Bracelets have long been adorn to draw the eye to the beauty of the wrist and hands. Women (and even men) throughout the ages have worn bracelets as decorative accessories from Cleopatra to Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe to First Lady Michelle Obama. The look of a bracelet is effortless and can easily dress up any outfit.
The word bracelet derives from the Greek word “brachile” meaning “of the arm.” Bracelets have been – and are currently – manufactured from a plethora of materials, such as metal, leather, cloth, plastic, and more. They typically are adorned with jewels, rocks, wood, shells, crystals, metal, or pearls, among others. Obviously, each bracelet can vary dramatically in style, quality, price, and function.
The history of the bracelet is a largely debated topic and the exact early history of it is still speculated today. We do have archaeological evidence of the Ancient Egyptians wearing bracelets from as early as 5,000 B.C. However, an obsidian bracelet found in Turkey in 1995 significantly beats these estimates, dating back to about 7,500 B.C. Researchers were amazed at the craftsmanship evident in this 9,500-year-old bracelet, which makes it likely that it wasn’t the first of its kind made.
In 2008, Russian archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of Novosibirsk made an important find that shifted the first verifiable date of bracelets even farther back. Researchers were excavating the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia and found a collection of jewelry, which included a bracelet. Carbon dating showed the bracelet was made around 40,000 years ago.
Bracelets have been worn by many different ethnic groups for a variety of cultural reasons. The Egyptians crafted bracelets from materials like bones, stones, and wood to serve religious and spiritual interests. According to the National Geographic Society, the scarab bracelet is one of the most recognized symbols of ancient Egypt. The scarab represents rebirth and regeneration. Carved scarabs were worn as jewelry and wrapped into the linen bandages of mummies.
Meanwhile, in Bulgaria, there was a tradition called Martenitsa that involved tying a red and white string around the wrist to please Baba Marta, a mythical figure who brings with her the end of the cold winter and the beginning of the spring. In Greece, there was a similar tradition of weaving a bracelet from red and white string on the first day of March and wearing it until the end of summer. It’s called Martis and it’s supposed to help protect the wearer’s skin from the strong Greek sun.
Azabache bracelets, a gold bracelet with a black or red coral charm in the form of a fist, were worn in Latin American countries to protect against the Mal de ojo, or the evil eye. The evil eye is believed to result in excessive admiration or envious looks by others. Mothers many times put them on their newborn babies to protect them.
In the Chinese culture, intricate cuffs and bangles carved from jade have been popular for at least four thousand years. Many Chinese parents gave their children jade bracelets because they thought the jade would protect them. Jade is believed to have healing properties for the stomach and kidneys. The Chinese also believed that jade helped them to communicate with spirits that roam the earth as well as give them the power to protect the living and the deceased.
The ancient Chinese also valued gold bracelets and etched elaborate patterns of nature, animals, and mythical creatures into the gold. Gold bangles were the common bracelet style, which was also prevalent in Indian culture. In some parts of India, the number and type of bangles worn by a woman denoted her marital status.
In the U.S., during the 20th century, bracelets became more affordable as mass production increased the availability of fashion jewelry. By the 20s, the ornate designs of the late 19th Century gave way to the clean lines of the Art Deco period. Designers added Bakelite and plastics to jewelry in the 30s. Women wore charm bracelets made of gold-plated brass or sterling silver in the 50s, but by the 70s and until the turn of the century, women wanted variety in their jewelry. They wore wide cuffs, slender bangles, beaded strands, and thin chains. Men also wore bracelets, usually choosing gold or sterling silver link chains.
Today, silver has become the most common material for link bracelets, cuffs, and bangles. Gemstones and diamonds are still used as adornment on bracelets. Simple bracelets to support social causes are also popular with the younger generation, such as the Livestrong bracelet to raise money for cancer research and awareness about cancer.