The air is thick with the scent of sage smudge sticks at Bee Goddess’s Walton Street store in London. Here, Turkish jeweller Ece Sirin acts like a spiritual life coach, conducting readings in order to pick the ancient mythological symbol that will best enrich your life.
Following my "reading", I was prescribed the Sword of Light diamond earrings for protection, wisdom and creativity. Sirin’s explanation was straight to the point: "These will help you cut through all the s––."
I’m encouraged to know that the brand Fenty was a mere glint in Rihanna’s eye when she first wore the diamond Bee Goddess Tanit symbol of power and productivity. Would it work the same magic for me?
Sirin is no kooky outlier. As a former marketing manager for Microsoft she answered to top management before she quit the corporate world to pursue a new spiritual path through jewellery. Her pieces, which combine style and spirituality, speak to a need in many clients, especially in these strangest of times. Recently, Rosa de la Cruz launched multicoloured strands of beads including pearls, turquoise, coral, malachite and amethyst, chosen as much for their protective promise as their beauty.
Similarly, designer Diane Kordas’s hippy beads, anklets and woven bracelets might look like playful trinkets to brighten up a holiday kaftan, but all come attached to a protective shield shape or an evil-eye motif – and have been an instant sell-out on Net-a-Porter. When Kordas made more, her website crashed. "It’s like I reinvented the wheel or something," she exclaims.
"Women want something talismanic they don’t take off and can wear with anything," she says, noting how much we humans desire our jewellery to come invested with something more than financial and aesthetic value – something that "when you look in the mirror makes you feel happy and safe".
'Women want something talismanic they don’t take off and can wear with anything'
For many, jewellery has moved into the realm of spiritual self-improvement as we seek pieces that awaken, enlighten and connect us with the world.
It was ever thus: humankind has long-regarded gemstones as representative of all kinds of magical, mystical and healing properties. Before diamonds became a glittering symbol of beauty and status they were used as amulets with a powerful curative capacity, guarding against a range of evil influences and supernatural forces. Even Queen Elizabeth I tucked a diamond into her bosom to guard against the plague.
In modern times, and in the secular West, we are rediscovering a very human imperative to feel spiritually connected to what we wear. Just as jewellery was once used to protect man from the many frightening and incomprehensible ills that could befall him, today, once again, pure beauty is not always enough.
Globe-trotting designers such as Noor Fares and Eugenie Niarchos visit Arizona’s gemstone fair to bring back agate and crystals to lend their collections a modern mystical vibe. In LA, Jacquie Aiche is the purveyor of crystal pendants on eminently stackable chains twinkling with diamonds and worn by Hollywood’s finest, from the Hadids to RiRi. At Aiche HQ there are regular sound baths and yoga classes for staff and favoured clients.
Is this the spirit of commercialism? Or do jewellers have designs on our mind, body and spirit for real? The Lebanon-born, Brazilian designer Ara Vartanian described to me how he worked "intuitively" with the stones he uses in his designs: "They speak to me. They move me. You know when the stone wants water or to be put outside." His personal talismanic preference is for black diamonds, inversely mounted with their tip pointing outward. "I feel it is safe to go outside when I am around them. The black diamonds pointing out protect me from bad energy."
'I feel it is safe to go outside when I am around them. The black diamonds pointing out protect me from bad energy'
This might sound fairly woo-woo, but he’s adamant that stones can help sort out your life. "Acknowledging the stones puts you off what you are thinking and puts your focus back on the comfort, grounding and positive ideas you have in them," he explains. "They help you to look inside and make yourself better."
Animals and birds have, from the earliest times, been assigned protective duties: sometimes the whole animal, such as the scarab, fish or serpent; at other times only part of the creature – a wishbone, horn, tooth or shell. In the ancient Native American cultures of the Sioux and Navajo, there were tribal interpretations of which animal would become your spirit guide. And today, as much as we invest our hope for the future in reason and science, superstition still plays its part. Susan Sarandon, Naomi Watts and Irina Shayk, to name a few, have found the animal with special meaning for them at LA-brand Star Animal Sundays – and so, too, can you if you take their very 21st-century online quiz to discover yours. The 19-animal collection ranges from will-o’-the-wisp butterflies to blue whales engraved on repurposed-gold pendants with ethically sourced diamonds and a formation of coloured gemstones representing characteristics of the animal on the reverse. Each piece is, of course, blessed by a South American shaman.
The only aspect of neo-spiritual bijoux that I can’t sign up to is this idea of wearing the same piece daily. Traditional thinking in many cultures links stones to days, hours, months, years, zodiacal signs, planets, numbers, gods, ailments, emotions ... You name it, there's a stone to celebrate it, manifest it or cure it.
There are ancient writings, dating back to the 1st century, that associate stones with a virtue for those born in a particular month. The idea found a new fashion at the start of the last century, with the 1913 publication of "The Curious Lore of Precious Stones" by George Frederick Kunz, then America’s pre-eminent mineralogist and gem collector. Kunz discusses in impressive detail the many-thousand-year history of humankind’s mystical attachment to gemstones, as well as the 12 "guardian angel" stones. As Kunz points out, the idea of a "natal" stone gives us the bolstering idea we’re wearing something more intimately associated with our personality than any other. "If it be objected that this is nothing but imagination due to sentiment," he writes, "we must bear in mind that imagination is one of the most potent factors in our life; indeed, the great Napoleon is quoted as saying that it ruled the world." For the record, Napoleon rode into battle flashing the "lucky" Regent diamond and "power" carnelian seal ring on his finger. A couple of centuries earlier, during the 16th century, Catherine de' Medici was hedging her bets by wearing a girdle set with all 12 stones engraved with zodiacal signs.
If you’ve ever felt a bit short-changed because your birthstone never really spoke to you, then maybe go to the countless different Hindu traditions around stones, or the Moorish Spanish one. Take your pick! I recently acquired a peridot, my August birthstone, and sent the beautiful clear olivine green stone to designer Liv Luttrell to set into a large pinkie ring. If that doesn’t bring the brilliant opportunities promised I might try working with ruby next – my Hindu birthstone.
We live in a largely secular culture, where this modern spiritual jewellery can look like frivolity, cherry picking, playing. In truth, though, we all invest and charge, if not all, then some of our jewellery with far deeper meaning than any other object.
The engagement ring that symbolises love, the inherited pendant that connects you to the ancestors, the self-gifted reward to show self-love ... these are far more than just decorative objects. Of course, we know that a stone called serpentine won’t cure snake bite, just as we know a polished crystal sphere won’t help us see into the future. Or do we? Perhaps, like de' Medici, and despite our most rational 21st-century instincts, we are also hedging our bets.
Joanna Hardy, jewellery expert and Omnēque curator, applauds this soulful and superstitious connection to our gems and jewellery. "There are people who still think being draped in jewellery is the thing, but the truth is that bling killed jewellery. Throughout human history, all these stones have always had talismanic properties and it is integral to them. Jewellery was always all about that."
'Throughout human history, all these stones have always had talismanic properties and it is integral to them'
It’s rarely recognised that the Chanel brand was founded on superstition and numerology. Gabrielle Chanel used her trusted lucky talismans such as diamond constellations, stars, the Leo zodiac sign and the number five as motifs in her designs.
For all that science has progressed through the ages, humans remain superstitious, and research indicates that we are the better for it. Many academic studies indicate that superstitious people are often more optimistic and better able to weather situations over which they are powerless. It is equally widely accepted that in times of economic and social uncertainty superstition increases. As a culture we may be increasingly secular but that doesn’t mean we want to believe in nothing.
If we believe in the feel-good power of gemstones, then equally we must acknowledge the power of negative energy that can be held in a stone. In Asia, it’s standard practice to cleanse – spiritually – second-hand jewellery because the cultural belief runs deep that pieces can hold the energy of the previous owner. I know a respected academic who has reiki healing performed on antique jewels to banish any clinging bad vibes. Designer Pippa Small wore a diamond ring for years until an Indian astrologer told her it had a terrible association in a former existence. Not wearing it wasn’t enough, it had to be banished. "What else could I do?" she shrugs. "I buried it."
So back to those Bee Goddess diamond swords. Following the reading, we did a ceremonial burning of a list of my "areas of transformation". Bad habits, anxieties and grudges went up in smoke. Have the Swords of Light helped me cut through the bull? That’s hard to quantify, but I like to fancy their icy points are battling for what serves me well, and just knowing I have magical tools swinging from my ears makes me feel empowered and improves my mood. That’s my kind of therapy. As Hardy says, "We all know, if you believe in something enough, it happens."
'We all know, if you believe in something enough, it happens'
Clearly, we have not lost an attachment to some of the many beliefs about the power that exists in jewels and gems. From time to time, life can make us all feel in need of a small piece of supernatural aid. Old traditions die hard. I ask you, should we be considered mad for allowing a little magic into our lives?
The wearing of gems and jewellery for no purpose other than a display of status is a strangely loveless, pointless activity. For me, that is the greater and far sadder madness.
The New Stone Age: Ideas and Inspiration for Living with Crystals by Carol Woolton is published by Ten Speed Press. It is out now in the US $32.99 and in the UK £26.00.