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On the Meaning of Jewelry

Gifts of jewelry have always been associated with love, but the connection between the two was never explained to me. I appear to be in good company. There are women who want jewelry simply because it's pretty, and men who give it only because it's customary or because she asked for (or demanded) it. To other people, jewelry is just a status symbol, a public display of their apparent worth. Then there are people who grasp that there is a connection between jewelry and love but who scorn jewelry as expensive and impractical. "Just tell her you love her. Don't waste money on jewelry."

All these attitudes are tragic. The relationship between jewelry and love is important and meaningful and underappreciated. It should be more widely understood. I want to share with you the things I have come to understand about the meaning of jewelry from a man's perspective. I welcome comments about what I have missed, and particularly on the meaning of jewelry from a woman's perspective. (This is necessarily an introspective topic, and I simply do not have a woman's perspective.)

The most important aspect of jewelry is that it is an ornament — it is meant to be worn, not stored. This is obvious on a superficial level, but it is also the key to the jewelry's deeper meaning. Every part of a man's desire to give jewelry derives from the woman actually wearing it. (Women, if you take away only one message from reading this, it should be: "Wear the jewelry he gives you.")

I deliberately wrote above of "a man's desire to give jewelry" and not of a woman's desire to receive it. To a man who understands the meaning of jewelry, the woman's desire for it is frankly beside the point. He has his own reasons for giving it.

Anything a man makes or buys for a woman will, when she uses it, strengthen his sense of being a provider for her, and this is important to his feeling of masculinity. For a man, providing for a woman is an expression of love. Jewelry has a special role in this because it is an item of purely aesthetic, not utilitarian, value — a proclamation that he can give her more than she needs. And in contrast to other things of aesthetic value (e.g. a painting), jewelry's purpose is specifically to adorn the woman — to accentuate her loveliness. A gift of jewelry is a means for a man to be a provider in a manner completely focused on the woman herself.

It is important to a man to have a sense of possession toward the woman he loves. She is not just a woman, she is his. Even though she is not property in any literal sense, he feels that she is his most prized possession. When a woman chooses to wear jewelry a man gave her, it signals her acceptance of that role. By the act of giving her jewelry, the man is proclaiming "you are mine" — and by wearing it, the woman responds "I choose to be yours". A woman's choice to wear jewelry is a reflection of her choice to be with the giver. The aesthetic nature of jewelry is again important: Unlike an item with utilitarian value that she would use anyway, wearing jewelry is optional, so this symbolism is not diluted by practical considerations.

Jewelry is highly visible and therefore often noticed. This is deliberate; the man wants it noticed. Whether other people comment on the jewelry, or the wearer thinks about it on her own, the jewelry is strongly associated with the man who gave it to her. A man who loves a woman wants her to think of him frequently, and jewelry is effective at keeping him in her thoughts.

The fact that jewelry is close to a woman's body is richly symbolic. It represents the physical contact that a man constantly craves. Jewelry is a surrogate for a man's hands, touching her even when he cannot. A bracelet holds her hand, an earring caresses her face, a pendant lies by her breasts. The continuity of contact is important, too: A man cannot keep a woman encircled by his arms all day, but with jewelry he can express his desire to do so. Jewelry is not merely pretty, it is sensual.

It is a great pleasure for a man when a woman wears his jewelry, even if he is not present to see it. Although he enjoys seeing and contemplating her beauty, and particularly so when it is enhanced by his jewelry, his primary reward is simply in knowing that his jewelry is being worn. The sight of the bejeweled woman is pleasant, but the implications of her choice to wear his jewelry are much more important. (He wants his jewelry worn even if it doesn't match her outfit!)

It may be true that most people do not have these things in mind when they give and wear jewelry. Their shallow imitations do not diminish the meaning of jewelry for those who do understand it. You may think I have a silly romantic notion of what jewelry can be and ought to be… but if it can hold such meaning, then a reverence for the ideal of romantic love demands that jewelry ought to mean these things.

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