From Trading Beads To The Very first Wristwatch, A History Of Shiny Objects

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According to Aja Raden, a Hungarian countess commissioned the first wristwatch from watchmaker Patek Philippe around 1868. &quot[It] was a spectacularly expensive piece of jewelry,&quot the author says.

According to Aja Raden, a Hungarian countess commissioned the 1st wristwatch from watchmaker Patek Philippe around 1868. “[It] was a spectacularly costly piece of jewelry,” the author says. Courtesy of the Patek Philippe Museum by means of Harper Collins hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the Patek Philippe Museum through Harper Collins

Aja Raden’s new book, Stoned, is about jewelry, but on the 1st page she lays out a bold statement: “The history of the globe is the history of want.”

“There is no far more powerful statement than ‘I want,’ ” Raden tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. ” ‘I want that. I want them.’ … Even if it is an issue of survival, you still are driven by what you want and what you are compelled to take or have or sustain.”

As Raden tells it, jewelry is the quintessential object of need — and it really is the excellent lens via which to view human history. She makes her case via the stories of eight noteworthy jewels, starting with the glass beads a Dutchman utilised to purchase Manhattan from the Lenape Indians in 1626.


Interview Highlights

On the worth of the glass beads which, along with buttons and trinkets, were utilized to acquire Manhattan

The worth of these beads was famously calculated at $ 24. We mass generate them now in the billions and they are worth nothing. At the time, they had been hand-blown. They have been made by Venetians, either in Venice or in Holland, and they have been known as trade beads and they were used all over the globe sort of like Renaissance-era traveler’s checks, because glass was extremely valuable in areas exactly where it didn’t exist, like the Americas.

The query … is “What tends to make a stone a gem?” Simply because they’re all just rocks, genuinely some of them aren’t even rocks, like amber – it really is just fossilized resin, you can really melt it. What tends to make a stone a gem is that other men and women never have it, that it really is exotic, that it’s uncommon, that it excites you when you see it. And that was true of glass beads.

On the very first wristwatch

Stoned book cover

There was a Hungarian countess who needed one thing that would make a splash. And there were guidelines, there was a pecking order about how massive your diamonds can be, and so she couldn’t step outside her rank but she did have a excellent deal of income. And so she went to Patek Philippe, which every person knows is 1 of the greatest watch makers in the planet. So she asked them, “Can you make me a real, working clock little adequate to replace the diamond in my bracelet?” And back then technologies — just like now — miniaturization meant money. And this was a spectacularly high-priced piece of jewelry and it produced a sensation. And over a few years, men and women started to receive them and they had been referred to as “wristlets.”

On how Planet War I machine guns helped popularize wristwatches

All of a sudden it was not possible to synchronize firing an automatic weapon with two hands and simultaneously hold pocket watches. And so, for the duration of the [Second Anglo-Boer War], which came correct just before Globe War I … [the British] remembered wristlets and they snapped the fronts off [pocket watches] and then strapped them onto their wrists.

When they got home, the war commission started looking into what have been referred to as “trench watches” for males. And in Planet War I, they have been the lynch-pin piece of technology that permitted all the other technologies to function, from timed explosives to silent synchronized firing. It does not get its due in military history, but it must.

On how the value of jewelry changes more than time

There will usually be one thing that is the rarest rare, that is the most useful, that quickly telegraphs to everyone … you happen to be portion of the proper class, you are privileged. But whether or not it really is diamonds in the 20th century or emeralds in the course of the Spanish Empire or glass beads amongst the Iroquois, these things absolutely do alter. Simply because, what tends to make a stone a gem? Is it uncommon? It is hard to get? Did it come from far away? At some point, we might be trading rocks from Mars as even though they were huge sparkly jewels no matter what they look like. Just since: How in the world did you get that?

On whether writing the book produced her look at her jewelry differently

The truth only ever enhances the luster of one thing for me. I enjoy becoming capable to look at my pearls and know that that was a parasitic infection 15 years ago. I adore being aware of that, you know, this glass bracelet I am wearing was the crown [jewel] of the Iroquois in terms of rarity. I don’t discover it at all diminishing to what I personal. And I am very the jewelry hoarder, as you can picture.

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