You can typically expect two standard reactions when you first start wearing our contactless bracelets. First, there’ll be the, “Wow, what a beautiful bracelet”. Then when you reveal that it's also your secret superpower for making contactless payments, be prepared for the explosive – “Woaaaaah” responses. Pretty much every time.
It’s that hidden element of surprise, of an object concealing more than meets the eye, and unfolding its secrets that we wanted to explore here. Because although we know we’re doing something a little bit ground-breaking by adding payment tech to fashionable statement bracelets, the idea of jewellery concealing hidden secrets has a long history – as old as jewellery itself.
In Siberia, surrounded by mountains and overlooking the Anui River, a bracelet, no less than 40,000 years old, was discovered beside the fossilised bones of a woolly mammoth. The body a fine chlorite stone, coruscating shades of green and black with flecks of white and gold. Inexplicable in its existence, a marvel to craftsmanship, with intricate detail and curvature as though it was created from a modern drill, and surely worn by prehistoric royalty.
We know the Ancient Greeks decorated the length of their arms with bracelets of all different material, covering their skin in fine metals and golds. Soldiers brought another level of meaning to jewellery, adopting the accessories as symbols of protection to keep them safe during battle. While Romans wore bangles resembling undulating serpents, twisting around the curves of their forearms, encasing their skin in a kaleidoscope of armour.
Soon Mediterranean jewellery swept across Europe, adorning the wrists of much of the world, embellished with distant symbols, and foreign stones, and crafted by some of the most skilled hands of their time. As early as 2000 B.C in China, elaborately chiselled golden bracelets are recorded, engraved with labyrinthine depictions of nature, animals, and mythical creatures.
The urge to add mythical or symbolic meaning to jewellery seems to be an intrinsic part of our collective cultural heritage. But jewellery has been known to carry deeper practical meanings too.
The tradition of dowry jewellery, thought to have date back to at least 200 BC, was widespread across Western Europe before it became contemporarily associated with the Indian subcontinent, where gold has reigned supreme for centuries. Despite dowries being made illegal in India in 1961, many parents continue to invest in gold in the form of wearable bangles upon the birth of a daughter, so that she will be adorned with sufficient value on her wedding day.
The design motifs of dowry jewellery may symbolically bestow the virtues of protection, safety, and luck within a marriage. But practically, they also confer financial protection to support her future household. A recent article by Reuters notes that as technology advances, and the price of gold continues to rise, some of that dowry value is now being invested into more practical assets – such as cars or laptops. Fake gold jewellery is mixed in among heirloom gold bangles, keeping the symbolism of wearing your wealth alive, while transferring the value to contemporary assets.
If you’re as avid a fan of The Antiques Roadshow as we are at Tovi Sorga, you’ll appreciate that even the most modest piece of jewellery can be imbued with priceless value when it has a unique story.
For any of us who have inherited something from a deceased loved one, it’s that unique power to provide a touchstone with the past, which can never again be reproduced, that holds such power.
This has rarely been so perfectly exploited than in the rather morbid Victorian tradition of creating mourning jewellery from human hair. How better to keep the memory of someone you love alive, than by carrying a piece of them wrapped around your wrist, every day, wherever you go? With just a quick Google this very afternoon, you could purchase your own bracelet exquisitely handcrafted from the entwined hair of a distant human. You could even analyse the DNA of that hair, and concur knowledge about them that they never knew about themselves – their genetic landscape. Would it bring you closer to them? To who they really were?
That mystery, that question, is surely where most true value lies. The energy surrounding the mystery. The way an object from a distant time can both bring us closer to our ancestors and reveal how little we can ever really know them. There’s a great beauty in that mystery.
The items we wear are an extension of who we are. In their layers of hidden meaning they add value to us and we, in turn, add value to them. So when you next adorn your wrist with an object – be it your grandparent’s old wind-up watch or the latest smartwatch, a handmade friendship bracelet, or a stylish Tovi Sorga contactless payment bracelet – take a moment to appreciate the hidden layers of meaning you are wearing close to you.