Vintage jewellery is generally defined as jewellery from a past era, at least 20 years ago, but no more than 100 years ago. Jewellery that is under 20 years old is referred to as second-hand or estate, while jewellery dating over 100 years is classified as antique.
Vintage bracelets are an excellent way of adding a unique element to one’s jewellery collection. With their high-quality workmanship and durable, striking materials, they are a refreshing alternative to mass-produced contemporary pieces. What’s more, vintage bracelets are often one-of-a-kind. Whether dainty or daring, they draw admiring attention to the slenderest part of the body, the wrist.
Knowing about trends in vintage jewellery design helps shoppers select a piece that suits their individual style. There are many bracelets from which to choose, including bangles, charm bracelets, cuffs, tennis bracelets, and gate bracelets. With the right knowledge, consumers can find a beautiful, quality vintage bracelet.
Bracelets Through the Decades: A Brief Overview
Over the years, bracelet styles changed to reflect trends in fashion. Knowing about specific vintage eras can help shoppers look for items that complement their style sensibility, as well as identify genuine pieces.
The early decades of the twentieth century saw a turn towards abstract, linear jewellery design as part of the Art Deco movement. Bracelets in Bakelite, a plastic made from formaldehyde and phenol, became popular, as did Czech filigree pieces with sparkling crystal rhinestones. The discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 revived an interest in scarab beetles and blue and green enamelling.
World War II and the Retro Era
Enamelling continued to be popular in the Retro Era; these vintage pieces are rare and highly valued. With most pot metal dedicated for the war effort, silver became more widely used as a base metal, sometimes plated in gold. Wood, plastic, and Bakelite were also common. Jewellery from this era is characterised as colourful, large, and bold.
1950s: Classic Sophistication
Hollywood, rock and roll, and television all had influence on fashion trends, which tended to be neat and tailored. Pearl jewellery, both faux and real, became popular. 1950s costume jewellery was sophisticated, while youthful styles were casual and playful, as epitomised by the charm bracelet that emerged during this period as well.
1960s: Mod and Hippie Styles
In the 1960s, mod styles favoured black and white pieces inspired by Pop Art. The hippie movement, by contrast, took an interest in ethnic jewellery, stacks of bangles, beads, and bells.
1970s and the Disco Era
As disco clothes became shinier, jewellery became less ornate, while at the same time tending towards chunky, bold designs. Bracelet styles in the 1970s included metal cuffs and experimental pieces in acrylic and different metals, or more bohemian shells and wood. There was also an Art Deco revival during this period, so buyers should check whether Art Deco pieces are from the 1970s or from the authentic Art Deco period.
The Brazen 1980s
The 1980s saw a further magnification of the bold, chunky trends of the seventies. Pop stars and television programmes like “Dynasty” contributed to flashy, exaggerated styles with gemstones, both faux and real, as well as experimental pieces in plastic, wood, feathers, and more. Couture pieces from this period, such as Christian Dior and Chanel, are particularly sought after.
Common Vintage Bracelet Styles
There are several vintage bracelet styles that are especially common and enduringly popular. These include bangles, charm bracelets, cuff bracelets, gate bracelets, and tennis bracelets.
Bangles are stiff, circular bracelets that fit loosely around the wrist. Worn individually, bangles are elegantly simple. Worn in stacks, they create a striking, bohemian flair. Vintage bangles vary in widths and materials, ranging from chunky Bakelite bangles to thread-thin silver pieces. Some are adorned with gemstones, while others are plain, highlighting the main material’s uniqueness and beauty.
Vintage Charm Bracelets
Charm bracelets are metal chain bracelets from which dangle small charm pendants in unique designs. The charm bracelet enjoyed immense popularity from the 1950s to the 1970s; the UK was a leader in production, most notably by makers Nuvo, Chim, and Toby. Artists created wax models, from which moulds were taken to form the charms. Vintage charms can be three-dimensional or flat. Some are intricately detailed and even feature moving parts.
Some authentic British charms are hallmarked with the date, maker, and metal purity; others are not hallmarked and may be labelled as “sil” or “silver”.
Vintage Cuff Bracelets
Cuffs are stiff bracelets similar to bangles with an opening that allows it to slide onto the wrist. Cuffs can range in width; narrower cuffs have a delicate appearance, while wide cuffs make a strong statement. Vintage cuffs are commonly in metal, but can also be made from plastic, leather, beads, or other natural materials. They may be studded with small gemstones or feature a large single stone; many cuffs feature intricate metalwork.
Vintage Gate Bracelets
Gate bracelets were a popular design in the Victorian Era. With their interlinked barred sections, they resemble the barred gates found around English castles and estates. Gate bracelets feature a working heart-shaped padlock clasp. Queen Victoria herself collected gate bracelets, and ladies of the time would give their sweethearts the key to the padlock as a symbol of love. Since they date back to the Victorian Era, gate bracelets are usually considered antique pieces rather than vintage, but some may be classified as vintage.
Vintage Tennis Bracelets
Tennis bracelets feature multiple small gemstones linked together on a narrow chain. Vintage tennis bracelets may have a silver or gold chain, and feature various precious stones, including diamonds, topaz, ruby, sapphire, emerald, amethyst, or pearls. Tennis bracelets are classic pieces that are neutral enough to wear with casual outfits, but are also a standout on dressier occasions.
Identifying Vintage Bracelets
A major issue when purchasing any vintage item is authenticity. For skilled specialists, this is an easier task; for those less familiar with the world of vintage jewellery, it can be daunting. As mentioned above, one of the first steps one can take is getting familiar with the jewellery styles from the era or eras of interest. Vintage materials and craftsmanship are different from contemporary work. Learn what techniques were common in that time. Get to know the predominant materials from a certain era, e.g., Czech crystal or Bakelite, and research how to identify them. Often vintage pieces bear some kind of mark, whether from an assay office assuring the metal’s purity, or a stamp from the designer. Many pieces bear stamps from both the designer and the country of origin.
Buyers should be aware that the surge of vintage jewellery’s popularity has led to the production of imitation vintage pieces. If a bracelet is labelled “vintage style”, it is most likely an imitation piece. Look at how clean the bracelet it is: if it is bright and spotless, this may be a sign that it is a copy. Older pieces tend to tarnish, if silver, or show some signs of wear. Vintage dealers often leave genuine items uncleaned, although it is possible to come across cleaned vintage bracelets. Last but not least, cost can be an indication that something is a reproduction: vintage experts often advise that if a price seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Assessing the Condition of a Vintage Bracelet
It is also important to consider a vintage bracelet’s condition before buying. While small issues like missing or broken links can usually be repaired, bracelets with worn plating, heavy scratches, or chipped enamel may not be worth the purchase. This is, of course, a matter for the buyer to decide, but they should be aware that serious cosmetic or structural damage, even to designer items, affects a vintage bracelet’s value.
Where to Find Vintage Bracelets
Shopping for vintage bracelets can be an exciting adventure, since no two vintage pieces are alike. For those interested in shopping in person, street markets are a good place to scrounge around for bargains. The risk here is that they may wind up with fake pieces. Consignment and antique shops are more likely to charge more, but the chances are good of finding an authentic and well-cared for vintage bracelet. Shopping online is another option, with many Internet merchants willing to ship internationally and auction websites like vintagejewelryshopping.com featuring a wide selection of vintage jewellery. Consumers need to use caution when shopping online, however; researching the seller and opting to buy through a reputable dealer helps ensure that one is purchasing a genuine article.