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Victorian Trend Highlight: Collecting Sweetheart Bracelets & Its Intriguing History

Tanzy Ward

The 19th century Victorian Era (c.1837-1901) was an expansive period that emphasized various symbolic memento trends. Many Victorian accessories often feature designs that are sentimental in nature, which includes religious and mythological references. One accessory in particular, the sweetheart bracelet, has an intriguing history that is both sweet and immensely symbolic.  

Victorian Sweetheart bracelets were very popular memento sentimental accessories during the Victorian Era and early 20th century.

 

Originally, sweetheart bracelets were gifted to children, many of which contained paste stones and engraved initials. The trend became rather popular among women as well, and soon adult sizes were being manufactured. After the Industrial Revolution boom, jewelry companies created many lightweight gold-plated items with various designs. Bracelets were a popular fashionable choice, and many designs contained sentimental memento gestures to honor loved ones. When identifying and collecting antique sweetheart bracelets, some of the earliest models have hidden compartments for a loved one's hair strand or photo. During the Civil War (1861-1865), sweetheart bracelets were worn by relatives of the soldiers. Engraved initials and symbols can be seen on antique sweetheart bracelet designs. These fascinating symbols includes two hands clasping each other for an everlasting bond, white enamel to honor unmarried women & children, and grape leaves to represent rebirth. 

Victorian Era expandable  bracelet with white enamel, which could often symbolize remembering unmarried women and children. These bracelets are often called sweetheart bracelets, but the term originally began to be used for D.F. Briggs Co. & McRae & Keeler Sweetheart Shaped Bracelets 

 

Several different companies began to manufacture expandable monogramed and memento bracelets during the Victorian Era. However, the term 'sweetheart' is synonymous with the heart-shaped stretch bracelets created by the D.F. Briggs Company and McRae & Keeler Company. Both companies were founded in Attleboro, Massachusetts and created their expandable bracelets with heart shaped stones in the center. The heart shaped center was often created with paste such as glass or semiprecious stones like Amethyst and Ruby.  The D.F. Briggs Company, established in 1882, named their sweetheart bracelets 'Carmen'. McRae & Keeler Company, established in 1883, named manufactured their bracelets as 'American Queen'. In 1907, McRae & Keeler changed their name to Pitman & Keeler, while the D.F. Briggs Company began to market their jewelry under 'Briggs, Bates, & Bacon Company in 1922. This is important when identifying when certain sweetheart models were created. Both companies continued to create their signature sweetheart bracelets during World War 2. Servicemen would often send heart shaped mementos to loved ones, which included decorated military emblems. Both D.F. Briggs and McRae & Keeler Companies began to create sets for military sweethearts and loved ones.  Their bracelets during his period have different designs than earlier antique models.

Colorized image of the D.F. Briggs Company Business in Attleboro, Massachusetts next to the Railroad Arch 
Antique Edwardian WWI Era D.F. Briggs Company Sweetheart Bracelet
Up-close Hallmark of  Antique Edwardian Era D.F. Briggs Co Sweetheart Bracelet.  ‘The D.F.B Co.’, ‘Carmen’, & ‘Made In The U.S’ 

 

In today's market, sweetheart bracelets are highly collectible, and its quality craftsmanship has allowed it to be a practical modern statement accessory as well. The symbolic meaning and sentimental purpose of many sweetheart bracelets are still admirable and greatly appreciated. Sweetheart bracelets allow present day collectors to own a valuable piece of history, which often includes significant American wars and the families of the dearly departed. These sentimental gifts were a part of delicate historical memories and lives, which are very important to preserve. 


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