The Cartier Love Bracelet: A History & How To Spot The Real Thing

Words by Jody Hume | 2.5.20

“How far would you go for love?” This is the question posed by one of jewelry’s most iconic pieces: the Cartier Love bracelet. Its appeal is multifaceted — at once a cult item beloved by the fashion set, celebrity favorite and classic piece with instant recognition, it hits every note. Add to that the choice of yellow, pink or white gold and the option of diamonds in place of its signature screws, and it’s clear it’s the fine jewelry piece that could find itself in anyone’s collection — man or woman, young or old, over-the-top eccentric or modern minimalist. And yet, while its appeal is near universal, it’s not quite like any other bracelet.

Designed in 1969 in New York City, the Cartier Love bracelet was the creation of young Italian jewelry designer Aldo Cipullo, and it quickly became a must-have item for the city’s chicest denizens. Inspired by the chastity belt and the idea that symbols of love should be everlasting, the unique charm of the Cartier Love bracelet lies in its locking mechanism. Rather than slipping onto your wrist, two C-shaped halves unhinge to clasp together before being screwed on with a miniature screwdriver included with each bracelet, reinforcing the idea that love is not to be taken lightly.

“Love,” said Cipullo, “has become too commercial, yet life without love is nothing — a fat zero. What modern people want are love symbols that look semi-permanent — or, at least, require a trick to remove. After all, love symbols should suggest an everlasting quality.”

Cartier Love bracelet hinged halves

The Cartier Love bracelet is surrounded by lore. As the story goes, they could at first only be purchased by couples who would surrender the screwdrivers to one another. When Cartier introduced the bracelet, they further cemented its romantic symbolism by giving them to high-profile celebrity pairs like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen. According to Vogue, legend even has it that some New York City hospitals keep a Love bracelet screwdriver on hand in case patients need their accessory removed in an emergency.

Of course, things have changed since the ’70s, and now anyone may lock themselves into the chic confines of the storied bracelet. And while a Cartier Love bracelet may be easier to remove than the proverbial chastity belt, it has still proved enduring, and a smart investment. They continue to increase in popularity and price, making them more coveted now than ever among those declaring their everlasting love, but also as graduation gifts or self-gifting indulgences. According to our data, the number of people searching for the Cartier Love bracelet continues to see triple-digit growth year over year. With this high demand, the average resale value of the Cartier Love bracelet has remained steady at 69% over the last five years, and has increased to 71% over the past six months.

Cartier Love bracelet screwdriver

Today’s Love bracelets hew close to Cipullo’s original design, but innovations were necessary as the piece rose to fame. Early models did not have serial numbers, but due to the many counterfeits on the market Cartier began engraving each piece of jewelry with a unique number which is kept on file at Cartier headquarters.

In addition to Cartier’s engraving, other elements like high-quality precious metals and signature design elements are key to distinguishing the real thing from fakes. Some imitations are very cheap and made from brassy aluminum, which is very lightweight, and many are often the wrong shape or use the wrong closure. But other fake bracelets are actually made from gold and can feature real diamonds, so it’s very important to look at the hallmarks and trademarks as well as the quality of the stones and metal to determine authenticity.

At The RealReal, every Cartier Love bracelet goes through a rigorous authenticity process overseen by experts like Katie Ward, Senior Fine Jewelry & Watches Valuation Manager. “My job is to give people information,” she explains. Information on authenticity and value, that is, gleaned from an extensive career getting up close and personal with the intricate craftsmanship of fine jewelry. “I gained my Graduate Gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America. I worked at Biblioteca delgi Uffizi in Florence, Italy, as well as working at Tiffany & Co. here in New York, as well as Christie’s.”

Cartier Love bracelet being examined with loupe to tell if it is real

So how does she tell real from faux? “There are a lot of metrics we use to gauge a Cartier Love bracelet in front of us,” says Ward. “How much does it weigh? What is it made out of? Is there a serial number? A copyright number? What size is it?” 

In addition to expertise, she relies on data. “At The RealReal we’ve amassed a tremendous amount of data — an entire archive with documentation of hallmarks, breakdowns of alloys used, and other information we can use to accurately identify authentic Cartier Love bracelets.”

The Love bracelet was Aldo Cipullo’s first design for Cartier, but it wasn’t his last. He had a knack for turning the ancient into the modern in the case of the Love bracelet, and the utilitarian into the stunningly irreverent in his other popular line for Cartier, “Juste un Clou.” As the name declares in French, it’s “just a nail” rendered in gold and delicately curved to encircle the wrist. The Cartier Juste un Clou debuted in 1971 on the heels of the Love bracelet, and is still coveted today; Cartier relaunched the collection in 2012. And so Cipullo’s iconic designs live on. In addition to the bracelet that started it all, the coveted collection now includes the Cartier Love ring, earrings, necklaces and more. Whether you’re making the ultimate commitment or just adding to your stack of bangles, you’ll never go wrong with a Cartier classic.

See more about our authentication process here, and lock down your love with our edit of Cartier Love bracelets.

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