Jewelry: The body transformed

Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

As the current exhibition (and related publication) at The Metropolitan Museum Of Art reminds us, “As an art form, jewelry is defined primarily through its connection to, and its interaction with, the body — extending it, amplifying it accentuating it, distorting it, concealing it, or transforming it.”

Of course, none of this takes into account any of the socioeconomic or political statements that jewelry may make. The allure of jewelry in all forms is undeniable; the wearing of jewelry predates recorded history, and of all the species on the planet, we humans are the only ones who chose to adorn ourselves with jewelry. In fact, our brains seem to be hard-wired to do this. It is a cross-cultural phenomenon, and although it may be somewhat influenced by the media and current styles, it exists even in the most isolated cultures, and has done so since the very beginnings of the human race.

Throughout recorded history, jewelry has been written about and admired, even though we are hard-pressed to define exactly what our attraction to it is. Of course, by wearing something beautiful, we can feel beautiful by association. Indeed, jewelry can be a wonderful enhancement  to one’s appearance, but that’s far from the whole story. Jewelry can be a vivid reminder of a loved one (or special occasion) that accompanies you whenever and wherever you choose to have it do so, and especially in the case of fine jewelry made of a durable metal such as gold, it is well-suited to withstand the test of time. In fact, there is nothing comparable that can carry both sentimental as well as intrinsic value, which may be passed from one generation to the next, cherished irregardless of monetary value.

Joe Brandt

Jewelry can undeniably make a statement of wealth or power, and in some cultures, a woman’s value as a potential mate has been (and in some cultures, is to this day) strongly influenced by her jewelry. As a fashion statement, particularly when widely broadcast by the media, fine jewelry can be a powerful influence when worn by someone of prominence, and I can cite any number of examples of this. When Diana, Lady Spencer (later Diana, Princess of Wales) became engaged, the type of ring she received was nothing new (a sapphire surrounded by diamonds), but it created a worldwide craze for that particular style. Many years earlier, actress and socialite Arlene Francis was always seen (as a panelist on the immensely popular TV show, “What’s My Line?”) wearing a diamond heart pendant. At the time, the degree of elegance and sophistication that this image helped portray created a trend that lasted for many years.        

To be sure, there are those who eschew jewelry in all its forms, but I strongly suspect that there is not a single reader of this column who is in that particular camp. Jewelry, as the title of this month’s column suggests, has the power to transform the body, and is also the title of an absolutely fantastic exhibit (as well as a wonderful book of the same name, edited by Melanie Holcomb, curator of Medieval Arts and The Cloisters, The Met) on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, now through February 24th — bringing together some 230 objects, drawn almost exclusively from The Met collection. For lovers of jewelry, and those who wish to understand more about the influence of jewelry throughout history, this exhibit has my highest recommendation, and is well worth the trip just by itself, never mind all of the other fabulous things that the museum (certainly one of the “Crown Jewels” of New York) has to offer.


Joe Brandt is a local resident, and president of J.L. Brandt Company, offering speaking engagements and diversified fine jewelry advisory services to the general public since 1928. Readers are invited to submit questions or comments to Names or contact information will not be used for publication, and all inquiries will be answered promptly.

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