The announcement today that the iconic gold and turquoise ring that belonged to Jane Austin has been 'saved' from leaving the country on the hand of American pop star Kelly Clarkson, is, I believe, a bit of a mixed bag. Whist celebrating the fact that a small museum was able to raise significant funds (approximately 150k) to buy the ring and keep it as a valued air loom for Austen fans to enjoy for many years to come, I also feel a little sad that once again, some of the world's most beautiful jewellery is never put to its intended purpose of being worn.
Although on one hand (pun unintended), I understand the need to preserve items for historical and cultural reasons, I can't help but feel that jewellery is made to be worn, loved, and enjoyed and to make the owner or wearer feel special as a result. The unique thing about jewellery is it is attached to you, kept on you, yes of course you can take it off, but many people don't, especially rings. Unlike clothes and most other fashion items, jewellery can be worn all-day everyday for years, there is a longevity to it, often a sentimentality or intangible connection too. As the Founder and Director of the London Jewellery School, the world's largest jewellery training centre, I may be a little biased, but I do feel that if a piece of jewellery, which is a mini work of art, can enjoy a new lease of life and a new owner can have that unique connection to it, why not let it happen?
This tips towards a broader question as to weather art belongs in a gallery for all to see or in a personal setting for individuals to enjoy. However I feel jewellery is a little different, as it is actually on the body of the owner, it is part of their journey, going everywhere they go, bearing witness to their life as it happens, a fly on the wall as it were. As a jewellery maker, I know I would prefer my pieces to be worn than displayed in a cabinet - albeit to be admired by appreciating fans.
Looking at other valued jewellery items of the world such as the crown jewels, some of the world's most beautiful gemstones, pearls and diamonds etc... it does seem a shame the majority of them will never be worn. The dilemma is weighing up the need to preserve, appreciate and document these treasures for all to see but in doing so, not loosing out on the thing that makes jewellery so distinctive; the individual stories, journeys and connections they represent to their owners.