Saturday, May 15, 2021

Stoned by Aja Raden


Most of us are fascinated with jewels.  Their beauty and rarity attract us.  In this book, historian and jeweler Aja Raden uses the history of various jewels to show how they affected human history.  The book is divided into three main sections, want, take and have.

In the want section, the reasons we desire jewels is explored.  It is often a manufactured desire and Radan gives examples of this, the best being diamonds.  Diamonds are actually very common so why do we think they are rare and beautiful?  Because the De Beers company managed to corner the market on diamonds and spent a fortune on marketing along with controlling the number of diamonds that hit the market at any one time.  Another example was the purchase of Manhattan Island for the proverbial twenty-four dollars of glass beads.  However, the Indians didn't have glass beads and so they were entranced with those shown to them by the Dutch and were happy with their end of the bargain.  The third story is that of the massive number of emeralds taken by the Spanish explorers from Central and South America and how it funded the Spanish empire.  When they became too common, the market collapsed almost overnight.

In the take section, there are several interesting stories.  One is of a famous pearl that was given to Queen Mary by her younger and distant husband, Prince Philip.  Her half sister, Elizabeth craved the pearl and the interplay between the two women is explored.  Another famous necklace with historical implications was a diamond necklace that a jeweler tried for years to sell to Marie Antoinette.  She never bought it, but the jeweler was tricked into thinking she had, and the scandal was one of the factors making her the hated monarch she was.  A final story in this section is about the Faberge eggs and how their history was intertwined with that of the Russian monarchy.

In the have section, two items were discussed.  The first was pearls, specifically cultured pearls and the role that the Japanese manufacturer Mikimoto played in bringing them to market and making them acceptable as luxury items as well as being jewelry that anyone could find a price point at which to buy.  The other item was wristwatches and I found it fascinating that wristwatches are fairly modern with their acceptance as male jewelry coming only during World War I when split second timing was needed in the trenches to successfully use the new weapons of that war.

Aja Raden studied history in college while working in the auction house of the famous House Of Khan.  Later she worked as a jewelry designer.  These two careers and interests make her the right person to write this book.  At times the narrative is a bit breezy but it is relatable by almost any reader and provides an interesting overview of history and a unique focus through which to study it.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.  

No comments: