The Horror Of Jewels
( Originally Published 1916 )
YOU have read de Maupassant's story "The Diamond Necklace"? It tells of a poor and beautiful young wife who borrowed of a rich friend whom she had known in her school days a string of diamonds to wear to a ball. She lost the trinket. Her husband borrowed a great sum of money, had the necklace duplicated by a jeweller, and gave it to the rich woman, to avoid the charge of theft. The poor couple worked years to pay off the debt. The wretched woman, reduced to drudgery, lost all her beauty; became wrinkled, bent, old before her time. One day she met by chance her wealthy friend. They spoke of the necklace. The poor woman told the truth about her experience. The rich woman said it was too bad—for the necklace was but paste.
The tale is an artistic expression of what might be called The Horror of Jewels.
Almost every precious stone of great value, al-most every $20,000 rope of pearls, or. $1,000 solitaire diamond, or extraordinary ruby, has a history that runs to the accompaniment of vanity, envy, lust, theft, hate, and murder. Not one has produced any speck of real love or pure peace of mind.
The Devil probably wears a million-dollar diamond ring. And his wife jewels running into the billions. They ought to.
The desire to own, wear, or collect gems of fabulous value is akin to the lowest cravings of which human beings are capable. It is an advertisement of offensive pride. It is provocative of unhappiness.
Precious gems are the seeds of those passions that destroy content.
To display them marks a certain lack of good breeding, of that gentleness that makes a gentleman.
They are the crystallized sap of the vicious inequity of privilege.
If one has money the worst form in which he can invest it is in the parade of gems.
The queer part of it is that you never can tell. Once we could distinguish real pearls from imitation by the person who wore them : if it was a lady with an income of fifty thousand a year they were genuine; if she was a working woman they were false. Nowadays the wealthy classes lock their real jewels in safety deposit vaults and wear imitation. They can arouse all the detestable emotions desired by wearing the false jewels, and run no risk of losing the real. The paste jewel holds the same "legal tender" relation socially to the true jewel that the ten-dollar bill holds commercially to the gold eagle.
Expensive jewels are of value to the rich as a quick means of squandering their money and creating misery. "To us," says Gustave Tery, "there is no difference between a necklace costing a million francs and one costing three francs; but to the rich the difference is very real, since it comes, if I calculate correctly, to nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven francs. Which is not to be sneezed at."