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 Sterling Silver Enamel Puffy Heart Charm BraceletLoaded Vintage Japan Sterling Silver Charm BraceletAntique Victorian Jeweled Sterling Silver Curb Link Tassel Charm Bracelet7 X Vintage Micro Mosaic Brooches & Bracelet No ReserveUnusual Antique Art Deco Sterling Silver Enamel BraceletVintage Valentino Runway Impossible To Find $2k Gryphons BraceletWide Vintage English Sterling Silver Gate Bracelet With Heart Lock ClaspAntique Georgian Pinchbeck Hand Painted Portrait Ceramic Swiss Canton Bracelet Bold Vintage Gold Plate Fruit Salad Rhinestone Clamper Bracelet6 X Vintage Micro Mosaic Brooches & Bracelet No ReserveJuliana Book Piece Vtg Bracelet Brooch Pin Earring Set Red Yellow Flower R510Vintage Old Mexico Sterling Silver Charm BraceletVintage Fabulous Czech Bracelet With Seed Pearls Amethyst Crystal And EnamelVintage Art Deco Mega Marbled Carved All Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet Set LotHuge Hurt Bakelite Bangle Lot Best Of The Best With OwiesVintage Dot *polka Dot* Bakelite Bangle BraceletAntique Victorian Engraved Sterling Silver Repousse Bangle BraceletVtg Victorian Revival Givre Amethyst Opal Art Glass Mesh Chain BraceletVintage Juliana D&e Buttercup Pink Rhinestone Aurora Borealis Bead Link BraceletGorgeous Lot Of 2 Vintage Carved Blue Green Swirl Bangle Bakelite BraceletsVintage Fischland Germany Modernist 835 Fine Silver Baltic Amber BraceletHuge 29+ Lb Vintage Estate Bracelet Brooch Jewelry Craft Harvest Repair Lot!Vtg Deep Carved Bakelite Bracelet Bangle End Of The Day Green Brown MarbleAntique/vtg. Victorian Mostly Gold Filled Lot Of 16 Lockets, Bracelets, BroochStunning Vintage Estate Juliana D&e Ab Blue Rhinestone 5 Link Bracelet!!! G509Vtg Unsigned Selro 7 Chinese Gods Fortune Glass Buddha Bracelet Earring Set Q152Antique Art Deco Sterling Silver Open Back Emerald Crystal Paste Stone BraceletAntique Victorian French Sterling Silver Rose Gold Star Bangle BraceletVintage Art Deco Danecraft Cast Sterling Silver Water Lily Flower BraceletLot Of 3 Vintage Orange, Carved Brown & Green Bangle Bakelite BraceletsVintage Jewellery Wonderful Snakes Link Bracelet - So UnusualVtg Juliana D&e Easter Egg Art Glass Ab Rhinestone Book Piece Repair BraceletVintage Jewellery Stunning Silver & Amethyst Glass Crystal BraceletFabulous Antique Victorian Gold Filled Bohemian Garnet Bangle BraceletVintage Franklin Mint Duchess Of Windsor Ruby Eye Panther Bracelet & Earring SetVintage Jewellery Beautiful Green Amber Cabochon And Silver BraceletA Pair Of Goldplated Turquoise Cabochon & Jeweled Starfish Bangle BraceletsVtg Kenneth Lane Kjl Verdura Maltese Cross Gripoix Mogul Jewel Black Enamel CuffAntique Victorian Etruscan Revival Gold Filled Coral Charm Bangle BraceletWonderful Vintage Bakelite Lot To Collect Or ResellVintage Art Deco Jewellery Delightful Czech Filigree Marquis Rhinestone BraceletTrifari Necklace Earrings Bracelet Set Turquoise Pearl White Cabochons StonesVintage Carved Deep Cherry Red Bakelite Bracelet Stunning 100% Authentic! TestedVtg Unsigned Weiss Mourning Lucite Rhinestone Clamper Bracelet Earring Set Q153Fabulous Bakelite Apple Juice Hinged Clamper Bracelet - Gorgeous!Antique Silver Marcasite Necklace & Bracelet No ReserveCoro Signed Red Molded Fan Carnival Glass Ab Rhinestone Necklace Bracelet Set+Vintage Juliana D&e Pink Rhinestone Fly Ab Crystal Dangle Cluster BraceletCharles Revson 1970 Aldo Cipullo Gold Electroplate Love Bracelet Vtg Huge Moroccan Filigree Wire Flower Sabre Sword Armlet Cuff Bracelet Q184Vintage Trifari Alfred Philippe Crown Trifari Pin Brooch 2 Inches NrVintage Stripe 2 Color *bakelite* Bangle BraceletVintage Carved Black Bakelite Bracelet Stunning 100% Authentic! TestedThick Vintage Transparent Swirl Aqua Bakelite BangleRare Vintage Christian Lacroix/babylone «gripoix/pearl» Bracelet, 1980’s Gorgeous Grandma's Estate Jewelry Lot Marcasite Sterling Silver Cross BraceletStunning Vintage Estate High End Green Rhinestone Gold Tone Bracelet!!! G728*rare* Stunning Vintage Estate Signed Schiaparelli Bracelet Necklace Set!!! G555Lovely Vtg Topaz Glass Foiled Rhinestone Full 3 Pc Bracelet Parure Set! Lo172Vintage Jewellery Lovely Silver Modernist Disc Link Bracelet Signed