What makes a jewel priceless, and why do we covet beautiful things – and beautiful pieces of jewelry in particular? In a new book called “Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World”, experienced jeweler and amateur historian Aja Raden tries to understand how positional goods, such as jewelry, play a role in history and our addiction to – and obsession with – beautiful things.
In “Stones”, Raden embarks on a fascinating journey to explain how eight jewels shaped the course of history. Raden breaks history into three categories – Want, Take, and Have – and explains the fascinating connection between the diamond on your finger to cultural movements, political dynasties and not a few wars.
In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, Raden explained that our obsession with jewelry comes from “the very powerful effects” that beauty and scarcity have on the human brain: “when you think other people are getting something and you might not, your brain really freaks out. So the jewelry industry was poised to exist from the day human beings stood up and started acting like human beings”, she explains. She goes on elaborate on the historic connection between jewels and royalty (such as Elizabeth I of England’s intimate connection to pearls), the birth of our modern economic system (take Spain’s plunder of diamonds in South America, for example), the rise of Japan as a “respectable” country after it began to culture pearls, and more.
One of the most interesting excerpts deal with the rise of the diamond engagement ring, in which Raden explains how De Beers’ brilliant campaign to sell diamonds to the middle classes in Europe gave birth not only to the paradigms that “diamonds are forever” and “diamonds mean love “, but also to modern advertising as we know it.