Object Lesson: Say My Name

Guys and girls, it's time for an identity check. By Loryn Hatch
From charms and chunky chains to feathers and other found objects, the mood of jewelry for the past year has put a lot of emphasis on the extras. Having spotted Brooklyn designer Camille Hempel's positively wholesome, pared-down ID bracelet, we feel certain it's time to lighten the load. An honest-to-goodness craftswoman who creates all of her jewelry by hand, Hempel offers in all of her slightly industrial pieces a beautifully simplified antidote to today's attitude of excess.
Tracing back to WWI when dog tags and bracelets were introduced as a replacement for paper identification cards, the sturdy and practical ID pieces have assumed a long-held sentimental significance that transcends their military history. Perfectly plain, yet powerfully personal, Hempel's chain-links and blank-face plates memorialize what we cannot forget, be it a high-school sweetheart, life-affirming mantra (albeit a short one), or, in this jewelry-maker's case, a longtime address that no longer exists.
"The first identity bracelet I made has 74 South 6th engraved on it," she says. "It was the house I lived in for several years in Williamsburg. I was forced out, and then it was torn down. I wanted to remember it, as sentimental as it seems." Equally sentimental, Hempel uses the vintage stamp set that belonged to her grandfather, a lapidary, from whom she learned her skill for stone-cutting (coincidentally, this was the same summer the would-be designer would score her tanks and torches for making jewelry at a farm auction in Wisconsin).
While the 74 South 6th bracelet was originally a found object that cannot be reproduced, Hempel makes her own bracelets in three different chain sizes—heavy, medium, and fine. To create custom phrases on the bevelled centerpieces, she uses the stamp set that has a classic typewriter font and the hard-to-come-by ampersand character, which Hempel placed on a number of her rings and necklace pendants. But as far as your personal piece goes, the sky's the limit, and Hempel has no reservations about what she'll be stamping. "I've done everything from names, to bands, to phrases like 'pistol whip'," she says. "With these pieces, anything goes."
Camille Hempel ID bracelets ($95-$185) are available at Camille Hempel, 317 Wythe Avenue, 718-387-5076.
Guys and girls, it's time for an identity check.

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