There have been numerous times throughout history when a woman with naked wrists wasn’t considered properly dressed. In the early days of the Victorian era, for example, bracelets were of utmost importance, worn on each wrist, sometimes two or three pairs at a time. Chain bracelets were the most popular style, usually fastened with a hand motif or a filigree-covered heart padlock. Sometimes the clasps were coded with precious jewels or colored paste glass, with the first letter of the gemstone (Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Diamond, Sapphire, Turquoise) spelling out words like “REGARDED” or “DEAREST.”

The queen herself is considered responsible for the most romantic styles, spurred by her tragic love story with Prince Albert, whose early death she mourned for the rest of her life. Victoria was fond of charm bracelets, with charms made out of sterling silver and gemstones, including puffy hearts, lockets, cameos, coins, and mechanical charms that had moving parts. Many of these charm bracelets were made of mourning trinkets, like a locket or container holding the hair of a deceased loved one, as well as teeth, claws, stones, and shells with significance to the wearer.

A hundred years later, in the 1950s, the charm bracelet experienced a revival in the United States, this time as costume jewelry and made of much cheaper material. The fad, popularized by the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor, was a lot more light-hearted and fun than the grim Victorian originals. A girl would start a charm bracelet at a young age, with each new charm commemorating a milestone in her life. Charms made by Walter Lampi, most famous for his enamel hearts, are among the most collectible of this era.

Bracelets, of course, come in a wide variety of designs and styles, including beaded and link bracelets, cuffs, and bangles. Another style that originated in the Victorian era was made out of woven hair or rope-like metal cannetille work, often in Pinchbeck brass, an alloy of copper and zinc. The finely stitched cannetille wire could be shaped into interlocking links, flowers, shells, curls, or coils on the bracelet, which usually featured a huge decorative clasp.

As new materials and manufacturing techniques emerged in the 1920s and '30s, bracelets became even more wildly diverse and creative. The Art Deco movement brought about all sorts of link costume-jewelry bracelets—the rectangular Renaissance Revival style and more circular Czech style featured delicate patterns of filigree, enamel, and stone, while the Geometric style coming out of Germany and England were more streamlined and spare.

But the defining bracelet of the '20s and '30s was the bangle, popularized by the edgy flapper look. The Paris Colonial Exhibition of 1922 prompted a craze for wide bangles made of ivory. British socialite and trendsetter Nancy Clara Cunard wore armfuls of these large, bone-like bangles.

A flapper might adorn herself with an ivory bangle, sometimes paste-studded, just above her elbow, with a chiffon handkerchief tucked into it. These chic young women often piled ...

Thanks to 20th-century innovations in plastics, the craze—which lasted well into the '50s and '60s—took on wild colors, with costume-jewelry bangles manufactured in all shapes, sizes, and patterns. Bakelite was the most popular material for these eye-popping arm ornaments. Some of the most treasured, known as Philadelphia bangles, came in vibrant combinations of opaque butterscotch, rust, and avocado.

Bangles made of Bakelite or celluloid could also be carved; a clear tinted bangle might have a motif like a fish carved into the back, so it appears to be suspended in amber. Bangles made in clear "Apple Juice" colored Bakelite are among the most sought-after.

The machine age, as well as women's new-found independence, sparked the cold and severe '30s cocktail style of jewelry, which emphasized the rhythm and movements of a factory assembly line—incorporating theories of Bauhaus, Futurism, Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism. These heavy, chrome or gilt, armor-like bracelets might have large stones, or flexible metal links shaped like bricks, bows, or even tire tracks alluding to factory mechanization or moving staircases.

During World War II, when women took over factory jobs for the soldiers abroad, bracelet design become even more explicitly obsessed with industry, as ball bearings, screw-heads, girders, pipes, rods, cogs, washers, nuts, and bolts were incorporated into ultra-modern arm wear.

More glamorous styles of 20th-century bangles and bracelets were pavé-set or beaded with diamante or colored rhinestones. In particular, Coro's Vendome line, launched in 1953, emulated the glittery look of the high-end fine jewelry worn by the most elegant Hollywood stars.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Researching Costume Jewelry

Researching Costume Jewelry

Jewelry lovers, venture through this amazing database of vintage jewelry articles, catalogs, and brochures, as well… [read review or visit site]

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

It looks like we're not in Kansas anymore with Elizabeth Rowlands' site on vintage costume jewelry from the 1940s a… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Victorian Bohemian Garnet 1/2" Wide 4 Row Bangle BraceletRare Vintage Schiaparelli Lava Rock Carnival Art Glass Blue Rhinestone BraceletVtg 1940's Hobe Victorian Revival 2" Wide Givre Art Glass Filigree BraceletRare Unusual Antique Victorian Whitby Jet Mourning Shirt Cuff Manchette BraceletVintage Ugo Correani For Versace Haute Couture Basketweave BraceletEarly Victorian Gold Filled Bracelet Clasp Padlock Scallop Shape Enamel Good178 Pcs Vtg Costume Jewelry Rhinestone Brooch Bracelet Necklace Earring Ring LotVintage Carved Apple Juice Amber Hinged Bakelite Bracelet Bangle Black InsetVintage Signed Sherman Rhinestones Blue Brooch Semi Rigid Bracelet Earrings NrRare Vintage Juliana D & E Iridescent Red Art Glass Leaf Ab Rhinestone BraceletVintage Hermes Paris Sterling Silver Impossible To Find Massive Cuff BraceletEgyptian-revival~art Deco Style "serpent" / "snake" Bracelet~(whiting Davis)~nrAntique Photo Locket 14k Gold Victorian Sapphire Necklace Pendant Bracelet CharmGorgeous Rainbow Watermelon Rhinestone Vintage BraceletVintage Estate Set Of 2 Chanel Gold Quilt Bracelets With Crystals Exc. 1990'sVintage Haute Couture Runway Massive Jeweled Gripoix & Diamante BraceletJuliana Lavender & Ab Rhinestone 5 Link Bracelet Matching Pin Set Separately!Juliana Lavender & Ab Rhinestone Pin Earring Set Matching Bracelet Separately!Trifari Gold-plated Sterling "tank Bracelet" With Green Stones - 1943 Book Piece225pc High End Vintage Designer Rhinestone Lot Bracelets Necklaces Earrings PinsJuliana Gorgeous Rare Bright Orange Glass Cabochon Rhinestone BraceletVtg Antique 1900 Edwardian Sterling Silver Albertina Chain Bracelet Citrine Fob Weiss Unsigned Pretty In Pink Rhinestone Vintage BraceletVintage And Scarce Carved Flower Green Bakelite Bangle Bracelet NrVintage 10k Solid Yellow Gold Italian Herringbone Bracelet One Cent Sale! Fs! Fine Vintage French Art Deco Silver & Chrysoprase Gemstone BraceletVintage Antique Venetian Jewellery Star Millefiori Micro Mosaic Panel BraceletVintage Chanel Paris Impossible To Find Multi Strand Gripoix Cc Logo BraceletJuliana Chunky Smokey Gray & Rootbeer Rhinestone Bracelet Earring SetStunning Vintage Gold Tone Signed Florenza Ab Rhinestone Cab Bracelet!!! Abc 87Vintage Trifari Blue Enamel Forget Me Not Flower Necklace ExquisitePerli Werkstatte Signed Enamel Bracelet Germany Vintage Modernist Vgc Vintage Camphor Glass & Rhodium-plated, Filigree BraceletVintage Pair Marbelized Carved Polka Dot Bakelite Thin Bracelets BanglesCartier Love Bracelet Vintage Charles RevsonJuliana Book Piece Huge Red & Ab Rhinestone Bracelet Earring SetGorgeous Lot Of Genuine Coral Beaded Necklaces & Bracelet 14k Gold ClaspArt Deco Bakelite Red & Black Marbelized Half Circle BraceletQvc Joan Rivers Goldtone Red Mini Ladybug 7.75" Line Bracelet P489Vtg 1960s Signed Napier Egyptian Revival Turquoise Glass 3.5" Wide Cuff BraceletVintage Miriam Haskell Baroque Pearl Tassel Bracelet~beautifulJuliana D&e Sapphire & Ice Blue Glass Rhinestone Brooch Bracelet Earrings Lot NrVintage Lot 10 Micro Mosaic Pins Brooches Bracelets - Working Clasps Vintage Trifari Des Pat Pend Blue Enamel Forget Me Not Flower Bracelet ExquisiteVintage Trifari@ Blue Shell Molded Glass Necklace & Bracelet*extra*earring"partsAntique Victorian Engraved Gold Filled Rose Flower Bangle BraceletVintage Elizabeth Taylor For Avon Egyptian Cuff Bracelet Gold Tone Mint In BoxBig Huge Vintage Costume Jewelry Lot Brooch Pin Bracelet Rhinestone Earrings NeVintage Art Deco Job Lot Jewellery Cameo Necklace Bracelet Chrome CelluloidVintage Art Deco Era Bangle Bracelet Celluloid & White/black Rhinestones*no Res Joan Rivers Lady Bug Bracelet & Earrings Set In Box Euc Great Gift! #1024415 Lb Jewelry Lot Rhinestones Glass Bracelet Earrings Brooch Cameo Pin Vtg RecentSherman Siam Red & Red Ab - 1" Wide Open Work Cluster Bracelet NrJaw Dropping Vintage Juliana D&e Delizza & Elster Heliotrope Bracelet!!! S4876Massive Sparkling Ice Headlight Rhinestone Necklace Bracelet Earring SetSigned Trifari Vintage Set Necklace Bracelet Purple Rhinestone Flower Repair! 49Stunning Vintage Estate Gold Tone Signed Weiss Pink Rhinestone Bracelet!!! 5435jSterling Silver 925 Vintage Cuff Bracelet Green Turquoise Bird Southwest 1016Miriam Haskell Green Hand Wired Bracelet, 1940sVintage 7 3/4" Rootbeer Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Carved Leaves & Berries Large