Fine jewelry designed to be fiddled with is on the rise; we asked psychologists what it actually does.
Photo: Courtesy of J. Hannah
Growing up, you may have had a security blanket or a favorite stuffed animal or maybe even a good-luck charm that you couldn’t go anywhere without. (Or, if you were me, a pair of pink overalls I apparently had to wear every single day). That need to remain tethered to an item imbued with some significance doesn’t necessarily disappear in adulthood, though. Especially for those of us prone to anxiety — which is more and more of us — it may have just morphed into something else, like a smart phone, a purse, a fidget spinner (well, circa 2017) and/or a piece of jewelry.
Fashion psychologist (yes, really) and author of “Dress Your Best Life” Dawnn Karen calls this a “focal accessory.” She defines it as an object that “holds psychological value” and is worn repeatedly, and says that simply possessing that item might help mitigate anxiety.
“We can’t walk around with blankies,” she explains, “People need something that can be inconspicuous…you don’t have to say, ‘Hey I suffer from anxiety.'”
Of course, these are particularly anxious times. We’re facing a lot of uncertainty around some pretty urgent, widely impactful events. And some brands are responding accordingly.
On Thursday, Los Angeles-based jewelry brand J. Hannah launched the “Pivot Series,” a range of three “anxiety rings” with inner bands that can be spun while the rest of the ring remains in place; 10% of sales will go to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Designed within founder Jess Hannah’s signature timeless, pared-back aesthetic, the rings each offer a chic, discreet distraction from all the negative thoughts that can be hard to suppress these days.
Photo: Courtesy of J. Hannah
As a concept, this type of object is not exactly new, though they’ve perhaps never looked so good. In an e-mail to Fashionista, Hannah writes that she was inspired by modern fidget and spinning anxiety tools: “Fidget spinners are cool, but what if you could transform this grounding tool into adornment? We’ve arrived at the Pivot Ring feeling it strikes a balance — a comfortable and calming weight that is satisfying to the compulsive touch. We think of jewelry as talismans, so we hope that this will be a useful talisman to those who wear it.”
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In what is a sign of the times, Hannah is not the only designer that’s come out with a line of anti-anxiety jewelry within the past month. In mid-September, New York-based Marla Aaron debuted her “Fiddling Series” featuring a number of creatively engineered pendants and rings with movable parts, all designed under the thesis that people like to fiddle with their jewelry while anxious or nervous. In addition to rings with toilet-paper-roll-like settings, there are pulleys, hooks, carabiners, door locks and a pin-art piece that can be worn as pendants on chains or even be used to shorten and reconfigure chains to create different looks.
In general, Aaron says it’s important for her jewelry to function uniquely. “There is a level of practicality to having fine jewelry that can do lots of different things that appeals to me enormously as a person,” she explains. “I hope that our jewelry appeals to people who want their jewelry to do lots of things and also appeals to people because it’s beautiful.”
She also believes in its calming powers: “I am a highly anxious and very fidgety person. I’m a knitter, I’m a project person, I’ve never been able to lie at the beach and relax. Having jewelry that does things and moves, I find soothing.”
As someone who doesn’t wear much jewelry in general (and never really indulged in the fidget-spinner craze), I found myself wondering: Is this a real thing?
So far, most of the evidence that fidget tools actually help curb anxiety is only anecdotal. “We would not want to raise false hopes about the anxiety-reducing powers of these items in the absence of any supporting scientific evidence. That is to say that the claim that a fidget ring is more than just a beautiful piece of jewelry is suspect,” warns FIT Associate Professor of Psychology Daniel L. Benkendorf, Ph.D. “There is no scientific evidence that fidget devices (e.g., spinner toys) reduce anxiety or improve attention in normal populations of kids or adults.”
Photo: Courtesy of Marla Aaron
They could even end up worsening certain symptoms: “A few studies have shown the possibility of negative effects, such as worsening distraction by drawing attention to the object (as opposed to allowing for productive focus) as well as inviting problematic social comparison,” he adds.
As you might guess, creating jewelry that does more than just sit on your body isn’t easy. Hannah says “creating kinetic jewelry with moving parts complicates the design process.” Aaron spent three years working on her Myriad Lock, and estimates there were around 50 prototypes. Testing is exhaustive. That means that, especially when fine materials like solid gold, diamonds and other precious stones are used, these types of pieces don’t come cheap.
Marla Aaron’s Fiddling Series pieces range from $2,500 for a gold Trundle Ring to $14,800 for the larger, intricate Pins Charm. Hannah’s less-embellished pieces range from $395 for Pivot I in silver to $2,200 for Pivot II in gold. But their perceived added value could help justify those high price tags. Our own survey on pandemic shopping habits showed that consumers are still spending money on clothes and accessories, they’re just being more mindful about what they’re spending it on.
“If jewelry can serve more than just one purpose — if it can be both ornamental and useful, then it can appeal to a larger market,” notes Benkendorf. “Furthermore, if an item is aesthetically appealing and provides a satisfying kinetic experience for the wearer, that is probably sufficient to justify it.”
This is also another example of brands joining the mental-health conversation, which, while potentially helpful in normalizing that conversation, should always be taken with a grain of salt.
If you think a focal accessory or a piece of a jewelry made to fidget with could help you through these trying times, by all means: Go for it. It’s likely a healthier alternative to, say, biting your nails or doomscrolling on your phone. But know that a piece of jewelry alone isn’t a panacea — and that while there are theories, there’s not much solid scientific evidence that it will do anything. Also, beware of what Karen calls the side effects: “The thing to be cognizant of is once you develop a relationship with your clothing and your accessories — that accessory, if you were to lose it, it may even trigger even more anxiety.”
With all that in mind, we’ve rounded up some specific fidget jewelry at a range of price points, as well as pieces that happen to have moving or kinetic parts to play with or other purported soothing properties. Happy fiddling!
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