Jewels Beyond The Look: Protection And Healing

Miles Franklin, August 27th, 2021

In life, we encounter moments in which something that we know intellectually becomes something that we know in a much more personal, even visceral, manner. In many instances, this experience of transforming passive knowledge into that which is known in every fiber of one’s being can be positive, as when one experiences romantic love for the first time. Equally true, however, is the fact that these transformative experiences can occur as a result of a negative experience, the kind of experience which shakes your confidence and can even result in physical illness for a period of time.

For example, until just a few days ago, I knew, intellectually, that jewelry quite often functions as a sort of second skin, a protective barrier between one and the outside world, a barrier which has the additional edge of being beautiful and desirable, but a functional one nonetheless. Of course, as a prolific and avid jewelry wearer, I’ve had moments in which I’ve realized the watchful role my jewelry plays (as when a friend once began psychoanalyzing me over dinner, then began to comment on how much I play with my jewelry when I’m uncomfortable), and I’ve even consciously commented on the matter in a previous interview with MODA Chicago.

(http://www.modachicago.org/blog/2019/10/9/quad-style-miles-harrison?rq=miles%20harrison). My understanding of jewels as protective objects or even as objects which attract good fortune rests on the knowledge that jewelry has, since the beginning of human history, been worn for talismanic and protective purposes, and humans seem to have an intuitive understanding that these practically useless adornments are affixed to boundless metaphysical meanings (for more on this, I direct you to: https://www.nationaljeweler.com/articles/1013-a-look-at-protective-jewelry-through-the-ages). On this point, my colleague Christian Noojin from Sotheby’s Jewels had this to say:

Wearing jewelry to catch the vibe is nothing new. In fact we are repeating the actions of our ancestors. For thousands of years, humans have worn jewelry for protection. Whether for battle or for protection from bad luck, this tradition spans cultures and generations. 

If you have studied crystals, you may know that in general, different colors are assigned to different chakras: blue for throat, green for heart, yellow/orange for solar plexus. Wearing a sodalite on the throat may help you communicate calmly and clearly. A malachite on the chest near your heart may soothe emotional woes, and encourage healing. I must express though, there is no right way to wear any particular stone. 

A rule of thumb is to wear what feels good. If you are drawn to a green tourmaline necklace that sits right on your throat, it may be a call to speak your heart. If a citrine piece feels right on an earring, your solar plexus may want more influence on your ego. 

My tip for people who are beginning their metaphysical journey with jewelry and stones: start with one item. Really learn the energy of the piece, ie. can you feel the vibration of the maker in a handmade piece? Did the previous owner leave their energy in this piece? (Should I sage it?) Do I harness my highest vibrations when I wear this? 

From this stage, add on pieces little by little. Before you know it, you will have a whole tool belt of talismans and jewelry for personal growth and maintenance.

The romantic armchair conception of jewels as amulets is a heady thing worthy of one’s Gamay induced contemplation, but this idea became all too real for me in a split second on my recent trip to Florida.

Here, a Van Cleef & Arpels gold and carnelian Vintage Alhambra bracelet, Cartier Love bracelet, and a Cartier gold, mother-of-pearl, and Lapis Lazuli pendant conjure a vision of noble defense and impenetrability.

Each time I make my annual trip to Florida to see my father’s side of the family, I not-so-carefully throw on as much jewelry as is humanly possible because I know that I will need a buffer between me and the homophobic, racist, sexist, and proudly politically incorrect world of the southern United States. Between dinners where sexist sentiments are levied directly at my younger female cousins, the unabashed, simultaneously angry and aroused stares of drunk white homophobic men, and comments from anyone and everyone about the shape, size, and weight of my body, I have boundless occasions to lose my fingers nervously in long necklaces, mountains of bracelets, and fists full of rings. 

A Hammerman Brothers diamond bracelet of over 42 carats of diamonds functions as chainmail.

