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Cuff bracelet designs can be traced to the 2nd millennium B.C., appearing nearly simultaneously among both the ancient Mayan and Chinese cultures. However, the ancient Egyptians are often credited with having popularized the elegant accessory. Queens such as Cleopatra, for example, were recorded as sporting a storied collection of arm cuffs rendered in gold and semiprecious stones.
The popularity of the cuff persisted throughout history. Its design versatility – from a simple, hammered metal band to more elaborate bejeweled baubles that make bold statements – allowed it to change across trends and fashions of each era. By the time of the Renaissance, cuff bracelets had become increasingly elegant, with a greater number of pearls and other precious materials being incorporated into designs.
Celebration of the cuff continued well into the 18th and 19th centuries, as discovery of the ancient world initiated a worldwide fascination with ancient Egypt and Rome. This enthusiasm was further stoked in the 20th century with major designers like Coco Chanel and Van Cleef & Arpels advocating for their creation.
Renaissance painter Raphael’s iconic painting, “La Fornarina,” 1518-1520, includes a prominent cuff on her arm that reveals Raphael’s signature
When comic book character Wonder Woman first debuted in 1941, an essential part of her costume was her pair of cuff bracelets. Intended as indestructible guards against enemy attack, these cuffs bear a stylish cut in keeping with early 1940s fashion
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis adored her set of hammered gold cuffs designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, so much so that they are featured in the famous photograph of her shaking hands with Muhammed Ali in 1977. Kennedy’s cuffs sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2011 for $128,500