In a Time of Stress, Jewelry Becomes Armor
By RACHEL GARRAHANMAY 17, 2017
Since President Trump’s inauguration in January, Pamela Love has received more requests for pieces from her Dagger jewelry collection than anytime since its introduction almost a decade ago. And Ms. Love, a New York-based designer, has no doubts about why her retailers and social media followers have renewed interest in the fierce-looking, but harmless, miniature daggers dangling from earrings and necklaces.
“Women want to feel tough,” she said. “They want something that reminds them they are tough, and they want something that shows the world they are tough. It’s not about violence. It’s about feeling strong and protected.”
Jewelry, that peculiarly intimate accessory, has long been associated with protection, whether spiritual, emotional or even physical. “Clothing can be a form of armor as well, but jewelry is more personal,” said Hannah Martin, a jewelry designer in London. “You wear it next to your skin, and it imbues more of that strength than, say, a tailored jacket.”
Marion Fasel, a New York-based jewelry historian and founder of the online jewelry magazine The Adventurine, agreed: “It’s a history that stretches back to the dawn of time and across cultures, from prayer beads and amulets on.”
During a period when many think advancements in equal rights and civil rights are under threat, designers and experts say it is not surprising that women are turning to jewelry for a sense of safety and for self-expression. “Women are reacting to the current sense of threat in practical ways, whether it be in protest at the Women’s March, or in using design and crafts as a way of expressing it,” said Rebecca Arnold, a fashion historian with the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
Ms. Martin’s Possession ring, in yellow and rose gold with cognac diamonds. The British rock singer Jehenny Beth, of Savages, borrowed some rings from the designer to wear while performing. Ms. Martin said the singer told her, “They’re going to give me so much strength on stage.”CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times
Armor rings have been part of Lynn Ban’s collection since she started it in 2011. Ms. Ban, a Singapore native who works in New York, said she was inspired to go one step further when she was commissioned to create jewelry for Rihanna to wear in photographs for W magazine last September.
Told to imagine the pop star as the last woman in a postapocalyptic world, Ms. Ban created a claw armor ring, an articulated design that stretches up the finger and ends in a clawlike pointed tip. “It continues the theme of my signature armor ring but is even more protective,” she said. “It’s like a weapon.”
It is no coincidence, she added, that the design, $2,800 to $3,500 at Dover Street Market in New York, was created during a time of political flux. “Revolution and social protest have always sparked intense periods of creativity,” Ms. Ban said. “Just look at the 1960s.”
For some, making a stand and expressing a political opinion may be as simple as wearing a feminist slogan T-shirt, such as those created by Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior’s spring 2017 collection, and any number of fast-fashion brands. Considering the price of fine jewelry, buying a gold ring with an overtly political message is a more costly proposition.
Two days after Donald J. Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during the final televised debate of the presidential campaign, Wendy Brandes introduced her Nasty necklace, which spells the word in either silver ($300) or gold ($950). Since some customers wore the design to the polls and to the Women’s March in January, the New York-based designer said the necklace has become her second-best-selling piece, with part of the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.
Ms. Brandes said her customers do not perceive her designs (which also include signet rings depicting a raised first and the Venus symbol) as one-season pieces. “They tell me they’ll pass them down to their daughters,” she said. “People are now realizing that the fight for women’s rights and democracy doesn’t end.”
For Ms. Arnold, the fashion historian, such overt messages are a necessary precursor in any movement toward a more subtle, longer-lasting aesthetic sensibility. “Initially you need the very obvious statement tees or jewelry, but underneath a more subtle idea of strength develops,” she said.
She added that the bold minimalist jewelry offered by the French brand Céline, the Los Angeles-based designer Sophie Buhai and others reflects this deeper trend, harking back to the midcentury period when enormous societal changes for women were taking place. “It was a time of very strong women designers and a very strong visual aesthetic in clothing and jewelry,” Ms. Arnold said. Those midcentury designers included Vivianna Torun of Georg Jensen and Elsa Peretti at Tiffany.
“Peretti once said, ‘I design for the working girl,’” said Ms. Fasel, the jewelry historian, adding that it was no surprise that “she created the Bone Cuff, a bold and accessibly priced piece of jewelry for the pants-wearing woman.”
The bold form of a statement piece has been replacing the recent trend for layering multiple delicate jewels. “Wearing 10 Cartier Love bracelets speaks to me of insecurity and thinking your body should be loved, and needing to show that you are loved,” Ms. Arnold said. “Wearing one statement piece seems more confident." [R. note: given my own tastes for larger, statement like-pieces I'm going to have to strongly agree here! :-) ]
The Possession cuff in yellow and rose gold, with cognac diamonds, by Ms. Martin. On her website she says of the piece: “I wanted to create something powerful and sculptural with a strong sense of tension.” CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times
Selecting jewelry as a means of self-expression (rather than for just the sparkle or an impressive carat weight) is linked to the fact that more women are buying jewelry for themselves than ever before, taking gems out of the realm of being a mere prettifying accessory or a diamond-bedecked gift bestowed on a woman.
“With women buying for themselves, it means jewelry needs to be marketed at women specifically,” Ms. Martin said. “The really overtly feminist designs will die down after a while, but I think the sentiment will remain.”
Ms. Martin’s own unisex collection has always been preoccupied with power and definitions of masculinity and femininity. When the singer of the British rock band Savages, Jehnny Beth, wanted to borrow jewelry for her recent performance with Gorillaz in London, she immediately selected Ms. Martin’s substantial and sculptural Possession and Orbit Super Size rings. “‘It’s got to be these ones,’” Ms. Martin recalled the performer saying. “‘They’re going to give me so much strength on stage.’
Products aside, jewelers have joined celebrities and fashion designers as well as their own customers in talking more openly about their political beliefs.
Ms. Martin, for example, expressed her anger toward President Trump in an Instagram post the week after his inauguration. While most of her followers were supportive, she said, one Trump-voting customer responded angrily, saying she would not buy Ms. Martin’s work again.
The designer said she had not intended to offend anyone, but she believes it is important for businesses such as hers to tackle politics. “The current situation has forced everyone to take a view,” she said.
Ms. Love, who has posted on social media about her participation in the Women’s March and support of organizations like the A.C.L.U., agreed. With 180,000 Instagram followers, she believes it is her duty to take a stand. “I’m not just a machine that makes jewelry,” she said. “I’ve spent the last 10 years building a brand and a following, and if I don’t have the permission to use this voice, then what is the purpose of it?”