The History and Cultural Significance of the Wrist Bracelet
Written by Michele Wheat
Many people may not realize the rich history and interesting symbolism of the bracelet. The Greek word brachile meant "of the arm" and has been modified over time to represent the word we know as bracelet, as well as the Latin word brachium, meaning simply "arm". There are many types of bracelets, including charm, bangles, beaded, link, slap, and penannular. There are also sports and tennis bracelets. Charm bracelets consist of a gold or silver chain with various charms attached. Bangles are a single ring of metal or plastic worn on the wrist, often with several worn together. Beaded bracelets are often representative of something, with each bead holding its own meaning, while slap bracelets are a fun accessory for the wrist among children and teens. Penannular bracelets do not go all the way around the wrist and are a common modern accessory.
Bracelets became popular as far back as 5000 BCE, in Egypt. There have been bracelets found in Russia that are thought to be over 40,000 years old. Bangles are an important part of some marriage ceremonies throughout the world. While ancient Egyptians wore bracelets on their wrists, it is not thought there was much significance for this other than fashion. Greek soldiers wore leather bracelets to protect their wrists and it became a traditional part of their military uniform. Bracelets were popular for both men and women until The Middle Ages when they became an accessory worn mainly by women. Bracelets re-emerged as an extremely fashionable accessory for women in the 17th century. During the 20th century, men often began wearing bracelets again, although they were typically more simple and singular, whereas many women wore multiple bracelets of all different styles.
Bracelets have, throughout history, held a great significance in both secular and religious circles. Bracelets have been worn to guard against evil spirits or the harsh sun, outwardly represent marital status, and in hopes of encouraging winter to turn to spring sooner rather than later. Bracelets have evolved to be a fashion accessory, and even these often hold special meaning for the wearer. Charm bracelets are popular since they can be added to, with each charm representing a special time or person in life. There are bracelets thought to help with healing and prosperity, and a darker part of the history of bracelets concerns those that were worn by slaves to indicate ownership. Bracelets have historically been a way for the upper class to display their wealth and place in society. Today, many wear bracelets that are symbolic of group identity or to represent a cause for which they are passionate. This is a common reason for rubber bands, imprinted with words or symbols, to be worn on the wrist. Jade bracelets are a common accessory in China and are often given as a gift from parents to children to remind them of their protection and love. Around the world, friendship bracelets are a common way for friends to bond. Two friends may exchange matching or similar bracelets made of string and tie these bracelets to each other's wrists symbolizing their bond.
The earliest bracelets were often made of grass, tree limbs, and shells, with some even being made from animal bones or stones. After this, bracelets were commonly made of copper or bronze, and this evolved, after the Bronze Age, into gold and silver. Silver is the most common bracelet material today, but many materials are often inlaid in these, such as gold, bronze, and semi-precious stones. Some bracelets allow the wearer to showcase their birthstone on their wrist, which is a tradition that has lasted since ancient times.
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