Storyteller bracelet showing travel

Silver-told Tales: Storyteller Bracelets

Jun 22, 2023 | meaningful jewelry + gift guides

Storyteller bracelets are a cross between folk art and souvenir. They’re not my favorite aesthetic style, but I always want to read them. Each piece is a puzzle. Consider this post your own decoder ring.

Give the gift of a storyteller bracelet!

Souvenir jewelry make meaningful gifts. Give it to someone with a love of a certain place or to remember a shared vacation. A storyteller bracelet is a great gift for a writer or librarian, or a history or English teacher.

You get the idea.

Check out other meaningful gift ideas.

What is a storyteller bracelet?

A storyteller bracelet is a linked panel bracelet with detailed images of people, landmarks, and familiar scenes of everyday life. Storyteller bracelets can offer a narrative with different images, or the same image repeated. Generally designed to represent a specific geographic location, they have been sold as souvenirs to tourists for the last century or more.

peruvian bracelet showing scenes of travel as found on etsy
Peruvian bracelet showing scenes of travel.

Themes in storytelling jewelry

Storyteller bracelets have several common themes and tropes, including travel, devotion (rituals and offerings to gods), community, production and consumption of food, war and fighting, and scenes of daily life, including landscapes and buildings.

Storyteller bracelet showing travel
Storyteller bracelet showing travel, possibly commerce.

(Art Deco is another costume jewelry aesthetic featuring buildings.)

They have also been used to memorialize a historical event, like Custer’s last stand.

This bracelet offers a story that could be Don Quixote, with panel scenes that are a bit hard to interpret. What’s that thing hanging from the tree branch? Is the knight dead, or merely resting in the final panel?

We may never know.

Character types in souvenir bracelets

As with many story archetypes, the focus is in general on gods and peasants. Your run-of-the-mill banker or middle manager isn’t regularly represented.

Peruvian storyteller bracelet showing images of Incan gods and temple
Peruvian storyteller panel bracelet with Incan gods and temples.
Navajo storyteller bracelet by Elaine Becenti

Most common storyteller bracelet motifs

The repeating images that are most often found in storyteller bracelets are people, landscapes, buildings, and animals. Landscapes will often incorporate buildings and cultural icons like the Egyptian pyramids.

Animals are usually representative of a locale, like camels or donkeys representing the Egyptian desert or Peruvian mountains.

Again, a storyteller bracelet might not tell a story at all. Sometimes the term is used simply to signal that the bracelet is a series of linked panels, or a series of repeating images in a certain style, or from a certain place.

However, I think storyteller bracelet is meant to refer to a bracelet that tells a story, even if it is represented by a single symbol or image.

Static images that tell a story might include people involved in activity. The picture might also include iconic images of something that happened or that happens all the time, whether it’s a daily event or a historical event.

An image of a hummingbird feeding at a flower might be considered to tell a story, or be a symbol of the beauty, quietness, or importance of nature.

In the end, what’s considered a “story” depends on the reader. If I can be sure of anything, it’s that.

Are storyteller bracelets valuable?

Storyteller bracelets aren’t highly valued as collectible in their own right. Their value comes from the bracelet’s materials, and, if exceptional, from the art presented on the bracelet panels.

This 18K gold hinged Egyptian storyteller cuff, showing icons of the desert sold for over US$1,800 due to its gold composition. The scenes themselves of camels, pyramids, and the sphinx are trendy, but not exceptional enough to drive up the value this high.

Shop more affordable Egyptian Revival jewelry for sale at minusOne.

Are storyteller bracelets still popular?

In general, storyteller bracelets aren’t trending, as evidenced by recent costume jewelry sales. They seem to be less popular now than in the mid-twentieth century when souvenir costume jewelry was at its peak.

You will see fewer women wearing storyteller bracelets than, for example, minimalist monogram jewelry.

Shop minimalist jewelry for sale at minusOne.

That said, affordable storyteller bracelets are still selling on Ebay, with an average of about one a day.

For comparison, Catholic necklaces with medals representing the Virgin Mary sell at about the same rate, perhaps a little higher at between one or two a day.

A June 2023 list of ebay sold items showing sales pattern of storyteller bracelets

And the storyteller bracelets that are selling regularly are more moderately priced, in an average range of US$35-$150.

Where are storyteller bracelets made?

Storyteller bracelets are a common folk art in North America, particularly among Navajo artists. Storyteller bracelets have also been made in Mexico, Peru, and Egypt

Mexican storyteller bracelet

Two silver storytellers: Becenti and Felley

Two well-known storyteller bracelet artists are southwest United States jeweler Carol Felley and Navajo artist Elaine Becenti.

Carol Felley storyteller bracelets

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a Fine Arts degree, Carol Felley was inspired by the jewelry making community in the Southwest and opened a design and jewelry manufacturing business in Albuquerque, which she owned and operated for thirty years.

Elaine Becenti storyteller bracelets

If I had to wear a storyteller bracelet, I’d choose one made by Elaine Becenti. Navajo silversmith and artist Elaine Becenti comes from a family tradition of sterling silver storytelling. Stories imagined include the fall of General Custer.

Like this hummingbird cuff, they can be reminiscent of Art Nouveau repoussé. See as an example this Art Nouveau style bracelet cuff for sale in my shop as a reproduction of one I wear everyday.

Elaine Becenti Sterling Silver Storyteller Bracelet of hummingbirds and flowers

Or they can depict peopled scenes, sometimes reminiscent of ancient representations of community life.

These Elaine Becenti sterling silver bracelet cuffs are exceptional examples of more traditional storyteller bracelets.

Although I don’t offer storyteller bracelets as a rule, you can still shop vintage style bracelet cuffs for sale at minusOne

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minusOne jewelry logo of a pink Art Deco scallop | Trumansburg NY
minusOne jewelry | Trumansburg NY

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