Bracelet Basics: The History of Your Go-To Accessory

7 minute read

A staple of any fashionable woman's wardrobe, bracelets are certainly having a moment right now. From the trendy layered look to pieces by the jewelry world's biggest designer names, bracelets of all shapes and styles are having their moment in the spotlight. Yet, many people might not realize the fascinating history of this beloved arm adornment. Read on to learn more about this fashionable wardrobe staple.

Art Deco Emerald Bracelet Art Deco Emerald Bracelet

History

As one of the most varied and versatile accessories out there, it should be no surprise that bracelets have been around since prehistoric times. While the exact history of the bracelet is not entirely known, the earliest known example dates back an incredible 40,000 years. During an archaeological dig, researchers in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia unearthed an entire collection of jewelry, including a bracelet. Made of polished green stone by our prehistoric ancestors the Denisovans, this find provides astonishing evidence that decorative wear such as bracelets have been objects of desire for much of human history.

The ancient Egyptians were known for their opulent and extravagant attire, and we can see proof of this in bracelets found in the area from as early as 5,000 BCE. They primarily used gold and copper to craft these pieces, though they sometimes incorporated gems and stones. The every-day ancient Egyptian would have only been able to afford the copper varieties of the bracelet, while nobility would have enjoyed gold and elaborate gemstones, making the jewelry one was wearing a status symbol.

While today we love to adorn ourselves in diamonds, rubies and sapphires, the Egyptians tended to prefer stones such aas lapis lazuli, garnet, obsidian, carnelian, pearls and emeralds, all of which were native to the region. Although found buried in tombs along with other items belonging to the deceased, bracelets were purely a decorative accessory for the Egyptians and held no ritual or spiritual significance - an object meant only to beautify and delight.

Styles, Types and Techniques

Bracelets are a diverse accessory. They come in a range of styles and sizes, and each has its own unique qualities, characteristics and histories. New jewelry-making techniques and artistic movements help to keep bracelets up-to-date with style and design trends, which is especially seen in the rapidly evolving fashions of the 20th century.

Bangles

Black and White Diamond Bangle Black and White Diamond Bangle

Bangles are rigid, closed circles, usually with no closures or clasps, that slip over the wearer's hand, and their simplicity means they are one of the oldest types of jewelry in history. Early bangles were made from bone, shell, grasses and other natural materials, and examples have been uncovered in archaeological digs around the world. Bangle-style bracelets have commonly been found throughout the Indian subcontinent, and a sculpture dating back to 2500 BCE of a young girl wearing bangles and dancing was found in Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan.

Of course, modern-day bangles are crafted from more sophisticated and precious materials, such as this diamond encrusted bangle. Rows of white and black diamonds alternate around the circumference of the bracelet totaling in 18.88 carats and making quite a graphic and modern statement for such an ancient form of jewelry.

Cuffs

Ruby and Diamond Cuff Bracelet Ruby and Diamond Cuff Bracelet

A cuff bracelet is similar to a bangle in that it is rigid, but they include a closure or a gap used to get it on and off of the wrist. These were prominent in ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Mayan and Chinese cultures, and they served a variety of purposes. Some were meant to signify status or wealth, which was especially true in Mayan culture where cuffs played a prominent role in a king's royal attire. In Rome and Greece, they took on a more practical purpose as part of a soldier's armor, where especially wide metal cuffs would protect their wrists during battle.

Cuffs are often a statement piece because of their width and chunky nature, and this ruby and diamond cuff certainly is no exception. It evokes a real sense of strength, and its solid, bold presence hearkens back to the cuff's battle history, empowering the wearer with its strong structure and eye-catching sparkle. It features a stunning 59 total carats of perfectly matched white diamonds bordered by 40 carats of deep red Burma rubies set in 18k white gold.

Link Bracelets

Yellow Sapphire and Diamond Link Bracelet Yellow Sapphire and Diamond Link Bracelet

Link bracelets look like the name would suggest - a series of rings linked together to form a circle. Link bracelets come in many varieties, one of the more notable being charm bracelets. Charms have long been used to commemorate occasions, ward off bad luck, and send a message to others, and they have been incorporated into bracelets by many cultures including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Hittites starting as far back as 600 BCE. However, they really began to gain in popularity in the late 19th century thanks to Queen Victoria, who wore them often. She also made “mourning charms” popular after her husband, Prince Albert, died; she made charms from lockets of his hair and miniature portraits of the deceased. Also, the iconic Tiffany and Co. charm bracelet - a link bracelet with a single heart hanging from it - made its debut in 1889 and remains a very stylish item even today.

