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…