I was burned out on trendspotting. Having worked in marketing for years, it was part of my job to watch the ebb and flow of fashion and its accompanying belief systems that came and went with the seasons. The pendulum would swing from action to reaction—preppy to punk, minimal to opulent, hyper-masculine to hyper-feminine, and round and round again. The cycle which once seemed like a spontaneous expression of the collective unconscious was beginning to feel like a grind.
As a jewelry designer, I’ve found it challenging to commit to a style knowing that a philosophical and visual backlash was right around the corner. So I began to look for inspiration in the lasting qualities of the people who would wear what I was making. Do they like big or small earrings? Do they want to feel more powerful or more delicate? Do they wear things to remind them of who they are or who they could be? These are qualities that are fixed or that change slowly throughout a life. In order to quantify this to some degree I created a personality test that asked takers to place themselves along several spectra such as “insider or outsider”, “lost or found”, even “east coast or west coast.” The sum of these answers would begin to hone in on a personal style that I could design for. You can take the test here. As a final question, I asked the respondent what their favorite piece of jewelry was, and why. Here’s what I learned about the non-functional items we place on our bodies:
It helps us express ourselves, it helps us escape ourselves.
The questions I asked were about figuring out who the respondents were, but this neglected the fact that we often dress to bring in energies or qualities we need. Dress for the self you want.
“It’s a bit outside of my personality but it’s just simple and playful.”
It preserves moments in time.
Many favorite pieces were acquired to mark a special event. Wedding rings are an obvious example, but one participant broadened to include a seasonal sense of time.
“I like it because the colors remind me of the desert and the transition from summer to fall.”
It reminds us how we want to feel.
Nearly nothing is closer to your body than jewelry. Clamped to your ears, resting on fingers only to be taken off once a day, or never. So the physical sensations the jewelry provided and the emotions it brought up were front and center for some participants.
“It’s really about feel — my favorite jewelry grounds me.”
“I love the mix of materials, it’s a great length, I’ve worn it for casual and formal occasions — it always feels ‘right’.”
It protects us.
Jewelry as talisman, an object bearing magical powers, is an ancient tradition and one that continues with varying degrees of literalness. Maybe it’s a lucky object, or maybe it reminds us of the ways we create our own luck.
“It looks like something a wizard would wear or hand to a worthy hero for magical protection.”
“My favorite piece of jewelry is a rose-gold chainlink bracelet with dragon heads at either end. It is strong and shining and pretty. I love the combination of strength and beauty.”
“I bought it about 10 years ago because something scary happened to me, but before that time someone had encouraged me to get one; it reminds me to think of love rather than fear.”
It reminds us of loved ones and generational connections.
Many of the favorite pieces were gifts from a loved one. A grandmother’s favorite ring, a sibling’s gift, a necklace with the initials of children. It’s an ever-present reminder of connectedness.
“The first is a T&Co heart that my darling mum gave me and the second is a clear quartz crystal that my sister gave to me for healing and positive energy. Both are so special to me just like the people who gave them to me, I wear it most days and think of them both when I wear it.”
It reminds us of our potential.
As much as tokens can be about relationships, past achievements, reminders of places and people in our path, it can also keep us pointed in the direction we want to go—a compass and guide, something that reminds us of the jewel that is our truest desire, mined and then cut and polished over a lifetime.
“Jewelry to me is part of my expression of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I aim to go.”
What started as giving my practice over to other people, ended up pointing me towards a new style that I finally feel like I’m driving. It’s informed by the dynamic trend cycle, but it’s rooted in something more lasting. In listening deeply to these stories and channeling the needs of others, I was again reminded that we serve best when we serve ourselves. I’m grateful to everyone for participating in this exchange with me. Ultimately, however valuable or trendy or ephemeral or lasting, the meaning of jewelry comes from the thoughts you invest in it.