The concept is simple: a single wire in either silver or gold held securely by a single screwball. But since artist John Carey’s ingenious design debuted about 30 years ago, the Cape Cod Screwball Bracelet (also known as the Dennis bracelet) has been so sought-after that customers have been known to wait up to four hours to get into Eden Hand Arts, the tiny shop on Route 6A in Dennis where the mania began.
Formerly a garage, the shop sits within 100 feet of the Careys’ house. The couple, retired art teachers from Southborough, Mass., opened the shop in 1968 as a place to sell their artwork: Eve’s pottery and John’s sculpture, stained glass and jewelry. They had no idea then of the seismic shifts that lay ahead.
Some say the bracelet’s popularity really soared about five years ago when actress Amy Jo Johnson, a Dennis-Yarmouth High School graduate now living in California, was spotted wearing the bracelet on the TV show “Felicity.” Johnson, who turns 33 this October, confirms that she wore her gold bracelet “for about five years straight,” never removing it. (This behavior is apparently typical of Cape Cod bracelet owners.) “You can see it on all the episodes of ‘Felicity’ for the first two years,” she notes. Johnson played the character of Julie Emrick on the series, which ran for three years, beginning in 1998.
John Carey’s wife, Eve, recalls, “That’s when all the troubles really began.” The Careys struggled to keep up with demand, as the relentless band of customers kept coming—a curious development because the Careys don’t advertise. Traffic flow presented problems from time to time because the parking lot in front of the shop holds only six cars. Neighbors grew restless. The Dennis Police Department tried posting a cop on Route 6A at the fork of Dr. Lord’s Road and Sesuit Neck Road, but to little avail.
At first, the bracelet was a strictly local phenomenon, and for the first 10 years, John Carey says, he made each and every bracelet himself. “It was zealously guarded by the East Dennis people for awhile,” says Eve. “Then it spread to all of Dennis.”
MaryAnne Hersey, 55, who has lived in Dennis for 32 years, is an Eden customer. She bought her first bracelet more than a decade ago: the sterling silver wire bracelet with the gold ball. She bought it because “it’s just this Dennis thing,” she says. “Now, it’s everybody.” A group of nine female friends from Texas who visited recently saw her bracelet, and each had to have one. And her visitors from Western Massachusetts waited in line for 2-1/2 hours outside of the shop to get their custom-fitted bracelets, she says, “and loved the experience.”
Hersey is something of an Eden loyalist. In addition to the silver bracelet with the gold ball, she wears on her left wrist a silver bracelet with two gold balls, another Carey design. “I never take them off,” she says. Hersey also owns the matching earrings and ring.
Her enthusiasm is shared by Kelly McGrath, 24, of Yarmouth, a dispatcher for the Dennis Police Department who owns three bracelets, as well as the matching necklace, earrings and ring. Her first bracelet was a birthday gift. “I know a lot of people who have the bracelets,” she notes. She owns three different styles: the silver with the gold ball, the gold with the silver ball and the gold bracelet with two silver balls. She can’t pinpoint why she appreciates the jewelry so much, saying only that she has liked the design since the day she first saw it on someone else’s wrist. She admits she has queued up for her jewelry, but never for more than 20 minutes “out of sheer luck.”
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., mid-May through December. According to the shop owners, Thursdays are “relatively quiet.” Saturdays tend to be most crowded.
Cindy Dunne, 46, of Orleans recalls waiting “an hour or two” in line on a beautiful, sunny November day three years ago to buy two all-silver bracelets as Christmas gifts for her teen-age daughters. “It was just all the rage,” says Dunne. “It was a good Christmas gift. It was reasonably priced. And the thing liked about it: it’s not something that would just fall off.”
And that’s exactly why John Carey created this bracelet. He sketched it for one of Eden’s early customers who was looking for a bracelet that wouldn’t fall off her daughters’ wrists. Carey remembers drawing the prototype. “I did several draw ings until I found the right one, “ he says. “To come up with new idea is not easy.” He tried to get a patent on it, but the U.S. Patent Office rejected the application, he says. “I guess was too simple.” He is currently working with a lawyer on patent issues.
