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Whatever you may think of Marvel and DC’s action-packed blockbusters, a quick scan of their female superhero line-up reveals there’s one accessory that’s prized above all others. Surprisingly, it’s not a cape – it’s a cuff.
Captain Marvel, the main character in the company’s first female-led film, sports a metallic pair that glow with her unearthly energy. Brunnhilde, the fighting Valkyrie played by Tessa Thompson in the Thor film franchise, is able to control the weapons of her gunship remotely using her leather and chainmail set. Meanwhile, the ferocious Dora Milaje warriors of Wakanda, resplendent in uniforms created by the costume designer Ruth E. Carter, are adorned with wire necklaces and matching cuffs by the jeweller Douriean Fletcher. As imposing as they are beautiful, these pieces serve as part protective body armour, part eye-catching embellishment.
And, of course, there’s Wonder Woman (Diana Prince by day), whose wrist-wear is so famous it even has its own mythology. Originally dubbed ‘the Bracelets of Submission’ by William Moulton Marston, who invented the character in 1941, the cuffs are based on the silver bracelets worn by his lover, Olive Byrne. According to an interview with Marston in 1942, they also symbolise a rule laid down by the goddess Aphrodite to the Amazons after she freed them from capture by the handsome but ruthless Greeks. “Wonder Woman and her sister Amazons have to wear heavy bracelets to remind them of what happens to a girl when she lets a man conquer her,” he said at the time. The physical embodiment, if any were needed, of the need for balance between power and love. Indeed, in Wonder Woman 1984, which debuted in 2020, Gal Gadot can be seen expertly wielding her bracelets in battle, before reuniting with her long lost beau while wearing Elsa Peretti’s iconic Bone cuff design for Tiffany & Co, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020.
The inimitable Italian-born jeweller, who passed away in 2021, is said to have modelled the cuff on actual bones she smuggled out of a 17th-century Capuchin church as a child. Since its launch, the sensuous bracelet has been adopted by a host of similarly dynamic and creative women such as Liza Minnelli, Catherine Deneuve, Angelina Jolie and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Superheroes aside, the cuff has been considered a real-life symbol of power and prestige for thousands of years and features in ancient Egyptian, Mayan, Incan, Native American and Chinese history. Greek and Roman soldiers wore them as protective talismans on the battlefield, while in the 17th Century, stylish Europeans adopted stacks of thin bangles tied with ribbons as a chic statement. In the 1930s, the irrepressible Coco Chanel helped to reignite fashionable society’s cuff love by routinely being photographed in her favourite silver and enamel pair, created for her by the Duke of Verdura. Later, other singular and spirited women such as Diana Vreeland and Jackie Onassis followed suit and gilded their wrists with beaten metal bracelets.
More recently, Peretti’s Bone cuff (still a bestselling design) has been brought to the attention of a new coterie of jewellery fans thanks to Tiffany & Co ambassador Beyoncé, who has sported them on stage during her Renaissance world tour. And bold metal arm accessories were seen all over the autumn/winter 2023 catwalks, including the Chloé, Fendi and Saint Laurent shows.
As we gear up for another autumn/winter season amid economic uncertainty and environmental worry, it’s little wonder that cuff is once again proving the accessory du jour. Bold, beautiful and more than a little bit badass, it’s the perfect for those who want to channel their own inner goddess.