There is much controversy surrounding the original name of the cuff bracelet: the "slave" bracelet. Yet this name has a rich and fascinating history. Despite the original name, the bracelet is becoming increasingly popular. Jewellery can have multiple meanings, even love bracelets, and there are various styles and colours to choose from. But how did the "slave" bracelet get its current meaning?

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The history of the cuff bracelet

The cuff bracelet has had different meanings depending on the period when it was being used:

  • The "slave" bracelet was already known about some 5,000 years ago. It is unclear whether it served as a sign of ownership, or merely as an ornament.
  • Unfortunately, around the 16the century, the meaning of the "slave" bracelet became quite literal. The current name also dates from that period. African and Caribbean slaves were given a bracelet with a number or branding mark engraved on it, this was for identification.
  • In India, the cuff bracelet acquired a completely different meaning. It was formerly a love bracelet there. Men gave women bracelets they made themselves, to win them over.
  • Today, luckily, the cuff bracelet is used purely as a fashion item.
Archaeologists do not fully agree when the term "slave" bracelet was first used. One painting found in Pakistan shows a woman dancing with "slave" bracelets around her wrist, and dates from 2,600 BC.

Historical images, similar symbols (such as creole earrings) and "slave" bracelets made from shells, clay, copper, gold or bronze have also been found in parts of India. Yet it is not certain if the bracelets then were used solely to indicate ownership of a person, or as decoration.
In the 16th century, the cuff bracelet was used to identify slaves

But how did the "slave" bracelet come by that meaning?

Unfortunately, the term "slave" bracelet refers largely to the dark past of slavery. During the 16th century, slaves from Africa and the Caribbean had to wear a sturdy one-piece bracelet. A number or branding mark was engraved on it to make it easier to identify the slaves. The "slave bracelets" often did not open or close, so they could not take it off and escape.

The bracelet was usually a flat length of bronze or wrought iron. It was certainly not as polished and shiny as the jewellery that we know today. The "slave" bracelet looked more like handcuffs than a fashion accessory.
In the 16th century, the cuff bracelet was used to identify slaves
Indian woman with slave bracelet in the sense of love bracelet - BAUNAT
At the same time, the meaning of this type of bracelet was not always linked to slavery. On the Indian subcontinent, women wore the bracelet as jewellery, and to do with body decoration. Some civilisations also linked the jewellery to love: men gave home-made jewellery to the women they wanted to win over. The Romans would have been the first to turn the "slave" bracelet into love jewellery and accessory.
Woman wearing BAUNAT cuff bracelet, in the sense of a fashion item.
Today we in the West wear the cuff bracelet mainly as a fashion item. Couples often wear a diamond set to show their love. The fact that the bracelets are difficult to take off further underlines their commitment. In India, Suriname and other former colonies, the "slave" bracelet is also worn to remember slavery's past.
Slave bracelet

The modern-day cuff bracelet

The modern-day cuff bracelet is an open or closed rigid bracelet. On ones which are open, each end often has a ball so that the bracelet stays secure around your wrist. A totally closed bracelet can be snapped shut or you simply have to slide it onto your wrist. There are plain cuff bracelets, but also some that are more striking, decorated with lots of small diamonds or other precious stones.

If you are giving it as a present, it can be a nice idea to engrave your cuff bracelet. A personal message always adds that extra touch to the jewellery.

The flat cuff bracelet most closely resembles the historic "slave" bracelet, while there are round, oval, hollow and convex designs having the same name. "Bangles" - wide jewellery covering much of the wrist - are sometimes called a "slave bracelet", and "slave bracelet" in English refers to jewellery running from the wrist to the middle finger.
Are you curious to see how a cuff bracelet would look on your wrist? You can get an idea from this video.

Browse our cuff bracelets here

Slave bracelet

How do I wear a cuff bracelet?

When you are choosing a slave bracelet for yourself or as a present, it is important to pay attention to the width. For instance, there are bracelets 6 cm wide, but these can soon look rather inelegant in people with thin wrists. Choose a gold bracelet that suits you and complements your outfit.

Second, choose the colour of the precious metal and the design. From yellow, rose to white gold, your choice depends on your skin colour and what you would like to see. Can't decide? Combining bracelets is also becoming a trend. In addition to the slim bracelets, there are specially designed ones, with dreamy, wavy or floral patterns.

Check out this yellow gold cuff bracelet with floral design by BAUNAT

Many people prefer a cuff bracelet in white gold or yellow gold, but it certainly doesn't have to end there. As part of the trend of mixing and matching various bracelets, you could choose to wear a gold-plated cuff bracelet along with a silver or steel one.

Did you realise you can also have your cuff bracelet on show during the cold winter months? It's very on trend nowadays to wear bracelets over your long sleeves instead of underneath. Meaning you can appreciate them all year round.

We can conclude that the "slave" bracelet seems to be leaving behind the terrible history it once carried. Today, we no longer associate this beautiful type of bracelet with slavery, but with pure sparkle and fashion. Cuff bracelets are for men and women who want to sparkle at a special occasion, or just for everyday living.

Order one that totally suits you from the bracelet collection from BAUNAT now, with 100% natural diamonds. Ask our jewellery experts for advice and find out more about the designs that suit you.

Read more about other types of bracelet

Now you realise the "slave" bracelet can be a stylish accessory, it is important to know which bracelets you can mix and match the best. There are several popular precious metals having different colours. We can provide more information about all types of diamond bracelet and their properties.


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