Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden
Published by Ecco
Publication date: December 1, 2015
IndieBound, Amazon, Powells
It’s that time of year, when a girl’s thoughts turn to love, or for the more practical among us: jewelry. Are you a bling-y type of gal? Do you love anything having to do with jewelry and gems, but not interested in a dry dissertation? Then you need to read Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden. She’s a snarky, modern, smart-ass who takes a witty look back at history and how some of the gems we all know and love (diamonds, emeralds, pearls) came to be so adored and fought over. Which is not to say the book is fluff. Raden has serious cred, working as the head of jewelry at a famous auction house and later as head designer for Tacori. She goes into great detail, down to the composition of the gems she’s describing—just not in a way that makes you want to take a nap.
Raden opens with diamonds, because, of course, they’re the most precious stone there is, right? Wrong. Their scarcity is a myth created by the DeBeers Corporation, which has controlling interest in over 90% of the world’s diamond mines. Much like oil, they’re sitting on enough diamonds for every human on the planet to have a one-carat diamond. RIGHT NOW. It’s the concept of false scarcity, but the diamond’s shine doesn’t stop there. In 1947 a Madison Avenue advertising agency firm not only designed the “A Diamond is Forever” campaign for DeBeers, they created the myth that only a diamond ring signifies an engagement. And if you want to learn more about how that all came about you should read J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel, The Engagements.
As for the rarest and most valuable gems, the honor goes to emeralds. They are the scarcest of precious stones because they’re composed of two elements that only come together when continental plates crash into each other. Basically, when the oceanic plates exploded up through the continental shelf, creating mountain ranges. Which is why emeralds are most often found in areas of the globe with treacherously high mountains and why there are not likely to be anymore made anytime soon.
In addition to explaining how diamonds, emeralds, and pearls are created, Stoned looks at how they came to be valued, and even revered. Raden follows the role of jewels in defining royalty, going all the way back to Cleopatra, who used the sheer opulence and abundance of emeralds in Egypt to seduce Rome. For Marie Antoinette and much of Europe, diamonds were equated with wealth and power, but for Elizabeth I, it was pearls, as they symbolized purity, an attribute she played up in her status as the virgin queen.
Stoned contains a wealth of information about not just gems, but also objects of desire like the Faberge eggs for which the Romanovs were known and the genesis of the modern wristwatch. The book’s only flaw is the extraneous historical detail Raden goes into regarding various world rulers, namely Marie Antoinette and Queen Elizabeth I. While her take on history is hilarious these backstories go well beyond the explanation needed involving the gems she’s writing about. By the time she gets to the Romanovs it feels like filler. Extra commentary aside, this is fascinating reading for anyone who loves jewelry.