Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - August 7, 2018 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — It is perhaps in their unrelenting pursuit of self-beauty that people accessorize themselves. And one of the foremost tools they use to attain a certain appearance is jewelry – especially if the desired look is to communicate power or sophistication, or both.

The use of jewelry has a very long history. Various societies, cultures, and eras have different needs for jewelry, although all share a common bottom line that is to enhance the wearer’s image. Such function of jewelry continues to this day.

Precious metals and gemstones, stones, shells and other organic materials were used to adorn people over 30,000 years ago. As the art of jewelry developed, it became an intricate ornamentation and a means to identify social rank. An example would be the Royal Jewels of the British monarchy as signs of wealth and power.

For a long time in the past, the privilege of wearing jewelry was reserved only among people of high standing in society. Precious metals were used, which ordinary people could not afford, owing to the high price of the material. As some point, elite organizations began using jewelry to mark their members, like a masonic signet ring.

Jewelry also serves a symbolic role connoting a specific meaning based on the design. The “mati” or “hamsa,” for example, is a charm to ward off evil. An engagement ring symbolizes a commitment to marriage. A class ring indicates an academic degree.

Men of a certain social class would give gifts of jewelry to their ladies – necklace, earrings, bracelet, even tiara – signifying acknowledgement of the recipient’s beauty and her value to the giver. Both men and women would buy jewelry as gift to themselves, as reassurance of their personal worth. Indeed, jewelry is a kind of statement.

It’s no wonder why jewelry has come to be a major fashion accessory. Women would wear an abundance of pearls to go with ornate, bejeweled dresses on formal occasions. The practice has so much caught on, giving rise to non-precious jewelry.

There is now jewelry exclusively for fashion purposes. These are simply called fashion accessories, to distinguish them from genuine jewelry. The upper end of the line makes use of semi-precious materials, while the lower end uses highly available organic materials like wood, shells, and even plastic.

With people’s better earnings comes the mass production of quality imitation jewelry. It gives rise to “costume jewelry” made of semi-precious and non-precious materials. The overall focus has shifted to mere looks.

“Jewelry” is no longer the exclusive domain of the wealthy few. With high-quality replicas at affordable prices, everyone could afford a piece to wear. Chanel, Dior and Miriam Haskell are known to be the notable designers who pioneered in the making of “costume jewelry,” or fashion accessories.

Today, it is common to see bejeweled men and women walking around. Jewelry of all types – precious, semi-precious, non-precious or costume – is now widely available. The most popular, of course, is jewelry that is affordable.

People now would have different sets of “jewelry” to go with different outfits, for different occasions. And it always looks very nice when worn right. In this day and age of modern technology and high creativity, even the non-precious can look bright.

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