Legendary musicians are known for their songs, stage performance, and personality. Musicians have influenced generations upon generations in history through pop culture. We, the fans are guilty of adopting their swag, sophistication, and taste in bling. From gold, turquoise, crystals and diamonds, fine jewelry has made several stage appearances in music. Take a trip down memory lane as we recall iconic performers with impeccable taste for jewelry on and off the stage.
The Era of the King
If we recall the 1960’s, there was a great deal of social unrest: The Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movements, and the assassinations of MLK and JFK. Yet through these unprecedented times, creativity was at its utmost high to publicly cope with the frustrations of politics and government. Cue a beloved American treasure, Elvis A. Presley who put Rock N Roll in people’s hearts to persevere through hard times. The King had a provocative style that he expressed through his fashion and performance, well remembered for his “TCB” attitude and always showing gratitude to his fans with his famous words, “thank you, thank you very much.”
Elvis Presley was a jewelry connoisseur with a preference for antique rings, sapphires, yellow gold and diamonds. The majority of his stage outfits consisted of rhinestone jumpsuits and capes, including his “Blue Armadillo” suit that recently sold for $250,000. The King’s TCB mantra made it’s way on several pieces of jewelry including a gold chain necklace and ring that contained 56 diamonds and a 11.5 carat solitaire.
According to Worthy, the majority of Elvis Presley jewelry was not from high grade metals, but still worth a significant amount of money. Some of these items include:
The Aztec: a 14K yellow gold ring with calcite cabochon stylized with a jaguar head and green tourmaline eyes. Estimated worth $15K.
Gold Rings: Elvis and his friends gifted each other custom rings out of generosity. He requested a custom ring made of 10K gold and 51 diamonds for a friend and also received one himself, the “10” ring, made from black sapphire, diamonds and gold. Both worth up to $15K. However his tour promoter Tom Hulett, according to Forbes, gifted Elvis a personalized dual-sided coin ring with 26 diamonds approximately weighing 1-ct. each for an estimated value of up to $25K.
Adding Soul to Rock n Roll
The 60’s and 70’s gave birth to many rock stars, and one was none other than the GOAT in electric guitar playing, Jimi Hendrix. An artist that was well known for his “hippie american fashion,” of loose buttoned silky shirts, fringe leather jackets, bell bottoms, headbands and turquoise jewelry. He is recognized first and foremost for his guitar playing skills, but unknown to the public for his Native American roots.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, it was his family’s heritage that contributed to Jimi Hendrix’s fashion and jewelry taste. It was little known to the public that Jimi had a grandmother of Native American Cherokee descent. His love for turquoise jewelry, fringe, and headbands was more than a fashion statement, but a tribute to his family history. Turquoise is an affordable gemstone with unique cuts and shades that draw jewelry shoppers to purchase. Oftentimes, turquoise is paired with silver or gold to increase the value of the item. It is a gemstone found across the globe, but it was the Native American tribes, Aztecs and Mayans who used the gem for ceremonies, tools, and beautiful jewelry.
Hendrix was a peace-maker, giving a voice to those who wish to spread love instead of war against people. His message of love was richer than jewels.
Bustin’ Rhymes in Bold Gold
As music genres shifted decade to decade, so did the taste of jewelry. The 1980’s was the beginning of gold records, gold chains, gold everything. Artists known for their interpretation of party music and collaboration with others through spoken word rhymes. These high energy lyrics that were popularized by 2pac, Notorious B.I.G, Run D.M.C, and many more that followed in the 90’s. This was the start of hip-hop.
Hip-hop artists shifted the marketing of music with large displays of wearable and opulent gold jewelry around their necks, wrists, and fingers. The bigger and brighter the star power, the more elaborate the jewelry became. There are many examples of the affinity for hellenistic gold jewelry including a 1988 cover of Big Daddy Kane’s album Long Live the Kane. Yet no other display of fame and fortune tops Notorious B.I.G’s purchase of a Jesus pendant and two other copies that were purchased for $30,000 each. The “Jesus piece,” is arguably the most recognized piece of jewelry in hip-hop history.
Following the 90’s and beyond, rappers continued to capture their success by showcasing luxury goods. Another display of hellenistic jewelry was Nas’ King Tut pendant in gold rope chain valued at $65K--a less than modest sum spent compared to future artists like Pharrell Williams, Rick Ross, Kanye West, Slim Thug, Lil Jon, and Jay-Z. The genre of hip-hop and rap is still highly prevalent to music listeners and like it’s lyrics, the continuous wear of icy jewelry is timeless.
Ladies Who Owned The Jewels
Many examples of male artists influencing fashion and jewelry trends, but what about the women in music? We all know the saying that, “a diamond is a girl’s best friend”, yet the biggest female icons were rarely seen with just one type of jewel. Many singers like Madonna for example, worked with jewelers to make elaborate outfits and pieces that served as inspiration or pay homage to women in history. At the 1991 Academy Awards, Madonna created a replica outfit inspired by Marilyn Monroe with $ 20 million worth of diamonds. On stage Madonna is known for her kick ass performances and shimmery outfits. In 2012 for her MDNA tour, Madonna sported 315,000 Swarovski crystals, but was nothing in comparison to her four world tours that estimated over 5.3 million crystals in total.
Many female artists continue the trend of dazzling stage wear in their performances, but nobody has quite owned it like the queen herself, Beyonce. Also inspired by the hellenistic era, Beyonce worked with designers to create jewelry that honored and celebrated her ancestors. In her visual album, Lemonade, she wore a Diamond and gold Ankh pendant by Lynn Bann inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics. Other examples include her copious amounts of wrist coils made from silver and gold that traditionally represent wealth.
Beyonce has best friends in jewelry, including Lorraine Schwartz who has gifted Queen Bey countless multimillion dollar pieces of custom jewelry. Including a stunning 400 carat plunge necklace she wore at the 2017 Grammys, worth $12 million. Her friendship with Schwartz has given birth to iconic and jaw-dropping Beyonce outfits seen in music videos and red carpet events.
Fine jewelry will continue to serve as a symbol of artistry, culture, and identity. Like music, jewelry is timeless and we continue to look at historical periods for inspiration. Jewelry is an extension of artistic expression for musicians and generations to come.