Written in Stone: How Jewellery Wears Us

Written in Stone: How Jewellery Wears Us

A favourite trinket, a ring with a love (or lust) story, an auspicious gem that tweaks fate. In history and fairy tales, vaults, museums and memories, jewellery lives on 

The second anniversary edition of The Voice of Fashion is the result of a gradation of ideas that matter now and can last long. Reflections on a central idea for an anniversary edition that brought celebratory spark and symbolism, or even token value (like a piece of jewellery gifted by one person to another to mark a special day) led us towards jewellery.

The facets a jewellery edition offers are multitudinous. Fascination for the beauty of hand-crafted, heritage jewellery; its longevity as a possession through generations, its value (notional or real) through trials and triumphs, the memories associated with it, the potential it offers for artistic and design experimentation. Few stories after all compete for rapt attention with those around the Koh-i-Noor diamond or the blinding splendour of the jewels of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra’s gemstones or actor Elizabeth Taylor’s 68-carat Cartier diamond given to her in 1969 by her lover and two-time husband Richard Burton that went on to being called the Taylor-Burton diamond.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Koh-i-Noor diamond, in the front cross of Queen Mary’s Crown.

Quite tellingly, the price of gold mirrors the health of global and local economies. If precious gems are a denominator of class, wealth, power, status that continue to churn ideas of “royalty” and the incomputable wealth of ancient kings and queens, it is also a dark reminder of current social and human injustices. Blood diamonds sit on one side of that spectrum; on the other are millions of households without a single piece of valuable jewellery, indicating the inequality of the society we live in.


Photo: National Museum, New Delhi

A gold turban ornament studded with diamonds and emeralds, displayed during the Jewels of India: The Nizam’s Jewellery Collection exhibit in Delhi in 2019.

One road from the umpteen narratives around jewellery leads us to the now— incarcerated scamster, diamond merchant Nirav Modi and why his fraud mirrors the failure of safeguards in law, banking, PR, publicity and fashion’s hero-making tendencies. The other leads us to ordinary, breakable glass bangles. A set of two, four or six paired with versions of community or caste-specific jewellery seen on working class women. Glass bangles or some form of necklace “chains”—auspicious temple threads dipped in turmeric or strings of black beads with pendants in imitation materials to suggest marital status are worn even in the poorest of households by women who live out their roles authored primarily by gender. As daughter, even when she is son-like daughter, steely pillar of family strength, as mother, wife, grandmother, bricklayer, farmer, tea picker, domestic help.

As the pandemic drags on with no end in sight, ‘Written in Stone: How Jewellery Wears Us’ explores lasting value through gems and trinkets, social and familial ideas, and the business of gold as representative of economy. Bangles may break or diamond rings may spell ‘foreverness’ but for the spectator, aspirant, wearer, museum collector, anthropologist, trader or artist, jewellery will persist.


Photo: Sanjay Kanojia / AFP

An Indian labourer works at a brick factory, her hands adorned with glass bangles.

The series that will appear for two weeks starting today is diverse as always. It starts with an interview with Wendy Doniger, among the world’s foremost scholars on Hinduism and mythology who besides many other books authored The Ring of Truth, Myths of Sex and Jewelry. It goes on to include the heirloom beads of the Northeast, conversations with first generation jewellers in India, men who love jewellery and like our cover person Rajiv Purohit, head of global sourcing, visual and technical design at the lifestyle label Nicobar, style it with stunning appeal. There is a lot more. The golden era of Thanjavur paintings, how couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee broke into the trade to emerge as one of the most sought-after wedding jewellers of India; young women on their evolving relationship with marital jewellery; Malayali women’s love for plus-sized gold ornaments, the trinkets of actor Johnny Depp and an account about the first jeweller of Hughes Road in what was then Bombay.

Shopping lists for where to buy coveted silver and artistic jewellery, gems and jewels as protagonists in films and mythology and the secrets of diamond rings…it is exhaustive.

Hope you take a shine to ‘Written in Stone.’ 


Banner: Rajiv Purohit on the digital cover of TVOF’s second anniversary issue ‘Written in Stone: How Jewellery Wears Us’.

Photograph: Madhav Mathur.