Armlets Are Bracelets for the Biceps
In ancient times, armlets — bracelets made to sit between the elbow and the armpit — were worn by Egyptian rulers, Roman soldiers, Greek brides, Assyrian deities, and men and women throughout China, Greece, India, South America and the Celtic world.
Nowadays, bracelets for the biceps still are embraced globally, wrapping the arms of Dua Lipa, Rihanna and the spring 2022 models for Prada, Fendi, Tory Burch and Raf Simons, among others.
“While the statement earring is going nowhere fast, after its starring role in Zoom calls across the world for the last two years, we are looking for new ways to make a fresh jewelry statement and the upper arm bangle/cuff is a great way to do this,” wrote Maia Adams, a co-founder of Adorn, a jewelry business consultancy based in London. “It is fun and attention-grabbing, and a great way to express one’s personal style.”
And Kim Russell, whose Instagram feed, @thekimbino, has 147,000 followers, said armlets added a layer of style to an outfit because “it’s not a bangle or an anklet or something we’re used to seeing all the time.”
Here, jewelry designers and experts from around the world share their favorite armlets.
Ana Carolina Valencia
“The first armlet I designed was around five years ago,” Ms. Valencia wrote in an email, noting that the Gaia Armlet ($300) was named for the Greek goddess of the earth and inspired by female power.
“This piece is handmade in bronze and has been 24-karat gold plated,” she wrote, a finish Ms. Valencia has used on many of her creations. Each end of the wrap style piece was adorned with leaves, made individually using a filigree technique.
“Armlets symbolize strength and when worn by women they are related to high self-confidence,” she continued. “I love to create statement pieces that are timeless and I definitely think that wearing an armlet is that kind of piece that simply is not a matter of fashion, is a matter of style.”
When Ms. Fahmy opened her luxury jewelry house in 1969, she wanted to “bring different cultures and heritage to life through unique contemporary designs,” wrote her daughter, Amina Ghali, who now heads the brand’s atelier.
Armlets were present in Egyptian history, she wrote, citing as an example “our snake cuff, inspired from the Ptolemaic dynasty’s snake armlets.” The piece ($2,920) was made of 18-karat gold and sterling silver, the brand’s trademark metal mix, and a choice of two stone combinations.
“We built the snake using the leveling technique, which built up the snake in multiple stages or layers to give depth,” Ms. Ghali wrote. “The final touches incorporate the Ottoman stone setting technique for the snake’s head,” with the stones “built up to create a flowerlike unit.”
Originally armlets were made without hinges but, she wrote, “we have incorporated a hinge mechanism to allow the cuff to open and close without losing the shape or form of the snake over time.”
“Armlets have always been a part of my collection,” Ms. Alexiou wrote, “as, along with being beautiful, they also carry a rich cultural history.”
In ancient Greece, armlets were made from hammered gold and generally were worn in pairs by royals, the military and elite members of society, she continued. “The gifting of two armlets was an integral part of the rite of marriage; one armlet was given to the bride upon the engagement and the second was given upon the wedding. Greek soldiers would also wear them to battle as they were viewed as a symbol of comradery, strength, protection and courage.”
Ms. Alexiou said her creations — like her Heart Armlet ($10,410), crafted from 18-karat hammered gold with a satin finish and carved with symbols painted black to add depth — are designed for the modern woman. “My armlets feature an open back and are constructed with 18-karat gold as it is malleable and offers great versatility,” she wrote, allowing customers to wear pieces on either the upper arm or on the wrist, as they choose.
Camille Cuvelier, a jewelry expert and historian, spends her time hunting for vintage jewelry that she then sells on her website, Galerie Pénélope. “I found this armlet in an antique shop in the south of France,” she wrote in an email. “I know that the antique dealer got it from a lady who had inherited it, but that’s all I know unfortunately.”
But Ms. Cuvelier said the piece had to have been made in the 1920s “because of its Egyptian-inspired style, which was very fashionable at the time, especially since the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.” She said the armlet (2,900 euros, $2,992) was made of 18-karat yellow gold and chased with palmettes holding a blue chalcedony cabochon.
“There was a way of wearing the bracelet which is inspired by the Egyptian style,” Ms. Cuvelier wrote, “but which is above all possible thanks to the dresses that left arms and legs free during the Roaring Twenties: Hair and clothes were made short and liberated the woman in the literal and figurative sense.”
Big, bold and one-of-a-kind pieces are Ms. Isber’s specialty — or, as she wrote in an email, “handmade, sustainable jewelry meant to start conversations.” But not to weigh down the wearer, something that could present a problem when creating an armlet.
Her solution? “I use a few tricks,” she wrote. “On my desk was a cracked plastic drinking glass; as I was about to throw it away, I impulsively stuck my hand inside and a light bulb went off. The tapered shape was perfect for an armlet.”
The rest of the materials for her Golden Armlet ($650) were lightweight, too, she added. “I used only a thin covering of epoxy clay. Everything else is acrylic: The inside form (plastic cup), cabochons (vintage acrylic) and the gold-plated acrylic disks are as light as fingernails. I used gold micro powder on a white clay to create the organic bright gold look.”
Ms. Isber said that sometimes she added loops to accommodate elastic straps. And, she wrote, “I’ve had some that have a locking wire across the back, which they would have used in ancient times. I love classical jewelry from antiquity. I must have been a Roman way back.”
“I have been creating armlets by special order for around five years,” wrote Lily Gabriella Elia, founder and creative director of her namesake brand. “I started per a client’s request as they had become quite a popular accessory, especially in South America.”
Her email described “a stack of bespoke armlets that I created for a Brazilian client; they’re 18-karat gold with rubies, sapphires and diamonds. The client loved the idea of mixing precious gemstones to complement the bold choice of color in her wardrobe, yet she wears the armlets day-to-day with a casual and relaxed sense of style.” Prices start at 8,000 pounds, or $9,766.
Ms. Elia wrote that she used clients’ measurements to ensure that armlets would fit well and not slide down their arms: “They can be worn individually or stacked, depending on the client’s preference. Armlets can be a fun and personal way to reinvent a look and a chic touch to build on the trend for traditional stacking bracelets.”