The Power of Friendship through Symbolic Jewelry

The Power of Friendship through Symbolic Jewelry

We all get by with a little help from our friends, and some of us love to show that friendship with something tangible. Friendship bracelets, though commonly associated with middle school arts and crafts, actually have a longstanding history that dates back centuries. Read on to find out where these symbols of connection came from and how they survived until today!

Origins of the Friendship Bracelet

Although the exact origins of the friendship bracelet remain widely unknown, historians were able to trace the jewelry back to the ancient art of knot-tying. Some of the earliest examples of this decorative knot practice are from China between 481 and 221 B.C. These knots were eventually developed to adorn clothing and household objects as well. Macrame, the art of tying decorative knots into intricate patterns, dates back to 13th-century Arabia where weavers would develop knotted patterns at the edges of items made on the loom. Additionally, as the craft spread throughout the world, sailors picked up the practice as a means of passing time at sea, and with that spread, macrame then became highly popular in 19th-century Britain, France and Italy. 

The most universally agreed upon theory suggests that the bracelets were originally created by Native Americans in Central America, and many of the current popularized friendship bracelet designs mimic traditional Native American patterns including the half-hitch knot, chevron, broken ladder, totem pole and diamond. 

What do they Symbolize?

The symbolic nature of friendship bracelets stems from the idea of a deep connection between two people or a group of people. Interestingly, during the 17th to 19th centuries, a predecessor of the friendship bracelet was mourning jewelry, a practice of preserving a piece of a loved one or friend’s hair in beautiful jewelry. The sentiment was meant to keep a piece of that person close to you at all times in order to reinforce the connection you shared with them in life and the transition of that lasting relationship in death. Aside from this macabre connotation, this style of jewelry was also used when friends and family moved away or experienced long periods without seeing each other. The coloration and design of each piece was unique to each individual and relationship depending on what meant the most to them and what reminded them the most of their connection, and the modern versions of these bracelets follow suit with distinctive colors and patterns.

Modern Revivals and a Connection to Free Love

Friendship bracelets experienced a revival throughout the 1940s and 1950s with candy wrapper bracelets, which were created using the various colors and designs found on the wrapping of different candies. These bracelets were often shared between friends as symbols of their connection.

In the 1960s and 1970s, friendship bracelets experienced a huge revival with the onset of the Free Love Movement in which unrestricted love and connection was celebrated romantically, sexually and platonically. This diversion from traditional social expectations also coincided with a generational interest in non-Western cultures such as Indian and Native American spiritual traditions and jewelry. Hence, the friendship bracelet took on new shapes as love beads and necklaces often made out of hemp and more simpler materials to bridge a connection between nature and others. From there, the friendship bracelet maintained relevance through generations to come, taking on new forms and styles but always keeping the sentiment of connection and loyalty present. 


Want to show some love to your friends and family?

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