Antique and Vintage Bracelet Styles

Old Jewelry Made to Adorn the Wrist

Like necklaces, bracelets have been worn since ancient times, and they remain extremely popular today. There are various styles of bracelets, including the popular bangle, cuff, and slide, as well as line, torc, and torsade bracelets. Each has its own distinguishing characteristics; some have changed over the centuries while others have remained the same.

Learning how to spot the variety of styles will help in your hunt for beautiful vintage and antique bracelets to add to your collection.

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    Bangle Bracelet

    Carved bakelite bangle bracelet, c. 1930s

    Jay B. Siegel / ChicAntiques.com

    Bangle bracelets are popular fashion expressions today, but they actually date back to ancient times. They can be made of any material that can be molded, carved, or forged.

    While they're more often round in shape, modern artsy versions take a variety of shapes. Traditionally, bangle bracelets slip over the wrist. Some include hinges and clasps and are referenced as hinged bangles. 

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    Cuff Bracelet

    Chanel gripoix glass cuff bracelet, c. 1980s.

    Jay B. Siegel / ChicAntiques.com

    Cuff bracelets date back to 9th century Byzantium, but they’ve been popular through the centuries and with virtually all cultures. While they can vary in width, these bracelets always circle the wrist like the cuff of a shirt.

    This style can be open on the underside or hinged and fasten with a closure. Modern designers have frequently utilized this style in both plain metal and jewel-encrusted versions. The pieces may include precious metals and gemstones and it's a popular style for costume jewelry as well.

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    Line Bracelet

    Art deco platinum and diamond line bracelet, c. 1920-1935

    Prices4Antiques.com

    The line bracelet faded somewhat in popularity after World War II. It was revived in the 1980s, usually with diamonds, as the tennis bracelet. Both modern and vintage versions of this style can be found made with glass stones in sterling silver and plated base metals as well.

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    Slide Bracelet

    Slide bracelet with Victorian-style slides, 14K yellow gold, 1950s.

    Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry

    Originally, this style included any bracelet (of ribbon or metal mesh) that was fastened with a slide. The slide is a type of open-frame clasp through which a chain or ribbon can be passed. The front of a slide is often elaborate while the back has one or two vertical bars, similar to a buckle but without the central tongue.

    In more specific terms, slides are now associated with bracelets composed of many individual slides strung on a chain in rows of one or two. Each is usually separated by small metal balls.

    This type of bracelet developed in the early 20th century, often using Victorian slides such as bejeweled or engraved pieces, tiny watches, and even miniature portraits. The slides were often made from watch fobs or the heads removed from stickpins and used to adjust the length of a necklace.

    The slide bracelet saw a renaissance in the 1940s and 50's. The retro variety is usually large and chunky. Ready-made imitations of vintage slides are often used as opposed to recycled fobs like those seen in older pieces.

    When referring to the latter type of slide, the term "Victorian slide bracelet" can be a misnomer. The slides themselves may date from the 19th century, but the bracelet itself is probably younger. The original type of slide bracelet, however, is typical of authentic Victorian jewelry styles.

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    Torc Bracelet

    Iron Age torc bracelets.

    Wikimedia Commons / Helen Etheridge

    The torc originated as a neck ring (a rigid necklace) or armlet that was open-ended, much like the cuff. The two ends are typically capped with balls, cubes, or a more ornate ornament such as gemstones. They can be made of precious metals or plated base metals and the body of the piece is often twisted or braided.

    This is an extremely ancient style, with examples dating from 1800 B.C.E. in Egypt. It is typically associated with Celtic jewelry of the Iron Age (1200 B.C.E. to 400 A.D.). There was a revival of the style in the second half of the 20th century by designers such as Georg Jensen and David Yurman, whose "torc bracelets" became especially popular.

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    Torsade Bracelet

    Cartier coral and karat gold torsade bracelet.

    Prices4Antiques.com

    The torsade is a bracelet style dating back to ancient Egypt. It is made with a number of strands of beads, chains, or other materials twisted together to encircle the wrist. The name is also used to refer to a necklace style with the same twisting effect.

    These bracelets are usually fastened with a clasp. Modern versions can be found strung on elastic that slips right over the hand.