Somehow I was able to avoid direct contact with Florida’s fabulously homophobic hillbillies until I came into contact with one particularly *southern* TSA agent at the Southwest Florida “International” Airport in Fort Myers. As is the case in any airport in the United States, I walked through the metal detector which immediately beeped due to the ridiculous amount of jewelry that I was wearing. Because every other TSA agent at literally every other airport would simply perform a quick, painless pat-down, I was slightly confused when this particular TSA agent (M. Dew, shall we call him) gruffly instructed me to go through the detector again. As anyone with a middle school education might guess, the detector went off, again. After putting me through a third time (just to be really sure, you know), M. Dew told me to step out of line and remove all of my jewelry, making a cupping gesture with his sweaty hands to suggest that he would hold on to my most precious belongings for the moment. Of course, after removing every one of my pieces except for my Cartier Love bracelet, I had to explain to M. Dew and the quickly gathering gaggle of TSA agents that the Love bracelet could not be removed on account of the two screws which fasten it to my wrist. Naturally, M. Dew and crew did not believe me and instead thought that my idea of a good time was to hold up traffic at a regional Florida airport at 5 in the morning, so M. Dew threw in a stern, “well, if you don’t take off the bracelet, I’m gonna have to pat you down…”. “Finally! We’re getting somewhere!” I thought to myself, knowing that, at any other airport in the country, they would have seen the bracelet and started with a pat-down. So, after Dew and Dewier issued their foreboding warning, I told them that I’d be fine with a pat-down. Dew replied loudly and for the benefit of the many Waffle House fueled white men in Bass Pro Shops gear in line behind me, after looking me up and down and up again, “well I wouldn’t be fine with it!”, in a tone and gesture meant to suggest that I wanted to be patted down because of my sexual orientation (and, therefore, my inherent perverted tendencies) and that he would be unwilling to fulfill my burning desire for a 5 a.m. airport pat down from a sweaty Floridian whose underwear surely had more skid marks than either of the airport’s two runways. At this, the gaggle of TSA agents and the aforementioned fish enthusiasts in line began to loudly laugh at me, and I realized that this incident had less to do with airport security and more to do with identifying and humiliating an “other” who so clearly did not look like a single other soul in the airport. Humiliated and feeling naked because my precious jewels were still under the watchful eye of M. Dew, even as he mocked me, I wanted to scream, cry, yell, or maybe just burst into flames. Covering my Love bracelet with my hand as later instructed, I walked through the detector without setting it off, and cautiously picked my beloved objects out of Dew’s surely unwashed hands. My mother tried making light of the situation to me in private, but I found this yet more infuriating because M. Dew’s transgression against me, performed only after the conscious removal of my armor, then and now felt serious and left me with an indelible sense of having been violated. Through this incident, my understanding of my jewels as my protectors moved, with devastating pain, from my brain to my bones, from my seat of knowledge to the very core of my being.

A star sapphire and diamond ring stands sentry against evil intentions.

In the days immediately following my incident in hillbilly hell, I resigned the violated jewels to their respective spots in my jewelry box, completely switching over to pieces that I had not travelled with. I could scarcely even look upon the pieces I’d worn without feeling again, viscerally, the pain, embarrassment, and fear that I’d experienced in the moment of violation. It was only after several long walks in silence and solitude in Princeton following the incident that I was able to arrive at a powerful revelation; the pieces that were stripped from my body by M. Dew should not elicit painful recollections of illiterate TSA agents, because said agents knew that in removing my jewels, they were removing a layer of myself, stripping me down and rendering me all the more assailable. I recall that my intention in wearing so much jewelry to Florida was to offer myself refuge, and it is now clear that this is exactly what my jewels did for me. By both positively and negatively confirming the protective nature of my second skin, I now find myself on the other side of a harrowing incident, a much more confident individual, and one who leans even more heavily into the intangible virtues of jewels.

A Cartier Crash watch (or two) and a personalized stack of jewelry can offer relief in uncomfortable situations.

If you’re looking to begin a purpose-built talismanic jewelry collection, you might start here:

David Webb Zodiac Collection

Evil Eye Pendant Necklace — Harwell Godfrey

Jacquie Aiche Onyx Crescent Moon Necklace

Mateo Healing Crystal Necklace

Amulette de Cartier collection – luxury jewelry

Vintage Alhambra pendant 

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Five Male Celebrities Who Rocked Jewelry On The Red Carpet

Nov 1

Miles Franklin

Billy Porter being fitted in Oscar Heyman jewels for the 2019 Golden Globe Awards. Image  Via
Billy Porter being fitted in Oscar Heyman jewels for the 2019 Golden Globe Awards. Image Via

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” goes the perennial 20th century proclamation of the innately feminine love for precious jewels. At the same time that this phrase was coined, the late 1940s, De Beers, which once controlled over 80% of the world’s diamond supply, launched its enduring “A diamond is forever” campaign, which spawned the modern practice of sealing a marital engagement with a diamond. Though it is true that both of the above turns of phrase continue to drive the purchase of high volumes of diamonds and other precious stones for women, it is also true that male celebrities are stylishly pushing for more inclusive conceptions of the ways in which men can interact with jewels.