However simple, the bracelet feels special to the owner because it is handcrafted and designed to fit each individual wrist. While it should move freely over the wrist bone, the bracelet should not be able to turn around the wrist. To ensure the proper fit, Eden needs the customer’s wrist measurement. From her visit, Dunne remembers women in line talking to their daughters via cell phone trying to get an accurate wrist measurement.
After a decade of making the bracelets himself, John Carey had to enlist help from other family members: his son, son-in-law and grandson, among them. Carey says it takes him about an hour to make a single bracelet. Prices start at $50 for the silver. It’s strictly a mom-and-pop shop, accepting only cash or checks. Eden does not ship or do mail order. Since 2001, the Careys’ daughter, Rachel Carey-Harper, has owned and operated the business. She is a potter, like her mother. Her husband, Edward, makes the jewelry originally designed by her father. But John and Eve Carey haven’t retired entirely. Now both 82, they still make items to sell in the shop.
Rachel Carey-Harper declined to be interviewed. “We don’t want any publicity. It just causes problems for us,” she said. “We like to be as word-of-mouthy as we can be."
While Eden Hand Arts doesn’t do business outside of the shop, Eden Northwest, a company started by Carey-Harper’s brother, does. When John Arthur Carey III, known as Trey, moved to the Pacific Northwest at 18, taking the jewelry-making skills he learned from his father with him, he set up Eden Northwest. “He set up shop out there with our approval,” says Eve. “We gave him permission to call his place Eden Northwest. We were thrilled.”
In addition to making bracelets for his parents’ shop, Trey Carey began selling the bracelets online shortly before a heart attack claimed his life last year. Now his wife, Charlotte, runs the business from Parksville, British Columbia with help from her daughter, Emily Ferris. Ferris says she makes the bracelets herself. “I spent many summers on the Cape watching my grandfather make jewelry and got a lesson from him on how to make a screwball when I was 16,” Ferris says. “Then, as my father started to make jewelry, I watched and learned from him.” She says she and her brother, Alex, both make the bracelets “the exact same way” as their grandfather.
“We use the same suppliers, the same tools,” Ferris says. “Alex and I share our father’s tools.” However, family members stress, Eden Hand Arts and Eden Northwest are completely separate businesses.
The Careys say no other jewelry maker is authorized to manufacture or sell this bracelet. But the extraordinary appeal of the bracelet has led other jewelry and gift shops on Cape Cod to offer their versions nonetheless. They often refer to it as ”the bracelet.”
The Gift Shop at Ebb Tide in Dennisport, for example, offers the Dennis-style bracelet, as well as other interpretations. On the shelves for a little more than a year, “it’s a runaway best seller,” says owner Chris McCormick. The simple design appeals to females of all ages—from young girls to their grandmothers. Most of McCormick’s customers are visitors to the Cape.
“It has an appeal as an everyday piece,” she says. “It also has appeal because it’s recognizable. The screwball close is unique. When anything is difficult to get, it makes it more appealing.”
She predicts that the bracelet will become ubiquitous in shops on Cape Cod. Her bracelets are as close to the original as possible, she says, but she predicts lesser-quality knock-offs will appear on the market soon. “It was only a matter of time before the bracelet was copied because it is so popular,” she says.
Pondside Gifts & Boutique on Route 28 in South Yarmouth began offering the bracelet last year because customers came into the shop asking for it. While most of the customers are from out of town, some are local, says manager Agnes Holmes.
“It’s simple. It’s basic. It’s not fussy,” Holmes says of the bracelet. “It will appeal to a young child up to a grandmother.”
John and Eve Carey remain a bit stunned by the furor surrounding the bracelet. “It was a fluke,” says Eve. “You never know when something like that will kick in.”
“I’m still awed,” says John. “Being a rural product myself, sometimes the adulation is pretty tough on me. Really, I can take the criticism more easily than the kudos.”