Nov. 26, 2021

19th and 20th century ornamental bracelets

The beginning of the 19th century brought a fashion for bracelets made of intaglio and gemstones, attached to thin, gold chains. Elaborately carved cameos, which also appeared on bracelets, constituted one of the most popular ornamental motifs at that time.

The cameos, most often depicting loved ones, were bigger and bolder than ever before. They were most often made of onyx, chalcedony, and amethyst. Another popular type of bracelet took the form of wide gold mesh pieces adorned with decorative clasps. In the 1820s and 1830s, large, golden links, decorated with leaves and flagellum, also started adorning these articles of jewelry. Bracelets decorated with padlocks, clasped hands, pigeons, anchors, or ivy symbolized eternal love and often served as gifts for loved ones. The 1840s brought the so-called "snake" bracelets, which were made of small, joint links, wrapped around the wrist. Sometimes they were studded with precious stones imitating scales and eyes. The mid-19th century brought a novelty, which was a stretch bracelet, worn all over the arm. Each of its elements could be detached and serve as a pendant or brooch. 

The 19th-century interest in historical fashion was also reflected in jewelry. Flowers, branches, leaves, grapes, and berries were woven into bracelets, making references to medieval and renaissance motifs. During the 1880s, jewelry made of ancient coins and silver discs imitating coins became fashionable. Oriental motifs also gave inspiration to jewelry designers. Their popularity resulted from travels, which started to reach ever more remote corners of the world. Expeditions to Egypt in the 1860s popularized Egyptian jewelry and introduced more intense colors to the design of accessories. Scarabs became a particularly popular ornamental motif on the bracelets. In the 1860s and 1870s, there was also a fashion for accessories in the shape of insects, wasps, butterflies, spiders, and flies richly adorned with precious stones, which ornamented the bracelets, brooches, and pendants.

The last decades of the 19th century popularized stiff bracelets, often made of silver and decorated with gilding. Clips and belts were a popular ornamental motif at that time. Around 1900, thin and subtle bracelets, often decorated with a row of stones, became more widespread. With the progress of Art Nouveau, asymmetrical forms, and more modest materials such as opal, olivine, aquamarine, and moonstone came into fashion.

The characteristic features of jewelry of the 1920s and 1930s, designed in the art deco style, were geometrization and simplification of decorative motifs. Various artistic and cultural trends intertwined in the design of the bracelets created at that time. References to the latest trends in art, cubism, and fauvism, were combined with oriental ornaments, African art, and ancient Egyptian motifs.