“And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
Will he not let'us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls, at the last busy day,
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?”
(—The Relics, 🖋️John Donne)
During the Valentine’s season, many people must be vexed about what presents to offer their significant other. Some said that a gift reflects the personality of the giver (Wolfinbarger, 1990). Have you ever wondered what bracelets signify? Today, I’ll be sharing with you what bracelets or armlets—often considered the token of love—represent that make them so popular among poets, as well as from which these wrist accessories come.
The Oldest Bracelet in Archaeological History
According to a report in the Archaeology Magazine, the oldest armlet found in history likely has its root from our primordial ancestors, i.e. the Denisovans. It was 2008 when a team of archaeologists discovered in northern Siberia, Russia a marble-made bracelet dating 40,000 years old (Archaeology Magazine, 2015). At the time, this chlorite bangle should have been taken as a remarkably precious jewel which was worn only on special occasions.
Symbolic Meanings of Armlets
As implicated by John Donne in his poem, The Relics, the he “that digs” the “bracelet of hair” points to the pricelessness of a bracelet. Bangles have always been considered a treasure that is buried with the deceased as a way to honor them. That being said, armlets can symbolize more than honor and wealth. People in different points of time may give it other meanings.
Representation of Hand-Jewels in Ancient Egypt
From historical record of ancient Egypt, we learn that only the slaves were not allowed to wear bracelets of any kind; all Egyptians from general class-men to royal classes wore arm accessories (“Ancient Egyptian Jewelry”, n.d.). Bracelets and necklaces were taken as the token of prosperity and social standing. An Egyptian with a higher social status tended to wear more jewelries. Additionally, Egyptians also believed that bracelets can help guard off evil spirits from this and the other life. Hence, rich people among the Egyptian society were more likely to promise themselves an afterlife by wearing these jewels.
Different substances and colors of arm-wears also imply different meanings. For instance, scarab gems represent rebirth, emeralds signify immortality and prosperity, and turquoises suggest one’s happiness (“Ancient Egyptian Jewelry”, n.d.). As for colors, blue is a sign for honor, wisdom, and truth, whereas green stands for youthful life.
Representation of Hand-Jewels in the Victorian Times
Shuffling past a couple centuries later, here we are at the Victorian era. People were becoming increasingly minute about the use of accessories, especially its weight. One special thing about the jewelries in the Victorian era is that they weigh heavier than those of the other ages, and were mostly made from natural materials, such as gold, silver, and steel, with a gem embedded to it (Coward, n.d.). Apart from its adorning and flaunting purposes, bangles were also used in the Victorian times as the medium to commemorate the beloved ones. Hence, some people would carve the names of their lovers or family members on these precious pieces. Acorns and green leaves were popular motifs used to denote longevity, strength, and patience (Coward, n.d.).
Representation of Hand-Jewels in the 21st Century
Accessories become even more varied in modern times. There are not only those made from gold, silver, bronze, and steel, but now we also have those made from shoelaces, wax cords, leathers, and etc. Moreover, armlets no longer serve as only “arm”lets; they are also worn around the ankles to represent the friendship between two individuals. In South America, people are said to put a string around the wrists or ankles of their best friends as a way to signify their long-lasting friendship (Emond, 2016). Nonetheless, bracelets/armlets are still mostly regarded as the token of love, which is why they usually come in pairs.
Do you feel more familiar with the origins and symbolic meanings of bangles now? Are you more certain of what gifts to give to those around you? Have you tell him/her your love for them yet? Why not let a bracelet help you out with that?
- “Ancient Egyptian Jewelry.” (n.d.). Ancient Egypt Online. Retrieved from https://www.ancient-egypt-online.com/ancient-egyptian-jewelry.html
- Coward, M. (n.d.). A guide to mid-Victorian grand period jewelry. International Gem Society. Retrieved from https://www.gemsociety.org/article/victorian-period-1861-1885/
- Emond, R. (2016). More than just a bracelet: The use of material symbolism to communicate love. International Journal of Social Pedagogy, 5, 34-50. Retrieved from https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/uclpress/ijsp/2016/00000005/00000001/art00004#
- John, Donne. Poems of John Donne. Edited by E. K. Chambers, London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896.
- “Stone bracelet may have been made by Denisovans.” (7 May, 2015). ARCHAEOLOGYY. Retrieved from https://www.archaeology.org/news/3270-150507-siberia-denisovan-bracelet
- Wolfinbarger, M. F. (1990). Motivations and symbolism in gift-giving behavior. Advances in Consumer Research, 17, 699-706. Retrieved from https://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/7087/volumes/v17/NA-17