One might rightly scoff at the idea that men wearing jewelry is new, and it is at this point that I must refine my focus. Of course men have historically worn jewelry, but it has been men’s jewelry as opposed to women’s jewelry; a frail yet highly enforced dichotomy that is acutely representative of the broader Western proclivity for dividing all facets of life along gender lines. While the 20th century and part of the 21st century narrowly defined men’s jewelry as bulky, relatively dull, and gemless pieces such as cufflinks and timepieces, the last five years have seen some of the most aggressive de-gendering of even the most traditionally feminine jewelry styles, such as the brooch and lapel pin. In an effort to both celebrate and amplify the democratization of high jewelry that has unfolded in fabulous style on red carpets for the past several years, I share with you five times male celebrities have shined in ethereal jewels.

5. Pharrell Williams, 2017 Academy Awards

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Pharrell seems to appear frequently in my writing, and this is no mistake. As one of the only people alive to have collaborated with Chanel as an individual, and as the inspiration for a million dollar Richard Mille timepiece, it is perhaps no surprise that Pharrell comes up frequently when discussing celebrities who push the boundaries in fashion and jewelry. In 2017, Pharrell walked the red carpet in a predominantly black Chanel suit, offset by a dazzling broach of white diamonds which appear to be set in either white gold or platinum with pearls.

4. John Legend, Vanity Fair Oscar Party 2019

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In 2019, John Legend wore a Dennis Tsui brooch of diamonds, blue sapphires, and a large yellow sapphire set in white gold. The brooch, named the Galaxy Pin, is notable for three reasons. The first notable facet of the Galaxy Pin is its designer, Dennis Tsui, who is a rising star in the world of high jewelry. Having only recently entered the high jewelry space, it is a testament to Tsui’s creative genius that he would so quickly be tapped to provide John Legend’s red carpet flash. The second noteworthy aspect of this brooch is its movement; rather than simply being a static piece of jewelry pinned to a lapel, there is also a gracefully proportioned chain which is accented with a yellow stone (probably a sapphire, possibly a yellow diamond) which is itself set in a magnificent halo of white diamonds. Finally, the presence of colored jewels in the Galaxy Pin sets it apart from equally beautiful yet less interesting pieces produced purely of monochromatic stones.

3. Timothée Chalamet, 2020 Academy Awards

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Though I cannot in good conscience rank Timothée Chalamet’s Academy lapel pin as the best example of men’s brooch/lapel pin wearing on the red carpet, I must admit that it is my personal favorite. Having a deep sweet spot in my heart for Cartier jewels, colored stones, and vintage pieces, this 1955 ruby, diamond, and platinum lapel pin sweeps me off of my feet. As a piece viewed in a vacuum and devoid of context, it is already magnificent; large, clear, and creatively arranged diamonds set off by Burmese rubies (a distinction that is important to draw as rubies from Burma are of the highest clarity, and the deepest blood red) in several different cuts makes this piece exemplary of Cartier’s jewelry design language during the first sixty years of the 20th century. Pairing this sumptuous lapel pin with a characteristically restrained Prada ensemble guaranteed Chalamet’s outfit a spot in the best looks of 2020.

2. Chadwick Boseman, 2019 Screen Actors Guild Awards

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The late and great Chadwick Boseman, in addition to being a guiding light and source of inspiration for countless young people, was also a confident wearer of fine jewels. At the 2019 Screen Actors Guild Awards, Boseman donned three Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger clips of white gold, yellow gold, and diamonds. It is not often that men are seen wearing jewelry inspired by delicate flora, and the simple daring of this choice makes it all the more stunning to see on the red carpet.

