I’m editing our episode on Crazy Rich Asians right now (out this Thursday!) and in it, there is a point where my guest Wei Ming Kam asks me who my favourite character is in the movie. Without hesitation, I answer “the Emerald.”
The emerald, the emerald, the emerald!! I love and worship the emerald. I love the silence the emerald demands when Rachel compliments it during passive-aggressive dumpling school. I love when Michelle Yeoh practically stabs Rachel with it on the staircase. I love the plane scene, where Nick chases Rachel with the emerald all the way through economy. I love the sound the emerald makes when the box is opened – that unmistakable squeak of velvet and hinge, the sound we know so well from Important Jewellery in Films – the squeak that says: Rachel, you have been begrudgingly accepted into the Young family. Please pass Go, please collect the emerald of approval, please collect two hundred million dollars.
(I also think that the short-haired woman in economy deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination, but that’s a story for different newsletter.)
Since the movie came out, the story of the emerald has passed into rom-com lore. You’ve heard the story haven’t you? Everyone has heard the story by now, surely. The story is that Michelle Yeoh rejected the prop ring that was proposed for the Emerald of Approval, saying that no one would believe the Young’s were really wealthy with a shitty ring like that, and instead suggested she use her own $45,000 ring.
The flex! The absolute, literal stones on Michelle Yeoh!
I have heard this story about a dozen times from different friends at different dinners, and each time I let the story play out like I’ve never heard it before. It’s too beautiful. Too comforting. Tell me again, Mama. Tell me about how the actress had a better ring than the $30 million dollar movie.
I am not hugely into jewellery myself. I have a couple of rings I like, the most expensive of which was just over £100, and a pair of gold studs I bought from TKMaxx at the start of the summer and have been serving me very well, thank you. However, the older I become, the more compelled I am by jewellery on screen. Jewellery as concept. I could not take the mental strain of owning a $45,000 ring; I just want Michelle Yeoh to have it. I had a similar experience while watching Ocean’s 8, a film I adored despite it having more holes than a pair of 20 denier tights. I liked it because it was about women having fun, and I liked it because it was about jewels.
Endless close-up shots of jewels. Endless discussions of how to get the jewels, where to get the jewels, places where we might get the jewels alone, people we may trick into wearing the jewels, how Mindy Kaling can dismantle the jewels into smaller jewels, how we can sell the jewels once we have the jewels. Jewels, jewels, jewels!!! After watching the film with two friends, we were so overtaken by jewel lust that we renamed our Whatsapp group “Jewels”, and now only address one another as “jewel”. Jewel has become adjective, verb and noun. As in: will we have a jewels evening? or you’d love this restaurant. It’s very jewels.
In sum, I am not hugely into jewellery myself, but I am hugely in to jewellery.
I can count on one hand, I think, the times where I have felt like representations of female desire on screen are even remotely analogous to what female desire actually looks and feels like. About three times a year we are treated to an ensemble comedy movie that is usually called something like Girl Drinks or Night Women or Slut Party, a film which features one seasoned comedy actress and three dramatic actresses who say “fuck” a lot. In the film, there will be a bit where the women get Lusty, which means they will meet a man who is described as being fifteen years younger than them but is played by an actor who is the same age as them, and all the women will go crazy and dry hump the man until he whimpers and the women are escorted from the premises.
Maybe you like these movies. I hate them. I hate them because, I’m sorry, but that’s not what female desire looks like. If female desire were as straightforward as male desire, we’d all be fucking in the street constantly, which would be great, but unfortunately not how life is. I’m not saying that women aren’t incredibly horny and capable of being sexual predators. Sure we are! But there’s a thorniness to a desire that has been raised in you shouldn’t want this or if you want this too bad, everyone will hate you, or, there is a very real statistical chance that the object of your desire will murder you.
You rarely see this version of female desire in films when it comes to women and men together. You do, however, see it between women and jewellery, or women and horses. Think of all the big jewellery movies. Rose in Titanic (I will never stop talking about Titanic) having the Heart of the Ocean fastened to her by one man in her dressing room, and then being sketched in it nude by a different man. Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, literally catching her breath when she sees the ruby necklace, daring to touch it, and then getting her fingers gently snapped by the box. Abu in Aladdin (who, ok, is a monkey, but is certainly queer, and Aladdin’s wife) looking at the giant ruby in the cave of wonders, everything in his tiny monkey bones screaming at him to touch the giant ruby, despite the knowledge that the world will crush around him if he does. Desire is knowing the thing you want will crush you. Desire is getting your fingers snapped off. Desire is knowing that accepting a priceless gift from a man is to be owned by him, but also finding that fact horny in itself. It’s knowing that you are being exploited and finding a perverse thrill in that exploitation, despite knowing that it is politically problematic to feel that way. And honestly, what’s more politically problematic than a giant, giant diamond?
I ask my friends about this. I ask: is jewellery horny?
The answer is not only yes, but there are specifications within this yes. Emeralds and rubies are decided to be horniest of all. One pearl by itself isn’t horny, but a whole load of pearls together are. To the surprise of no one, my best friend Ella is the aficionado on this. “Theres a certain please-break-me chastity to pearls that is itself very horny,” she says. “A very dark blue sapphire can be sexy but not horny.”
And don’t even get us started on metals.