made of colorless synthetic sapphire! Imagine that—they can make a cylinder of synthetic sapphire wide enough for a watch face, and then slice off pieces of it. What else can they do?
Well, they can make a diamond ring. That is, a ring made of diamond, not a ring set with a diamond. It sounds like the sort of thing you’d find in a Richie Rich comic book. I couldn’t find out whether the diamond was natural or synthetic, but it seems like an odd and perhaps even wasteful way to cut a large diamond, which makes me think maybe it was synthetic.
It isn’t just gems that are shiny and beautiful and increasingly available. When I was in my teens, I bought postcards with what we would now call “holographic foil” on them at a science museum. I paid at least four times what regular postcards cost—maybe it was more than that. They were special! I taped them up on my wall for my friends to admire. Now I throw away used Christmas wrapping that would put those postcards to shame.
I could give further examples, but you get the idea. We have shine, glitter, and vivid colors enough for old-fashioned royalty.* Do we feel like royalty? Apparently not—everyone else is just as shiny, glittery, and colorful as we are. And yet…wow.
Till next post.
*Admittedly, we’re a little short on actual gold—never found that Philosopher’s Stone—but we have a lot of really good gold-colored paint and foil.