1. Billy Porter, 2019 Golden Globes

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The trifecta of Oscar Heyman flower brooches which cascaded down Billy Porter’s lapel at the 2019 Golden Globes were sadly overshadowed by the rest of his exceptional ensemble, itself a piece of art designed by Randi Rahm. The brooches, awash in vivid colors and sprays of vibrant diamonds, partially utilize a setting technique pioneered by the legendary house of Van Cleef & Arpels in the 1930s, known as the invisible setting. This technique is one in which the stones are set such that the mountings are not visible, thus allowing the stones to shine ever more brilliantly in the absence of prongs. The top brooch appears to be of white diamonds and green enamel flower petals, the middle of white diamonds and yellow sapphires (or possibly yellow diamonds), and the bottom brooch of white diamonds and invisibly set rubies.

At a moment in the near future, life will return to normal and we will once again inevitably find ourselves passively taking in the glamour of celebrities on red carpet events. When that moment comes, I hope you will not look only at the garments with awe and wonder, but also the jewels.

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THE ISSUE OF REPRESENTATION OF BLACK BODIES IN FASHION

We asked four young Black people to address the problem and offer guidance for the future.By: Miles Franklin

If you’ve been following fashion for the past several years, chances are you’ve noticed that brands at all price points have been gradually making concerted efforts to represent Black bodies. While the increased presence of Black bodies in fashion has generally constituted a positive change, it is evident that there are still a few glaring issues with both the quality and quantity of Black representation in fashion. For example, it seems that the world of high fashion has taken to casting dark-skinned Black models—and dark-skinned Black models only—which has ironically flipped the bias traditionally referred to as colorism. In fact, one needs only to perform a perfunctory browse through Vogue Runway to find that the world of high fashion does cast Black models, so long as their skin is dark and they are thin. While brands like Fashion Nova and Uniqlo do a much better job casting Black models all along the spectrum of skin tone, they often choose to represent either Black women who are thin and have white features or Black women who embody the “Mammy” archetype, which reduces plus-size Black women to an identity tied only to their physicality. And though it is true that there are Black people who are thin and have “white” features, and Black people who are overweight, it is also true that there are Black bodies which exist everywhere in between—and beyond—this dichotomy.

Since the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement have catalyzed meaningful introspection concerning the inequitable treatment of Black Americans across all industries, it is obvious that the time for fashion to further its commitment to the genuine representation of Black bodies is now. With that in mind, we asked four young Black people to address the problem and offer guidance on how fashion brands, and the culture of fashion as a whole, can most genuinely move forward.

Nadaya Davis, an arts, culture, and fashion writer and student at the University of Chicago, thinks that issues with the representation of Black bodies in fashion start with the very pretext upon which the fashion industry is based. “There are key issues with how Black folks are represented in fashion. How does one push true representation on an industry that doesn’t represent reality at all? It’s a system that’s inherently flawed. The thing about the modeling and fashion industry is that everything needs to be exceptional. Beautiful. Ethereal. Untouchable! When brands use bodies that they deem exceptional as the face of their ads, it comes off as ‘Hey, look at us! We can be beautiful, too!’ It’s not ‘Hey, we’re people. This is what different people look like.’ I think that’s why marketing tactics in the fashion industry so often fail at their attempts of body positivity or come off as insincere; these models are still hand-picked by a staff of people who deem them ‘worthy enough,’ and there will always be people who won’t be. It’s especially true with Black bodies, because there are much more sinister factors involved. You have the white woman who, when her body is deemed ‘acceptable’ by the brand, is definitely in. Then you have the Black woman; you think about her skin (is she too dark? is she too light?), her hair (is it too kinky? is it too loose?), her features (are they too Euro-centric? are they Euro-centric enough?), her body (is she too thick? does she have a waist?).”

