It’s one of those Zambian names, along with Gift, that always makes me feel good about my fellow humans. Naming a baby girl Precious is just such a joyful thing to do.
Lately I’ve been wondering about the things we rich-nation folks call precious. It was the mention of emeralds in my last post about Rio that set me off.
I need to confess something right at the start: I have a massive collection of jewellery.
The only gold I have, though, is a cheap, white-gold ring, bought from Ratners* the week before our wedding when we realised we’d forgotten about such trivia.
*(if you haven’t heard of Ratners, Google it with ‘prawn sandwich’ )
I’ve had gold jewellery, but never very much of it. A gold and amethyst ring given me by my godmother vanished along the way. A gold cross, also her gift, was stolen.
A gold and garnet signet ring which had belonged to my grandfather I foolishly lent to a long-term boyfriend to wear. He took it off to shower – it was gone when he dried off.
A second-hand gold and ruby ring came from another former boyfriend, along with some seed pearls threaded on a gold chain. Both, like he, are long gone. He wasn’t very observant. Gold has never been my thing.
Silver, though, I adore. And turquoise.
I have a lot of silver. And turquoise. I have a necklace that’s 17 humming birds made of turquoise.
But I also have a lot of things that have little or no monetary value.
Bracelets made of grass.
Necklaces made of seeds.
Brooches made of safety pins.
Rings made of cow-horn.
Earrings made of snakeskin.
Yes, snakeskin. Dyed red. It was a phase. I’m over it.
I also have things made from bits and pieces that some would regard as precious and others would not.
Trade beads, for example, some westerners regard as precious. Nowadays similar beads are made in Ghana, I’ve seen them – and very pretty they are too. Though possibly not as robust.
Copper comes and goes as a ‘precious’ commodity and I have plenty of that, from various African sources.
I have bangles made of Malachite, that gorgeous, deep-green ore that copper can be derived from, which is regarded as semi-precious.
I hope no-one’s ever named their child Semi-Precious. I’ve encountered some odd names – Transistor Radio, for example – but that would never do. Imagine growing up semi-wanted? But I suppose it might spur the young woman on, to prove she’s way better than semi.
Anyway. Back to the great discrepancy between what some regard as precious and what others regard as waste.
I’ve written before about a session my in-house-Prof holds with students in which he asks them to clear their minds of preconceptions. To imagine they’re humans who have never come across the objects before them and rank them in order of value. Silvery bottle tops, transparent plastic bags, safety pins and so on. It’s a revealing exercise.
What has value and why?
Last year I was given a dozen bracelets made of ‘waste’ glass, threaded on elastic.
Handmade, from materials the maker must surely regard as precious, since people like the beads enough to swap them for paper money (now there’s an interesting concept in value).
The beads are rolled by hand on stone slabs until they’re sufficiently spherical.
Some are made from beer bottles.
Some are made from Coca Cola bottles.
Some are made from trade beads.
(Which we, being westerners and valuing old beads more highly for whatever reason, hope are new.)
Some are painted, some are left plain.
Here’s a rather lovely video showing how the beads are made.
I have a particular fondness for those made out of Coke bottles. Frosted pale green glass, like a terrestrial version of sea glass.
And I rather like the fact that all the marketing hype, all the slogans, colours, logos and other expensive promotional techniques in which the great Coke brainwashers invest is wasted. The beads say nothing about their origins.
They’re just beautiful. In my opinion, that is. I certainly value them more than a sugary, caffeine-laced drink.
I’d planned to include many pictures, of my favourite precious things. But without their stories they aren’t complete – and to explain would test your patience. And be superfluous.
Because what I’m trying, in this roundabout way to say, is that no one can know what precious means to another.
Yes, scarcity makes gold precious – or do I just mean valuable? But unless it makes you feel that special feeling that precious does – as turquoise does to me, a kind of awe – then it’s not, whatever its value, precious to you.
Enough. You’ve understood by now.
One final point.
I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to those of you who responded to my last post.
Those words aren’t even drops in the ocean that is the daily outpouring into online world, but it’s not their scarcity that makes them precious.
It’s you and the fact you wrote them for me – thank you.
Postscript: while putting this together I tried several times to photograph the Coke bottle bracelets. It’s impossible (well, for me) – they always look terribly out of focus. Perhaps that’s why I like them so much – they’re elusive!
I’m also giving more thought to ‘precious’ as I wait for the return of my Desktop, not yet 2 years old, yet ready to expire. The thought has a certain allure. Freedom from all that has digitally gone before…
I loved the video of rolling and smoothing the beads. They are beautiful. And I wonder how they start smoothing the sharp pieces of glass and how much precious time the whole process takes? I imagine it’s satisfying to see these ordinary bits go from trash to treasure. Thanks Mary.
It’s beautiful isn’t it? I don’t actually know how he smooths off the original bits. Some of the beads are painted when they are ‘finished’. It’s a real labour of love, each bracelet I have (a dozen!) feels personal. M
I used to collect trade beads back in college from small shops here and there. Each one is a unique jewel. Whle I inherited some Victorian gold/ garnet jewelery, Old elegant cameos from Itally, Russian amber from grandmother’s travels – all of that stuff is boxed and stored in safes out of hurricane danger. I started wearing and buying Navajo/Pueblo silver and jewlery in elementary school – and that’s what I like and wear ( although some of those pieces are also stored in safe – I used to work with a reservation trader/dealer). It’s the stones that feel right – and I never buy anything that doesn’t connect to spirit. If a piece is yours, you know it – no matter what it’s made of.
I do sincerely hope the trade beads he uses are new ones but… There are a lot of new ‘trade-style’ beads around in Ghana and Zambia but in the rural parts of Zambia I know (because I have them) that some people cut the old ones up into smaller pieces to make new items of jewellery. I can’t blame them for that, there are precious few ways of earning cash beyond subsistence farming. I too have a fair amount of Navajo turquoise, signed. One particular piece I have, a ring, made me feel very peculiar when I saw it in the display cabinet, almost breathless. My husband bought it for me. It is huge and not for everyday wearing, one of those made of many tiny pieces in a finger-width oval about two inches long. The 17 humming birds are a work of art, frankly – I adore them and have worn them twice at very special events. I’m glad to hear someone else feels the same about the stone. It is also my birthstone if you go along with that kind of thing – whatever, it is something special for me.
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Alexander McCall Smith’s mc Mma Ramotswe had ‘Precious’ as her first name and she was from Botswana. What a lot of jewellery you have, but do you get around to wearing it? I have loads too, most of it bequeathed from my mother, but I only wear a few items.
Regarding names, in the 1970s, wasn’t some poor girl named after all eleven members of the Liverpool FC team? I believe her mother hastily added ‘Julie’ as her first name.
I’m afraid I’m not a fan of McCall Smith’s Mama Ramotswe books… I find them patronising and – well, patronising sums it up! As for wearing my jewellery – yes of course – it’s amazing how many different ways you can wear grass bracelets and glass bead bracelets and clay necklaces and so on. And turquoise goes with so many things – and makes me feel good. I find as fashions come and go different things work with different clothes too. Even though I work from home I tend to wear jewellery of some sort as I dress each morning as if I am going to (casaual-ish) work. Names can be such a burden – I felt very sad when I met a man called Custard as I was pretty sure he had no idea what his name meant (and no it wasn’t Custer).
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