Is Gold Jewelry Money?

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  • 1 Royal College of Art peter.oakley@rca.ac.uk
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Abstract

This article explores the extent to which gold jewelry, an object type conventionally looked on as a means of display, should also be seen as a type of money. Drawing on historical evidence and ethnographic research, the analysis considers the ways in which two examples—the Renaissance money chain and the modern jewelry collection—exhibit characteristics fundamental to money: liquidity, partibility, and recursive divisibility. As a result, this study proposes that gold jewelry can best be described as a type of para-money. The article concludes that due to its ambiguous state, gold jewelry is able to act as a mediator in social situations where exchanges of money proper are considered unacceptable, and that this is an important yet under-acknowledged aspect of its social identity.

Contributor Notes

Peter Oakley is a Senior Research Tutor in the School of Arts and Humanities at the Royal College of Art in London. His research interests include the social identities of prestige materials and luxury goods, the introduction and retention of manufacturing techniques and processes, ethical material sourcing initiatives and certification programs, and the social impact of material standards and related analytical techniques. He is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London, and an Associate Member of the Winchester Luxury Research Group.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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