Opposites Attract: 12+ Favorite Cuff Bracelet Designs That Make Subtle Statements
“Great bracelet!” a fabulous goldsmith said to me as we sat down to lunch at the Tucson shows one year. “May I see it?” I was flattered of course, and happy to hand it to him. It was a moderately wide, highly textured silver cuff bracelet I’d bought at Tucson years before that had instantly become one of my go-to pieces. The jewelry artist looked at it this way and that. Then, hefting it, he said, “It has a good feel to it. I think a really nice piece should have some weight to it, should be substantial like this.” I think so, too.
A Cuff Bracelet for All Reasons
Cuff bracelets are one my favorite kinds of jewelry because I can see them and you can see them. Plus there’s a pretty good amount of real estate on one for some interesting visual effects. That bracelet of mine gets so much wear because it has a number of different features that make it work in different situations. I love designs that combine competing sensibilities successfully, especially opposites. I like to feel the push and pull of different elements, as one or another is constantly calling to me and keeping my attention.
The span of rigid metal inherent in a cuff bracelet makes a statement, but the details make this one subtle. It’s rough but tailored, lustrous but not blingy, the color is vivid yet neutral, and the material says affordably precious. It looks great with jeans and a T-shirt or a long black velvet dress and chandelier earrings, and I’ve worn it many times with each.
But just because that one is so versatile doesn’t mean you should have just one cuff, does it? Of course not. Here are a number of other cuff bracelet designs I admire for their simplicity combined with something more.
I Love Dolphins!
With a high polish on the silver, a pair of dolphins swimming along the surface, and two blue zircons sparkling for all they’re worth, you might not think this is such a subtle design, but here’s how I see it. All those details are small and symmetrically arranged on a slim bracelet. You notice the bright silver finish, the blue of the stones, and the playful theme. But they don’t shout, they just wink up at you.
Small and Large Scale Texture
The deep and irregular flutes that Bill Fretz has hammered into fine silver for this cuff bracelet help make it say this is handmade and one of a kind, even though I’m sure he could repeat the piece if he wanted to. The hammer textures inside each flute add to the idea of handmade. It also gives the piece a more subdued finish that lets the larger flutes provide the drama.
The Stone Is the Statement and the Cuff
Yes, there’s a narrow, gently textured silver bracelet, a little carved gem, and a small accent diamond on this cuff. But these understated elements just set up what’s to come. It’s the stunning piece of ever so simply bezel-set and almost free-floating agate that really makes this piece.
Chased But Not Chaste
More like classically voluptuous. Whereas that agate cuff is about the stone and the metal that isn’t around it, this chased cuff bracelet is all about the metal. The width of it alone carries a lot of substance. Add just enough gracefully arching lines to set off an unadorned center medallion of plain silver, and you don’t need another thing.
Lots of Little Extras
If this silver cuff were just a curved rectangle of silver with a row of radiating stampings down the center, it would be nice but not so special. As it broadens toward a gentle peak at the center, narrows again at the sides, and widens again as it goes around the back, the shape both adds interest and makes the bracelet lie more comfortably on the wrist. Because they’ve been given a rich patina, the central and extra little peripheral stampings show up well, yet also recede into darkness.
But for the saw-pierced fern motif throughout the bracelet, this would be a plain, polished flat silver cuff with only its tapered outline to distinguish it. But the saw piercing is totally unexpected, and for that go-with-anything, wear-it-anywhere sensibility, anything more would be just gilding the fern, so to speak.
While there’s a lot going on here, the darkened finish also tones this cuff bracelet down. Meanwhile the surface is teeming with carefully placed, random-looking overlays, which were in fact, created randomly by splash casting — tossing molten metal into water. It’s a casual idea executed with purpose, and the cuff would hold its own as easily with tailored attire as it would with a casual outfit.
At first glance, this one suggests a delicate ladies’ watch, but it’s much cooler than that. Hefty square wire for the cuff with a round pale citrine in the center set in a substantial silver circle. A little sparkle, a lot of shine, a touch of color, weight you can see, and a slim profile. It’s solid and delicate, sure to be noticed, quietly powerful.
The Perfect Twist
Here’s another twist, as it were, on a slim cuff made with polished, heavy gauge, square sterling wire. Two wires, twisted in tandem and soldered together closely side by side give this cuff movement, a central design element, greater presence than a single wire would offer, and the unexpected dance the two wires engage in.
Anticlastic Shapes Are Opposites!
When I first wrote this blog about some of my favorite cuff bracelets, I focused on those that somehow made bold statements through often subtle details. Part of what drew me to them, as I’ve already noted, was the curious push/pull between the bold/subtle opposites. Evidently “opposites” is important to me, because when I wrote about 10 of my favorite Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist covers, the first one I thought of featured a pair of Michael Good’s anticlastic earrings. Their twisting, undulating forms mesmerized me as they curved into opposing directions, the very definition of anticlastic.
I still don’t know what the magic is in bending metal into opposing curves, but I am every bit as much captivated by the results of this technique now as ever. Other jewelry designers use anticlastic forming to great effect, but Michael Good is the master. The classic technique that Good developed for jewelry and that he uses in his larger sculptural work as well involves hammering the metal on carefully selected stakes to create the required curvatures — which he shared with readers in that issue.
Bill Fretz created a more streamlined anticlastic bracelet in brass. Its saddle shape is the most obvious aspect of the design, and it just draws you in and all the way around the bangle.
Jack Berry made this cold-connected anticlastic cuff using three of his favorite techniques. He used fold forming for the three-dimensional elements on top, roll printing for the overall texture, and highlighted the details with patina. He created the anticlastic shape with a hydraulic press and a die, which made it that much simpler to do. The patina then highlights them all.
There’s an Even Easier Way
If hammering is what you live for, anticlastic raising is the perfect technique for you. If you’re drawn to the opposing curves it produces and don’t always want to spend so much of your studio time hammering and don’t have a hydraulic press with an anticlastic die, there’s a solution for you, too. Now you can create opposing curves for a bracelet much more quickly than hammering and with much less expense than using a die and press. Miland Seuss’s anticlastic pliers give you the form of an anticlastic bracelet quickly and easily, which you can then complete with whatever design ideas you want.
Also Find . . .
Travis Ogden has taught making this twisted silver cuff a lot, at live classes, in print, and on video. Not only is it a classic sort of design with a cool edge, it’s a great example for demonstrating a lot of basic silversmithing techniques. You can find the instructions for making this design in a digital project, which first appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist in November 2011, if you just want to see the steps.
If you want to take an expert metalsmithing lesson with Travis and learn to make this cuff, you can watch him create it in the 95-minute video Forged Wire Cuff.
You can also find each of the cuff bracelet designs described above as digital projects that have also appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, except for my Vuyaoma-designed, tufa-cast textured cuff. Sorry, there is no demo for that one. However, you can learn about tufa casting from John Heusler in the digital project of this stunning tufa cast cuff bracelet, another favorite!
Editor-in-Chief, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist