- Ellen Hunt
Jewelry, Meaning and Memory
In the past few weeks I’ve been to a wedding and a funeral, watching someone I’ve know since he was a boy join his life with his beloved. And seeing a new friend, that I didn’t have enough time with, surprisingly pass away, with a lot of life undone. It seems strange to write about these beginnings and endings and talk about jewelry, one of the possibly most trivial topics, only a notch above the right color for a throw pillow. But still, both of these occasions were marked by jewelry, personal ornament that becomes meaningful both by the rituals we participate in and symbolic meaning we give our possessions.
Of course, wedding ring sales and marketing are a huge cultural event. I’ve designed wedding rings and it’s always wonderful to work with the people involved to get something that expresses their personalities both together and apart. At the wedding we were at there were lots of “travel” rings or “sports” rings, replacements for the real thing in yellow or white rubber bands. You can buy a multi pack on Amazon for $8.99. I really was curious about what the real bands looked like, and for something so precious to be replaced by something so mundane caught me as funny.
There are tattooed wedding bands, which I suppose represent a lifetime commitment, or time in the chair getting it lasered off.
No matter what your ring is made of, the idea that it represents a commitment that will be as durable as the material it is made out of is universal. And everyone loves that ideal.
Funerary jewelry is an entirely different tangent, and while it hasn’t been popular in about a century, there is a long history of lockets and necklaces and pins being made out of the woven hair of a deceased loved one. Funerary masks, while not technically jewelry, are ornaments of the body rather than for the body, and have been made for millennia. We have been burying our dead with jewelry and ornaments since the beginning of humans, making jewelry one of the oldest ritualistic expressions. And today, I, as did others, wore jewelry to the funeral that we thought represented our friend. She loved emeralds and pearls, and there were lots of people wearing those. She also loved horses, so I wore a pin I made a long time ago from two horse charms I got as a gift as a child. The fact that this pin still exists is amazing all on its own. I was not just remembering my friend, but also the uncle who gave me the charms, and what my life was like when he gave them to me. He had a jewelry workshop in his basement and one day he just said, “hey, kid, catch” and two horse charms came flying my way.
The meaning we give to jewelry evaporates over time. Heirloom pieces no longer hold sway and we can reuse the metals and stones for newer, more personal pieces…new meaning is given to old things. And once no one is around to remember our stories, or our ancestors’ stories, having their items may just feel like junk. So wear you jewelry. Don’t let it sit in a drawer unworn. Tell your stories. Life is short, enjoy it, be healthy, be beautiful!