The Origins Of Luxury: Uncovering The History Behind Some Of The World’S Most Coveted Items
By delving into the history of human luxury, we can attempt to understand what drives our cravings and the waxing and waning of values.
We’ll follow the ups and downs of countless goods from flower bulbs and land to pearls and diamonds, in order to uncover why certain objects draw so much fascination from humans.
From the diamond that changed world history to learning what pearls can tell us about value, to even understanding why today’s most expensive real estate was once dirt cheap, we will have a better comprehension of what makes us desire these treasures so greatly.
Furthermore, we can gain insight into how certain goods increase or lose their worth over time as well as see why some things are no longer considered valuable while others have gained immense worth.
Desire Is The Motivator That Drives History
People’s pursuit of desire has helped to shape world history in profound ways.
This is apparent when viewing the story of La Peregrina, a perfectly pear-shaped white pearl so big it fits snugly in an adult’s hand.
It has had a long journey, being passed around between many famous figures throughout history.
Perhaps the most direct example comes from the 16th century, when Queen Mary I of England was gifted with this treasure by Philip II of Spain as a betrothal gift.
Both her sister Elizabeth and Philip desired it fervently and fiercely competed for its possession — their pursuit of desire eventually leading to Philip raising the Spanish Armada to overthrow Elizabeth.
But even with the ambition propelling him half way across Europe, ultimately Elizabeth would come out on top and earn the title “patroness of heretics and pirates” from Pope Pius V.
The pursuit of desire that led to their competition was responsible for ending Spain’s naval dominance and setting up England for rise as a global commercial empire.
Indeed, Plato may have been right about human behavior flowing from desire being an important motivating factor but La Peregrina’s legacy serves far beyond mere motivation.
Its presence in this story reveals how much power people possess when they open themselves up to following their desires; it can have consequences that are far-reaching!
The Tulip Mania Of The 1630S Shows Us The Power Of Supply And Demand On Human Desires
The story of tulip mania in the Netherlands during the 1630s is a good reminder of how our pursuit of something desirable can always lead to consequences, both physical and economic.
In this case, the Dutch people went crazy for tulips that were recently introduced from Turkey.
People would pay ridiculous amounts for them, such as more than twelve acres of prime real estate!
Eventually, by 1636 demand was so high that when no one wanted to buy anymore at an auction, it caused a panic and an economic collapse in Holland.
This serves as a powerful lesson regarding our perception of value and its effects on us.
Research has found that if something is scarce or rare, it tends to become increasingly more desirable to us.
We are drawn to it because everyone else desires it too.
As the supply gets smaller, our need for it grows stronger as we can become agitated and have difficulty focusing on anything else besides getting what we want.
The moral of the story here is that while it may be tempting to chase after things we desire – especially when they yield short-term satisfaction – there are often longer-term repercussions involved.
Our perception – based on scarcity or abundance – can determine whether or not something really holds true value beyond just satisfying our desire.
How Kokichi Mikimoto Used Perception And Value To Revolutionise The Pearl Industry
The pearl market has a long and varied history of demonstrating how scarcity can affect our perception of value.
This becomes especially apparent when looking at the development of cultured pearls in Japan.
In 1893, Kokichi Mikimoto invented a technique that made culturing pearls possible, which had been widely regarded as biologically impossible.
Suddenly, millions of perfect pearls were flooding onto the market – an increase that was matched with an immediate decrease in their actual worth.
Western companies then started to try to discredit Mikimoto’s pearls by claiming they weren’t ‘real’, compared to traditional natural ones whose availability ranged between a dozen and a few hundred per year.
But what made Mikimoto successful was his marketing tactics, as he reminded everyone that his product was far superior to anything else on the market.
To show confidence in his own work, he even burned any imperfect specimens!
His strategy worked – today, cultured pearls are widely available and sought after, whereas natural ones remain more desired for collectors only.
Without doubt, understanding how scarcity impacted the pearl market clearly shows us how it can change our perception of value.
How De Beers’ Innovative Marketing Tactic Led To The Iconic Slogan “A Diamond Is Forever”
It’s mind-boggling to think just how drastically marketing can change the perception of something.
Take diamonds for example: it’s easy to assume that the idea of diamonds being “necessary” for an engagement has been part of marriage since forever, but it has only been around for about 80 years.
That’s right around the same time that microwaves were being invented.
The change in perception – and spike in diamond sales – was all due to De Beers’ clever marketing techniques.
Back in 1882, there were too many diamonds on the market and so they had to come up with a creative way to make them seem desirable again.
Which is exactly what happened when their chairman Nicky Oppenheimer collaborated with advertising agency N.
Ayer to create iconic campaigns touting the slogan, “A diamond is forever,” and the idea that “What’s two months salary for something that’ll last forever?” The intention was targeted at young ladies dreaming of getting engaged with true love – and it worked wonders!
We can thank De Beers’ marketing strategy for creating such high perceived value in diamonds today, as well as associating them with fame and glamor by emphasizes celebrities wearing them out in public appearances.
It goes to show how powerful marketing can be – because even though diamonds are not actually worth more than we think they are due solely to expert marketing tactics, their perceived value still remains strong in our minds today.
The Incredible Inflation Of Manhattan’S Value: How A $24 Deal Turned Into An Unimaginable Fortune
When it comes to the value of something, it’s a well-known fact that our perspective changes over time.
Just take the example of Manhattan.
This 23square mile island was first sold for only $24-worth of glass beads, buttons and trinkets in 1626.
And yet today, even a one-bedroom apartment on the same island can cost a small fortune!
This just goes to show how our perception and desire for something can change drastically over time.
When the Lenape Indians made the sale they didn’t think much of it; they called the island Manahachtanienk which translates into “place where we all got drunk” and only stopped by to fish and pick oysters there.
Glass beads were an exotic rarity back then in North America so trading them with these Dutch people seemed like a fair deal.
And yet what was once seen as this insignificant place has now become a highly desirable area as people are forced to build up due to such low terrain space available on the island.
It has ultimately resulted in this unique skyline which further adds to its value since real estate remains supremely rare in this place.
It really is amazing how much our view of something can – and will – change depending on its availability or rarity, even from century to century like in Manhattan’s case!
In Stoned, the author delves into the history of beauty as a driving force behind industry.
Queen Elizabeth, Manhattan and a range of other figures and events are part of this story.
Ultimately, the book offers one memorable insight: the value of beautiful objects can vary based on any number of factors, like marketing and supply and demand.
Reading Stoned is an opportunity to discover how to put beauty in its rightful place – without getting caught up in deceptive marketing or out-of-control prices.
The actionable piece of advice that you can take away from this book is to consider both value and cost when it comes to purchasing something that excites you.
Ask yourself: Is that $10,000 diamond really worth it if there’s a $100 vintage option? It’s not always an easy answer, but becoming more aware will help you make smart decisions.