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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Eyes Have It

Faces remain a favorite style of figural costume jewelry

Ask the average person on the street why people love jewelry and answers might range from wise investment to frivolous fashion indulgence.

But there's a whole psychology surrounding jewelry too, and why we love what we love and when. For instance, look at three different time periods when large-scale jewelry was the rage: the 1940s, the 1980s, and for the past five years of the 21st Century. Was there a common link in those trends? Sort of.
When life suddenly revolves around rationing and sacrifice, it makes psychological sense that anything big and abundant is going to prove desirable. Maybe a fantastic new dress was out of the question during the worst war years, but an enormous brooch, big as a lapel, was affordable and could make stale fashions seem fresh.
Beyond size, whimsy was another key ingredient for obvious reasons: Light-hearted and novel distractions were cheering, whether in movies or on fashion modes.

In the 1980s, on the other hand, jewelry's large scale was the child of ostentation often married to wealth. Bigness during the Reagan years made a statement about who we hoped we were: important.

Today those two decades intersect. As the divide widens in America between the haves and have-nots, oversized pieces feed the needs of different socio-economic groups hankering for what adornment bestows. A well-heeled woman might opt for a large fancy-color diamond as an enviable and envy-arousing investment, or massive Iradj Moini jewel-encrusted collar that boldly asks: What Recession?

On the other side of greener pastures, someone unemployed and scared out of her wits about the future still needs the occasional balm of lovely novelty, so a big bib dripping in stones on sale for $10 at Burlington Coat Factory can make a girl at least feel for a week like a million bucks.

This is all a round-about way of traveling to the demise of one jewelry trend, which I don't understand at all. In the Facebook era, why would the long-time figural favorite – face jewelry – virtually be made no more? It doesn't make sense, unless jewelry houses put the kibosh on kissers because women weren't buying them, but since just about every jewelry collection includes multiple countenances, what gives? Psychologically speaking, I have no answers for that one.

Happily, the current unfortunate retail trend doesn't prevent us from relishing the many vintage and later visages on the secondary market. It's also worth mentioning that faces remain a favored realm among artists and artisans, if not jewelry companies.

The variety of human expressions cast as jewelry is vast. So are values, styles and quality. Technically, a face pin might be a museum-quality cameo carving worth thousands of dollars, a stunning, delicately painted portrait pin, Art Nouveau ladies cast in sterling silver.

Snag anything that's unusual or remarkable. A face brooch that looks like an Alien Geisha is one example. The flip side is a face that's straight-out beautiful.

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