Coco Chanel, 1930s fashion icon (and alleged Nazi sympathizer, let’s not play), had many wise things to say about jewelry. Like, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off,” which is both tasteful and minimalist.
Most importantly though, she said: “Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful.”
Costume jewelry is cheap and fake, made to look like real precious gems and metals. So she’s making a statement about the purpose of jewelry. But she’s also saying that you don’t have to be wealthy to be stylish and attractive. In other words: your monetary worth does not determine your worth as a person.
Chanel went on to say, “It’s disgusting to walk around with millions of dollars around the neck because one happens to be rich. I only like fake jewelry… because it’s provocative.” Now this is the kind of opinionated anti-bullshittery I can get behind. And I’ve kept it in mind with all my jewelry purchases.
This timeless genius of style believed there was no shame in wearing fake jewelry. Because economic circumstance should not determine beauty. (And also because the Nazis stole every precious gem in Paris. But I digress.)
No one cares that you don’t wear real jewelry
I have never put much stock in precious stones and metals. Certainly not like this cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs charlatan of financial solvency.
Here’s a brief catalogue of the “real” jewelry I own:
- My amber and white gold engagement ring.
- The gold and amethyst family heirloom necklace sent to me by my Zia Luciana from Italy when I got married.
- A single pearl pendant necklace my husband bought on clearance from Macy’s.
- My great-great-grandfather’s ruby ring, which my beloved grandfather wore until the day he died. Its value to me is literally priceless.
- A silver Claddagh ring my husband gave me while we were dating.
… and that’s it. A couple family heirlooms and some tangible declarations of my main squeeze’s everlasting love. Kitty’s pretty damn frugal when it comes to her adornments, too.
I also own a bunch of cool finds from flea markets. Fake fucking diamonds, fake fucking gold, and fake fucking pearls, all because I took Coco’s advice to save my money. All the jewelry I’ve ever purchased for myself is cheap af. And it looks fab.
Because here’s the thing: no one’s ever called me on it. No one has ever given a flying nun that I’m wearing plastic and nickel. No one’s ever judged my husband for being too cheap to deck me out in billion-year-old crystallized carbon when cut glass does just fine.
My cheap, fake fashion statements fly completely under the radar. So why bother spending money on the real thing?
Fuck societal expectations
My friend’s sister once told me that her boyfriend was going to buy her a $30K diamond engagement ring because “that’s what I’m worth.”
If you’re familiar with the snark level of this blog you can probably guess what I said next. “Really? Only $30K?” In my defense, she walked right into that one… and she pawned her obscenely expensive ring when they got divorced.
I’m here to tell you to ignore societal expectations. Other people are not you, and you should always prioritize your plans and dreams over what others consider “normal.”
I’ve read wedding budget advice that’s basically just, “Buy a smaller diamond.” Which is… useless. Meanwhile, I’m over here like, “Get a giant cubic zirconia and blind passersby with that sparkly lab experiment while laughing about how you just saved a down payment on a house!”
Think carefully about your priorities in life if you ever find yourself considering buying a diamond. Is it truly important to you to have an engagement ring that fits into our cultural schema of a traditional wedding? Or do you have other more pressing desires in life? Like owning your own home, being debt free, or vacationing in Thailand?
If you’ve got that other shit dialed and it really matters to you to wear a diamond engagement ring, no judgment!
But if you spring for the billion-year-old carbon over saving for retirement, it might feel more like Sisyphus’s boulder than a symbol of your wedded bliss.
The questionable ethics of precious stones
This wouldn’t be BGR if I didn’t bring the mood way down. So here’s my usual depressing exposé on the ethics of the global economy. I promise to be brief.
Do you really want to spend thousands of dollars to say “My beauty was bought on the backs of African child slaves”? Wouldn’t you rather say, “Isn’t it fetching? $20 at Target girl, I shit you not.”
It is definitely possible to buy ethical precious stones and metals. The jeweler who made my engagement ring travels all over the world to source her materials directly from mines with fair labor and trade practices. And laboratories make lots of sparkly, shiny things these days. So you have options besides mindlessly purchasing the sapphires some poor West African child died to unearth.
Art, heirlooms, and investment jewelry
But what about investment jewelry? I mean yeah, I guess, if you’re a Russian aristocrat fleeing the Bolsheviks and you need a form of currency you can swallow.
This is only a concern for the extremely rich. And those people are too busy bidding on the last Galapagos tortoise at auction and changing the White House wifi password to read this blog.
Want art? Go to the craft market! Here’s a designer who makes red carpet-worthy pieces out of recycled aluminum cans! If your concern is wearing a gorgeous and interesting piece of original art, you can certainly find that for a lot less than you’ll pay for mass-produced gold at Kay Jewelers.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the emotional value of heirloom jewelry. I can’t deny the sentimental permanence of a stone forged in the mantel of the Earth and prized so much by the species that it’ll stick around for generations.
Heirlooms very often take the form of valuable jewelry for the simple fact that it is worth something. The monetary value of heirloom jewelry ensures you won’t carelessly lose it or toss it aside over the years.
And unlike furniture (large and hard to move), books (hard to preserve for long periods of time), or real estate (expensive to maintain), the relative portability and durability of jewelry makes it pretty ideal if you want to leave something for your heirs to remember you by.
My grandfather gave me many gifts in life. He taught me how to grow radishes and play poker and cut a man to the quick with just a few words.
His ruby ring is the only one of his many gifts that allows me to time travel. With it, I can go back to the day I watched it glitter on his hand while he peeled a green apple in a single, spiraling piece.
Family heirlooms are to be cherished and worn with all the pride and weepy sentimentality of Joe Biden receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
But that’s where I draw the line.
Do not conflate expensive jewelry with a necessary expenditure. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to look good or feel good about yourself. Examine your priorities and be honest about your reasons for purchasing before giving in to Liz Taylor’s foxy advertising.
Oh, and one more bit of wisdom from Coco:
“I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”