For the Wearer’s Pleasure

I’m writing this text as a maker of Bracelets. As we become increasingly aware that jewellery has accompanied humanity as a means of communication for over 70,000 years, the significance of the practice of both making and wearing becomes more apparent. Through these objects that we place on various parts of our bodies we have sent signs to each other parallel to developing spoken language. Ears, necks, waists, fingers, ankles, and arms have been sites for purposefully placing combinations of different materials for millennia. It is the arm and the wrist that interest us here.

I see with curiosity and pleasure the play of signification that occurs in daily life on this piece of anatomy. At the supermarket I observe the multiple concert bands on the wrist of the young cashier. At the opera the opulent and heavy golden charm bracelet dangling with souvenirs of travel and love. Recently in the most beautiful moment for creating a good jewellery story, the media spotlight fell on the rainbow arm band of the president of Iceland as he reached out to shake the hand of the very conservative American politician – a moment where a single strip of coloured cloth tied around the wrist spoke volumes of political language. And it is there that we have it – the bracelets power – as one hand reaches for another this region of the body becomes a particularly potent platform for communication.

I love to wear simple bracelets, bangles in fact. I still have an early piece that I made when I was about 8 years old from the end of a cow horn that fitted over my hand and up my arm. A more recent favourite is the remnant ring of the West Australian giant limpet, which one finds on the remote south-western beaches of my country. I wear this to remind me of my home and my connection to my native environment. Standing on the beach at the moment of finding, the act of slipping that simple shell oval onto the wrist is clear and instinctive, as though that’s what its there for.  

However the bracelets that I make are far from simple, at least till now.  They are construction sites, whole cities of metalwork packed onto hinged bands or embossed cuffs. The bracelet has a very specific scale, fitting more or less in the hand. The inner surface is often significant and visible, allowing a flow from outside to inside.  Compact and complex, bracelets also have room for movement, weight and sound. Mechanisms extend the possibilities of play and invention, challenging the user to learn the task of opening and closing a secret lock, or enjoying the snap of the clasp. Alternatively the bracelet can be cut from a single solid material, massive simple and striking.

These parameters are added to by one very important factor; unique to the bracelet and the ring, is their visibility to the wearer. When I make a bracelet I am aware that the owner will have plenty of occasions to discover everything I include, to fidget with components and inspect all surfaces while riding the tram or sitting in a waiting room. The person becomes simultaneously wearer and viewer, integrating the bracelet into their self-image for themselves and for others. When one hand reaches for the next it is the object through which the gesture passes, the bracelet in between, at a distance from both parties that is in this moment almost equal. The bracelet offers a shared looking space for the wearer’s pleasure and the pleasure of us all.

Helen Britton 2019

Published in “New Bracelets” 2021 Promopress ISBN 978 84 17412 50 0