Essay: The Meaning Behind the Jewelry We Wear

Writer Elizabeth Maxwell speaks on the importance of her jewelry.

I wear more jewelry than most people I come across. I understand that not many people can relate to the fact that I hardly ever remove any of it. 

The reason for this isn’t simply because I like how the items look but because I hold a strong connection to each one. This pairing of jewelry to emotion began when I was young, prompted by my mother’s influence. 

As a child, leaving my mom everyday for school proved to be difficult. To calm my angst, my mom would send me to school with a piece of her own jewelry, so a piece of her was there with me. 

I remember elementary school, sitting in a quiet classroom and feeling an overwhelming flood of fear. I didn’t know what I was afraid of, but I knew the feeling would leave if only I were reunited with the one person who knew me best. In those moments, I would hold the necklace around my neck and imagine my mom was there until I felt the tears stop. 

Throughout my life, the jewelry changed, but the comfort I felt remained the same.  

I’ve been wearing several necklaces, rings and earrings for years now and feel bare whenever they’re removed. The items have stayed on me for so long that removing them feels like removing a part of myself. 

Just as many people can feel the annoying weight of jewelry, I can feel the absence when it’s gone. 

I currently wear three necklaces and five rings and have 13 piercings that are always filled. The items are exchanged for others from time to time, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve been without a double-digit quantity of jewelry. 

Borrowing my mom’s jewelry for the day became a tradition throughout my childhood, eventually leading to her sending me to college with a small pearl necklace. I wear it on the same chain as a small key and an engraved silver circle.

I have no clue what the key was used for, just that I found it surrounded by many others in a box of my late grandfather’s things. The small circle I wear reads my grandmother’s name along with the year “1965” and the words “H.H.S. HOMECOMING QUEEN.”

My longest-worn item is the ring I wear on a chain around my neck.  My living grandfather’s old ring, it’s remained there for six years now, despite prompting numerous “The Lord of the Rings” jokes.

My newest item of jewelry is a necklace my boyfriend gave me. Taking the shape of a small hot air balloon, it represents his trip to Mexico City I was supposed to experience with him and the adventure he wishes I could’ve been there for. 

My rings change more often than any other jewelry I wear, mostly for the fact they’re the only items I seem to buy for myself. Perhaps since they’re so commonly found in thrift stores, I often find myself unable to pass by an interesting ring without purchasing it. 

While I love the rings I buy for myself, they tend to hold less significance than the ones given to me by family members.

Two of these rings are the class rings my maternal grandmother and my late paternal grandfather received at graduation. Another ring I wear is decorated with the symbol of Brittany, France. Chosen by my sister, it represents the life she had in France, bringing me closer to it despite the fact I’ve never been to Europe. 

I hold these items close to me, both in my mind and in proximity. Just as my mom told me all those years ago, carrying someone’s item with me allows me to feel their comfort even when they’re nowhere near me.

Feature image by Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix

Elizabeth Maxwell

Elizabeth Maxwell