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At some point in the far past, a bored caveperson wove together a couple of pieces of dried grass, tied the ends together, and noticed that the resulting loop would nicely fit around their wrist. Or maybe it was sinew or elephant hair; whatever the case, that forgotten hero had invented the first bracelet, a distinctive creation setting them apart from all the other cave people. It wasn't long before the folks in the adjoining caves were weaving their own bracelets, and from there on it spread, in one of the first fashion crazes of the human era.
However bracelets began, they've remained with us since. Like our necks, our wrists are just natural places to hang things. Most bracelets since the cave days have remained decorative, although the plainness of grass has evolved into the more substantial beauty of cloth, gems, bone, teeth, shell, seeds, wood, ceramics, glass, metal -- whatever would sit still long enough to let itself to be woven together into a loop, made into a chain, or drilled and strung onto a filament. Some bracelets took a less-decorative path and turned into bracers, armbands intended to protect one's arms from the slash of a blade or the sting of a bowstring. These days, though, bracers are rarely used, except in archery competitions and as props in barbarian movies.
Bracelets through history
Bracelets as we know them today have been popular since Roman times, when engraved bangles, snake bracelets, and ivy-motifs were common. Both glass and gemstones were popular, with small gems often forming the eyes of snakes or other engraved creatures. Over the centuries, styles and materials changed as technology and jewelry standards evolved. For example, in the Georgian Era (1760-1837), pearl-edged gold bracelets were popular, with coral bracelets taking the stage in the 1820s. Victorians (1837-1901) preferred rigid bangles worn in pairs, though buckle bracelets were also popular. As women's fashions drifted toward short-sleeved dresses later on, bracelets became more flexible, and some women began wearing bangles on their upper arms.
Just about anything goes with modern bracelets. Peruse any group of people, and you'll see everything from hand-woven cloth friendship bracelets (once common among kids and teens) to century-old antique bangles. Charm bracelets let you add and subtract decorative charms at your leisure, and according to some authorities, copper chains will ward off arthritis.
Modern bracelet styles tend toward the colorful, as epitomized by the inexpensive jelly bracelets popularized by Madonna and other celebrities. These thin, rubbery bands come in packs of a dozen or so and are cheap enough that you can wear as many as you like. Then there are the ubiquitous wristband bracelets -- really giant rubber bands -- that started out as charity fundraising items and soon leaped into the fashion arena. Of course, all the other styles we've developed over the past centuries are still with us, from woven metal wire to solid silver, so you've got plenty of options to choose from when you set about developing your bracelet wardrobe.