This link bracelet is, unsurprisingly, made up of a series of links intertwining around the wrist. The 18K gold links alternate between golden yellow sapphires totaling 24.69 carats and white diamonds totaling 4.58 carats. A link bracelet is the perfect canvas to enhance and highlight the dynamic contrast between the yellow sapphires and the diamonds.

 

 

Mystery Setting

Sapphire and Diamond Bracelet Sapphire and Diamond Bracelet

In 1896, a young newlywed couple named Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef started a jewelry house that would eventually become one of the most successful and innovative of all time - Van Cleef & Arpels. In 1933, they developed their innovative “Mystery Setting”, an entirely new kind of setting that eliminated any visible prongs to hold the gemstones in place. The first iteration of this patented technique was only used for flat surfaces until five years later in 1938. Van Cleef and Arpels found a new way to set the stones invisibly that allowed for movement, curves and twists. Any piece of jewelry created with this method had the ability to cascade effortlessly across the wearer's wrist or neck.

Although a time-consuming process, the results are worth the time, as evidenced by this finely crafted sapphire and diamond bracelet. All invisibly set in platinum, the princess-cut Ceylon sapphires total 64 carats with a border of 4.05 carats of round brilliant diamonds, truly making for a refined and graceful piece.

Mesh Bracelets

Sapphire Mesh Bracelet Sapphire Mesh Bracelet

Mesh Bracelets consist of a meticulously crafted intricate system of small links that allow the piece to move fluidly with the arm as it moves. They fall almost like fabric across the wrist and make for a comfortable and elegant piece of jewelry. The fluidity of a mesh bracelet also allows for maximum sparkle because of how easily it moves and catches the light.

This sapphire and diamond mesh bracelet demonstrates that nicely with an incredible 494 sapphires totaling 66.58 carats set in 18K rhodium-plated gold and it moves with a supple elegance across the wearer's wrist.

Tennis Bracelets

David Webb Diamond Line Bracelet David Webb Diamond Line Bracelet

Invented in the 20th century, the timeless style of the tennis bracelet makes it a new classic and a popular gift. The typical tennis bracelet is an in-line design covered in individually set, symmetrical diamonds and held together with a clasp. However, it didn't get its signature title until 1987 - it was previously known as an eternity bracelet. In the 1987 U.S. Tennis Championships, fashion-forward tennis star Chris Evert halted a particularly intense set when her eternity bracelet flew from her wrist; the match was suspended until it was recovered. From then on, it was known as a tennis bracelet, and the incident even inspired a design change: a safety chain with the clasp.

This David Webb diamond line bracelet is as classic as a tennis bracelet gets. With forty-six channel set baguette diamonds totaling 26.23 carats set in platinum and 18K white gold, it radiates effortless elegance.

Wristwatch

Plume Diamond Watch by Chanel Plume Diamond Watch by Chanel

In a category all their own, a wristwatch might not immediately come to mind when thinking of bracelets, but they do adorn the wrist and often move beyond utilitarianism. Wearing a bracelet with a watch went in and out of vogue with women through the 18th and 19th centuries. It wasn't until the early 20th century that it became solidified as a fashion statement. In fact, in 1912 the New York Times excitedly reported from Paris that “The wristwatch ... is now the fashion of the hour. It is worn over here by women who have to work as well as those who play.” A decidedly modern sentiment! It is also a testament to how this classic piece of jewelry has evolved to fit the needs of the contemporary woman.

Even men got in on this particular jewelry trend. In 1916 the New York Times bemusedly commented on the new craze of the “bracelet watch” among European men, but their rise in popularity was actually a direct result of modern warfare. During WWI, the telephone and signal service began to play an important role in the war effort, making the ability to tell time at a glance a necessity for soldiers. Thus, the wristwatch became standard issue. The trend then trickled into civilian life and now this so-called “bracelet watch” is as common an accessory to see on a man as a hat or a necktie.

This stunning watch from the always chic fashion house Chanel is an excellent example of utility and beauty coming together in a way unique to watches. With its delicate botanical motif and dazzling display of diamonds, it would fit right in with any other type of bracelet on a wearer's arm.

Today, we can still see how the bracelet has endured and evolved over the millenia. It is a testament to its versatility, ease of wear, and elegance. To view M.S. Rau Antiques' complete bracelet collection, click here.

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