What is jewelry? We know what it is, of course. Jewelry is the pretty extras with which we adorn ourselves. But what is it really? There is no specific use to jewelry. Yet, humans in every culture on the planet wear jewelry of some kind. It is ubiquitous and pointless at the same time.


Here’s something Art Smith said about jewelry:

A piece of jewelry is in a sense an object that is not complete in itself. Jewelry is a ‘what is it?’ until you relate it to the body. The body is a component in design just as air and space are. Like line, form, and color, the body is a material to work with. It is one of the basic inspirations in creating form.

Art Smith was a Brooklyn man. He died in 1982 after… More…

So I’m walking up to Fifth Avenue from Madison on my way to see another one of those modernism shows at the Guggenheim when I find myself confronted by a gathering of women in designer jeans and LV handbags hanging out in the middle of the block. It’s not your usual museum crowd,  so I peer around and see that we’re in front of Cooper-Hewitt, the National Design Museum, which occupies the stately Carnegie mansion between Madison and Fifth on 91st Street. Looking more closely, I make out the placard in front of the building announcing what has brought out this particular demographic. The featured exhibition is titled: “Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels.” What can I say?—given a choice between exploring modernism once again and gawking at diamonds and rubies, there is no contest. I go inside.