Why do we wear jewelry? Regardless of our race, culture, or religion, jewelry has been used as an integral form of expression for tens of thousands of years. We use body decorations to denote social status and/or wealth, to draw attention to certain parts of our physiques, as well as to simply gloat in the marvelous vanity of expense.
The earliest forms of jewelry were worn some 90,000 years ago, which consisted mainly of necklaces made from twine strung with various shells which were used as charms. Slightly later jewelry began to incorporate such items as feathers, bones, teeth, horns, flowers, and animal claws. Oftentimes, jewelry made from organic objects and animals were worn for protection, as well as to bring out the qualities of the animal the jewelry was sourced from in the wearer. For example, a necklace featuring the claw of a bear would have been thought to bring strength, courage, and tenacity to the wearer, while the bones from a bird would bring upon symbolic qualities like freedom and swiftness. As indians.org puts it, “Bone beads were often important in decorations because they had symbolic meanings. Most items at this time were related to rituals, spirits, and gods.”
It is clear why our ancestors wore decorative jewelry items. But what makes jewelry important in modern times? Psychologists seem to think that we buy jewelry to help differentiate ourselves from the mass public. Considering that there are over seven billion people on this planet, it is important to humans on an individualistic scale to make an attempt to stand out, rather than simply fall into the shadowy background of the multitude.
Yet another reason why we seem inclined to purchase jewelry is for ritualistic reasons such as religion and the celebration of important life events like birthdays and holidays. Surprisingly, the world’s leading purchaser of jewelry (specifically gold) is India. Director of Fintotal Insights and Resources, Kripananda Chidambaram, who has worked with leading financial companies including ICICI Bank, Tata AIG, Standard Chartered and Citigroup, believes the reason why Indians buy so much jewelry is as follows: “The fundamental reasons for buying gold jewelry are rooted in Indian culture especially during weddings. Lot of alteration has happened to our traditions but gold purchase on the occasion of wedding has not changed much. Though the newer generation is not too fond of wearing or flaunting gold jewelry, the demand for gold jewelry has not gone down. We end up demanding 950 tonnes of gold every year.”
America, however, seems to be an entirely different story. Considering that, if given the chance, nearly 90% of Americas would modify their body if they could afford cosmetic surgery, it is not surprising that our desire to decorate ourselves is so strong.