And complicating matters even beyond the fact that the fashion industry is one in which exceptionality is, well, not exceptional, it is clear that Black bodies are seen as “representable,” particularly when they fall under a few distinct categories. Model Kendra Austin says, “I find that the depiction of Black bodies in fashion media is largely rooted in exoticism and fetish—and is, frankly, lazy. There are a few ‘acceptable’ versions of Blackness, notably all thin, that are welcome—the visibly mixed, the dark-skinned African model, the freckled model. These are all gorgeous forms that Blackness can take, but are not reflective of what the average Black American looks like. Are we not interesting enough? Further, I find that the exoticism of these casting choices lends itself to lazy art direction. Black models with fetishized features get fewer options for wardrobe, hair, and makeup because ‘they’re perfect enough already,’ which is actually another way to say ‘we cast them so we wouldn’t have to do the work to present them in imaginative ways like everyone else,’ and this mentality shows. As a fat Black woman with small breasts and an average hip-to-waist ratio, I seldom see other models with my shape. Most curvy models exemplify ‘the Birth of Venus’ type—tan to brown, tall, huge chests and hips, and an itty-bitty waist. This is what Black women are to many. I rarely see size 14 dark-skin models unless we’re talking about the exception or the exotic. Editorial/high fashion loves to use a singular size 8 racially ambiguous Black person on their runway and call it an inclusive show. It’s incredibly disordered—size 8 folks at home shouldn’t be told they’re abnormal when they can find almost all clothing in their size and aren’t systematically oppressed, but what are the rest of us size 14 folks supposed to think of ourselves if THAT is inclusive?”

The reluctance to equitably cast a realistic range of Black models has real consequences for the countless Black people who do not fit into the strict confines of fashion’s ideas of Blackness. Ashe Turner, a dancer, model, and influencer, says, “As an alternative Black girl, I don’t see myself represented in the fashion industry. There’s almost no Black representation in alternative fashion. I am definitely privileged because I am skinny and have light skin, but having locs definitely makes some people see me as ‘too Black.’ I don’t fit neatly into any Black stereotype, so growing up I had to find my own path due to lack of representation.”

Then there are the nearly insurmountable obstacles that gender-nonconforming Black models face—obstacles which come in addition to, and not instead of, the barriers that cisgender Black models already grapple with. Kendra Austin continues, “I’m seeing a shift in the industry to include nonbinary and gender fluidity, which is a [millennium] overdue, but it seems that queerness is only allowed when it’s thin and white or racially ambiguous. I want to see more fat, Black, queer, and gender-defying folks in these campaigns. They exist, and erasure is no longer acceptable. Black Coke-bottle-shaped femmes, like your caretaker and favorite best friend on TV, are just a slice of the Blackness pie.”

Being a firm believer in the idea that one should only offer criticism if one can also offer solutions, I asked the young creatives I interviewed to suggest next steps for the fashion world. And because these solutions come directly from young Black creatives who have firsthand experience navigating the challenging landscape of being Black in fashion, you can be sure that they are not idealistic or unreasonable.

Cameron Reed, a burgeoning fashion and conceptual art photographer, offers a broad invitation for industry-wide change, saying, “As a photographer, influencer, and creative, the best advice I could give to them is to be more open to letting Black creatives in. There is a lot of gatekeeping in these industries that keeps them exclusive. That’s my best advice; be more open-minded to looking past skin color and stereotypes. At the end of the day, it’s up to them if they want to change. We just need to have people that look like us that are in high places already to help push for even greater change since they have influential voices.”

Austin says, “The most pressing issue is not the diversity, but the equity. Inclusion is not just casting a Black body, or a fat body, or a queer body, but providing equitable resources for that person to do their job well, factoring in the leaps and bounds they made to get into the room. We need stylists who can fit our bodies, we need hairstylists who can handle our textures, we need makeup artists who work with our complexions. There are too many talented creatives in this industry to be hiring folks who refuse to do their jobs. To be clear, it is refusal to learn and evolve, and we shouldn’t be supporting laziness. I walk on set and depend on these people to do my job as the lowest on the totem pole. I’m sick of having to correct ‘experts’ in their craft when fairer and thinner models don’t have to. Now I’m doing three to four jobs without their day rate.”

And to any company working in the fashion arena, Austin lays out six concrete steps that can be taken to create a less hostile and more genuinely inclusive space for Black models: “Prioritize Black talent in the immediate future; vet clients for racist and colorist casting processes; make sure that Black models are being paid appropriately; make sure that there are makeup artists, hair teams, and stylists who are capable of working with Black bodies, tones, and textures on set prior to sending a model to set; launch an internal task force to prioritize the hiring of Black people in leadership and booker roles; and partner with a greater number of small Black businesses and clients.”

It is true that the landscape of the fashion/modeling industries has changed dramatically in the past few decades, but of course, there will always be room for improvement in a line of work that is founded on fantasy instead of reality.

Photo: Getty

Originally published in The Coveteur, link: