How far would you go for love? This is the question posed by Cartier with its now-iconic piece, the LOVE bracelet. Its appeal is multifaceted — 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 enthusiast or modern minimalist. And yet it’s not quite like any other bracelet.
Designed in 1969 in New York City, the 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 bracelet’s unique charm 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 bracelets are surrounded with 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 the piece removed.
Of course, things have changed and now anyone may lock themselves into the chic confines of the storied bracelet. And while a LOVE bracelet may be easier to remove than the proverbial chastity belt, it has still proved enduring. They continue to increase in price and popularity, making them more coveted now than ever among those declaring their everlasting love, but also as graduation gifts or ‘treat yourself’ indulgences. And they still find their place on the arms of modern celebrities from Angelina Jolie to Kanye West.
Today’s LOVE bracelets hew close to Cipullo’s original design, but innovations were necessary as the piece rose to fame. “Since its inception the LOVE bracelet has been immensely popular,” explains Senior Director of Authentication, Graham Wetzbarger. “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, high-quality precious metals and signature design elements are key to distinguishing the real thing from fakes. “I have seen many knock-off LOVE bracelets,” says Wetzbarger. “Some are very cheap, made from brassy aluminum which are very lightweight and 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.”
The LOVE bracelet was Cipullo’s first design for Cartier, but it wasn’t his last. Cipullo had a knack for turning the ancient into the modern in the case of the LOVE bracelet, and the seemingly simple 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 — Cartier relaunched the collection in 2012. And so Cipullo’s iconic designs live on. In addition to the classic original bracelet, Cartier’s LOVE collection now includes rings, earrings, cufflinks, pendants and more. Whether you’re making the ultimate commitment or just adding to your stack of bangles, you still can’t go wrong with Cartier’s classic.