Recently, in our Design Studies Seminars, conversation has kept coming back to the question of whether mass produced jewellery can be worth as much to a person as a piece of handmade jewellery. In order to research this a little (and to complete assignment 4) I chose to interview a small selection of people using the subject, "What objects do people treasure the most and why?" in the hope that some jewellery would crop up among the results.
I basically asked the same few simple questions using a semi-structured approach depending on the answers. I avoided closed questions (my extensive sales assistant training finally paid off!) as "yes" or "no" weren't very helpful in this exercise.
These are the main questions I asked although they were adapted slightly each time:
1. What would be your most treasured possession?
2. What makes it so valuable to you?
3. Does the item have any monetary value?
4. Was this item inherited?
5. Do you keep this item for it's memories?
6. Where do you keep this item?
I interviewed four people ranging in age from teenager to middle-aged. I didn't realise how personal this subject and the questions I was asking were until I looked at the results and realised how enlightening they were about that persons sentimentality and feelings.
To begin with, everyone had a treasured possession and didn't have to think twice about what it was. In three of the four cases the possession was an item of jewellery (as I'd suspected!) and in the third it was a baby book containing, among other things, a lock of babies hair.
One of the pieces of jewellery had been inherited, had been passed down through the family and obviously had some monetary value as it was rather old and of good quality. It held many memories and provided a feeling of family closeness even when miles away. This particular gentleman chose to wear this ring all the time seeing no point in keeping it in a drawer gathering dust when he could wear it day-to-day and he can look down at it whenever he needed any comfort.
The third item of jewellery had been given to her by her parents on her 21st birthday (quite a few years ago!) but this item was considered too valuable to wear and lay safely in it's box. She doubted whether it was worth a great deal but couldn't have cared less.
The third piece of jewellery was a friendship necklace that a young girl had received from her best friend. It was clearly worth very little money but it meant so much to this girl that it was never off her neck as it was a constant reminder of their bond.
Speaking to these people it became clear that the monetary value of something was worthless to them. The memories they contained or the people that had given it to them or what it symbolised was far more important.
As a jeweller this was a very satisfying exercise as I believe that jewellery should be something treasured. Not necessarily because it's worth a lot of money or because it's pretty or in fashion but because it holds other meanings brought by the giver or the receiver. Earlier I was unsure whether whether mass-produced jewellery could have as much value as a handmade piece, I'm now sure that it can.