For all of junior Carly-Shae Condon’s life, her dad signed every lunchbox note and birthday card with a drawing of a little palm tree.
So, when he gifted her a Tiffany & Co. necklace with a personalized pendant of his palm tree drawing for Christmas, it was a lot more than a piece of jewelry to her.
“It wasn’t that it was just very personal, it was a very grown-up present to receive, or at least it felt like that to me,” Condon said. “I was 14, and I’m like, ‘Tiffany, I’ve never owned something that had a name or that felt expensive or important.’ It felt like one of the first steps of being a young woman.”
For many students, jewelry isn’t just an accessory — it is something that holds meaning and memories. It sparks conversations, builds relationships, shows one’s personality and serves as a form of identity.
Condon went to a private middle and high school with uniforms and a strict dress code.
“We all looked the same,” Condon said. “I mean, I wore the same skirt, same shirt, same shoes, same jacket as every single girl in my whole school. The only thing that we could do that looked different was jewelry.”
While jewelry can create a sense of identity and distinction in group settings, it can also have intimate importance for the individual.
Senior Briana Labe said she used to work at the jewelry store Gorjana in Malibu, and she and her manager shared everything about their lives with one another. One day, Labe said, her manager recommended she purchase a Gorjana ring made from mother of pearl with a symbol of a butterfly in it. She said this symbolizes protection and represents a transitional time in life.
“To me, it represents transforming into the next thing and that nothing’s forever and things are always changing and moving,” Labe said. “It’s kind of a nice little reminder for me if I ever feel stuck or I’m in the same spot for a while. I just look down at it and remind myself that it’s not forever.”
When Labe isn’t wearing her ring and other jewelry, she said it changes her day.
“Sometimes I will forget to put it back on, and I actively think about it throughout the day,” Labe said. “It feels like jewelry is just kind of a part of me at this point.”
Several students said they get so used to wearing jewelry that they feel strange when they don’t wear an item.
“The idea of leaving the house without my rings on, like, I would feel as if I’m leaving my house without a shirt on,” Condon said.
Junior Gabe Smedes said he feels a similar way with his necklaces, which are some of his favorite pieces to wear.
“If I’m not wearing my necklace, or one of my necklaces, or an earring, I’ll be like, ‘Wait, I forgot something,’ like my phone or my keys,” Smedes said.
Sophomore Austin Yerke started wearing watches because he always saw his dad wear them growing up.
“I wear my watch every day, so I feel like if I don’t have it on me, then I feel different that day,” Yerke said.
A lot of the time, jewelry has a story or memory behind it.
Senior Elizabeth Brummer studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from January to May 2022. In March, Brummer said she and her friends stumbled upon an outdoor market in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, and they decided to shop around with only the pesos they had left in their pockets.
Brummer said she found a sterling silver ring with a little aquamarine stone and fell in love with it. The ring was exactly what she wanted. The man selling it was very kind, and they had a memorable conversation.
They talked about his business and how he got into making jewelry. He shared his stories, and Brummer told him about how she was traveling. She said it was a cool way to connect with a local Argentinian.
After buying the ring, Brummer said she realized she didn’t have enough pesos to get food, but she said it was worth it because of how beautiful the ring was and for the great experience of finding a piece like it.
“Each piece is so representative of me,” Brummer said. “It just builds a framework of yourself that you’re expressing outwardly to other people.”
Condon has multiple jewelry pieces that come from her mom and grandmother, she said. Some of her grandmother’s rings don’t fit her, so she puts them on a necklace instead.
“Even if I can’t wear it properly, there’s just a level of comfort and pride honestly, like having it on my body in any kind of way,” Condon said.
The stories behind her jewelry spark conversations and build relationships with others, Brummer said.
“It’s just always been a storyteller,” Brummer said. “It’s always a conversation starter. I’ve moved around a lot and met a lot of new people at new high schools and college, and I feel like it’s always something to talk about.”
Condon said jewelry is something very special to a person, which is why it makes a great gift for others.
“No matter what the piece is, jewelry is an elegant gift,” Condon said. “I think that if you are giving or receiving jewelry, it’s such a delicate, niche thing. You really have to know someone to get something that they’re gonna wear on their body.”
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