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    

Vintage Miriam Haskell Parure Necklace, Bracelet, Earrings Grey Pearls,marcasiteAntique Art Deco Sterling Silver Filigree Ruby Red Rhinestone BraceletAntique Edwardian 835 Fine Silver Crystal Paste Rhinestone Flower BraceletVintage Trifari Sterling Silver Claire De Lune BraceletHuge 16 Lb 12 Oz Vintage Estate Bracelet Brooch Etc Jewelry All Wear Resale Lot!Vintage Jewellery Sterling Silver Rennie Mackintosh Glasgow Rose BraceletVtg Kenneth Lane Kjl Foo Dog Mogul Emerald Gripoix Jewel Cab Couture Runway CuffVintage Art Deco Carved Green Marbleized Bakelite Bangle Cuff Bracelet Victorian Gutta Percha Vulcanite Triple Gold Band Hinged Bangle Bracelet PairVintage 14" Necklace 6.5" Bracelet & Earring Lot Pink Rhinestone Ab Crystal C174Antique Art Deco Sterling Black Glass Stone Bracelet Old Pawn Native American Malachite Sterling Silver Big Chunky BraceletVintage Flamigo Pink Bakelite Bracelet With Butterscotch DotsVintage Bakelite Carved Art Deco Dark Black Green Bangle BraceletVintage Green Bakelite Catalin Swirl C Shaped 6.25" Long Cuff Bracelet 1" WideRare Vintage Incredible Signed Florenza Dragons Breath Bracelet AmethystAntique Victorian Gold Tone Enamel Scroll & Floral 7" Long Panel Bracelet Bnw NrVintage Art Deco Rhodium Plate Filigree Rhinestone Bangle BraceletAntique Art Deco Sterling Silver Enamel Paste Rhinestone BraceletVintage 1950's Emerald Green Crystal Aurora Borealis Ab Bead Jewellery Bracelet*rare* Vintage Estate Verified Juliana D&e Pink Rivoli Rhinestone Bracelet G9888Vintage Unsigned Schiaparelli Gold Plate Watermelon Rhinestone BraceletHuge Lot Vintage Bracelets*selro*monet*judy Lee*celebrity*napier*sarah Cov+++Designer Signed S+w Sterling Silver Art Deco Pierced Filigree 7"-9" Bracelet SmsGrandmas Old Pawn Turquoise Sterling Silver Chunky Tennis BraceletAntique Art Nouveau Coro Gold Gilt Filigree Enamel Flower BraceletVintage Toshikane Japan Porcelain Orchid Oriental Bracelet Vintage Blue-moon Marble Bakelite Bracelet Simichrome Tested Vintage Jewellery Beautiful Signed 'trifari' Floral Link BraceletLot Of 2 Sterling Silver English Hallmarked Vintage Bracelets Bangles - As Is Beautiful Purple Blue & Ice Resin Rhinestone Necklace Bracelet Earring SetVtg Crown Trifari Garden Of Eden Snake Serpent Bracelet Brown Enamel Green EyesSigned Ciner Emerald Or Jade Green Caviar Mesh Gold Plated 6.5" Bracelet Bnw NrGorgeous Vintage Jewellery Natural Baltic Amber Cobachon Modernist Link BraceletVintage Art Deco 800 Fine Silver Filigree BraceletHi Quality Lisner Thermoset Lucite Leaf Necklace Bracelet Earrings #827aVintage Early Shultz Wide Polka Dot Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Excellent ConditionVintage Hand Cut Bakelite Lucite Green Deco Bangle Antique JewelryVintage Art Deco Green Marbleized Bakelite Bangle Bracelet X 2Vtg Sets Lot Earrings Brooch Pin Necklace Bracelet Flower Rhinestone Pearl Cc6Vintage Art Deco Egyptian Revival Enamel Nefertiti Hieroglyphics BraceletVintage Estate High End Costume Designer Weiss Rhinestone Bracelet No ReserveVintage Estate Genuine Carved Beige Bakelite Bangle Bracelet No ReserveOld Silver Floral Engraved Bracelet Chain Linked PanelsVictorian Renaissance Revival Silver Emerald Green Glass Seed Pearl BraceletVintage Estate High End Costume Designer Trifari Necklace Bracelet Earrings SetVictorian Jewelry Collection Lot Pins Necklaces Locket Bracelet 15 PiecesVintage Trifari Philippe Jewels Of India Moghul Ruby Emerald Sapphire Bracelet58 Pc Vtg Bracelet Lot Trifari Erwin Pearl Sarah Cov Charm Rhinestone Wow! Cc9Mixed Lot Vintage Victorian Gold Filled Costume Bracelets Earrings Brooches (mnnVintage Junk Drawer Jewelry Lot-rhinestone Necklaces Earrings Pins BraceletsVintage 14" Necklace & 6" Bracelet Set Red Green Ab Crystal Rhinestone C154Vintage Scottish Agate And Silver Mounted BraceletHermes Gold Plated & Black Leather Kelly Bangle Vintage Bracelet #562a Rise-onTurquoise Old Pawn Western Sterling Silver Heavy Big Chunky BraceletAntique Art Deco 18k White Gold Filled Aquamarine Paste BraceletHigh End Vtg 7.5" Bracelet & Earring Set Glass Leaf Pink Green White Flower C389Schiaparelli Amethyst Glass Bracelet, Brooch, Earrings Signed ! Stunning Set !Vintage Estate Genuine Carved Cherry Red Bakelite Bangle Bracelet No ReserveVintage Rhinestone Sarah Coventry Demi Midnite Magic Bracelet Earrings #111