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 jewelry designers, bracelets of all shapes and styles are having their time in the spotlight. Yet, many people might not realize the fascinating background of this beloved arm adornment. Read on to learn more about the history of bracelets.
Bracelet History Around the World
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 archaeological evidence that decorative wear such as bracelets has been the object of desire for much of human history.
The citizens of ancient Egypt were known for their opulent and extravagant attire, and we can see proof of this in the different types of 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 precious and semi precious stones. The everyday ancient Egyptian would have only been able to afford the copper metal varieties of the bracelet. In contrast, the nobility would have enjoyed gold and elaborate gemstone colors and pieces, making the jewelry one was wearing a status symbol.
What Stones Did the Egyptians Favor?
While today we love to adorn ourselves in diamonds, rubies and sapphires, the ancient Egyptians tended to prefer stones such as lapis lazuli, garnet, obsidian, carnelian, different types of 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.
Aside from the ancient Egyptians, wearing bracelets became common for early civilizations throughout the world. Greek soldiers used leather and metal cuffs on their arms and wrists during the war for protection, which was later adopted by soldiers of the Roman Empire on the battlefield. Soon after, the bracelet became more of an ornament than a war symbol and was worn by both men and women as a fashionable accessory. Wealthy merchants and noblemen throughout Europe fancied gold bangles up until the Middle Ages until the popularity of the classic gold bracelet went into decline. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the bracelet made a comeback and became a popular staple for many women across Europe.
The jade bracelet has been around in Asian cultures since 2000 B.C. Symbolizing courage, virtue and wisdom, the jade bracelet was more than just an accessory in China. It was a symbol that held strong significance to Chinese morals and values. Jadeite jewelry consists of some of the most valuable gemstone pieces in Asia––and not only because of its rarity, but also because of its importance in ancient civilizations.
Bracelets in India
In India, the bangle holds strong meaning for women, symbolizing both prosperity and good fortune. Even today, regions throughout India have different rituals regarding this staple ornament, with different colors of bangles holding high cultural significance. Today, women from India strongly identify with bangles and wear them for both their symbolic significance and timeless elegance.
Styles, Types and Techniques
Bracelets are a diverse accessory. They come in various styles and sizes, each with their 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––all of which are especially evident in the rapidly evolving fashions of the 20th century.
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 bones, shells, grasses and other natural materials, and examples have been uncovered in archaeological digs around the world. Today, you can even find bangles made of precious metals or glass bangles that are extremely common in places like India. 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.
Black and White Diamond Bangle
Of course, modern-day bangles are crafted from more sophisticated and precious metal types and materials, such as this diamond-encrusted bangle bracelet. Rows of white and black diamonds alternate around the circumference of the bracelet, totaling 18.88 carats and making quite a graphic and modern statement for such an ancient form of fine diamond jewelry.
A cuff bracelet is similar to a bangle bracelet in that it is rigid, but it includes a closure or a gap 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 wide 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.
Ruby and Diamond Cuff Bracelet
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. Discover more of our ruby jewelry collection to find a piece that speaks to you.
Our collection of cuff bracelets includes some of the finest estate jewelry pieces you will find–perfect for that special someone.
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. Dangling charms have long been used to commemorate occasions, bring good luck, ward off evil spirits, and send messages 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 a perfect canvas to enhance and highlight the dynamic contrast between the yellow sapphires and the diamonds.
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 & 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.
Sapphire and Diamond Bracelet
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 brilliant round diamonds, truly making for a refined and graceful piece of sapphire jewelry.
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 fine jewelry. The fluidity of a mesh bracelet also allows for maximum sparkle because of how easily it moves and catches the light.
Sapphire Mesh Bracelet
This sapphire and diamond mesh bracelet demonstrates that nicely with an incredible 494 sapphires totaling 66.58 carats set in 18K rhodium-plated gold. Even more elegant, it moves with a supple elegance across the wearer's wrist.
Classic Tennis Bracelets
David Webb Diamond Line Bracelet
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.
In a category all their own, a wristwatch might not immediately come to mind when thinking of the different types 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.
Not Just for Women
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.
Plume Diamond Watch by Chanel
This stunning watch bracelet 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.
Shop our antique watches today to take home a one-of-a-kind piece for your jewelry collection!
Today, we can still see how the bracelet has endured and evolved over the millennia. It is a testament to its versatility, ease of wear, and elegance. With so many different styles of bracelets to choose from, it may be difficult to select just one. While some bracelets may display intricate patterns and designs, you can also find simple yet elegant jewelry pieces that will forever be a timeless staple. And that, right there, is the beauty of the bracelet. Feeling inspired to expand your jewelry collection? Browse our selection of antique bracelets for sale at M.S. Rau.
Want to learn more about other types of jewelry? Explore our antique jewelry guide for everything you need to know about your favorite accessories. and once you’ve made your selection, make sure to learn how to clean antique jewelry to keep your pieces in top condition.