A tennis bracelet is a classic: small stones in simple, linear settings. But that minimalist look is now being reinterpreted with new materials, design advances and other changes.
Customers want different takes on the style, according to Elyse Walker, founder and chief executive of the California fashion boutiques that bear her name. “Jewelry has gotten really exciting, so people think of it in a fashionable way,” she said. “Not just in the long-term- investment way.” (Of course, the original tennis bracelet — which fell off while Chris Evert, who was wearing it, was playing in the 1978 United States Open — was not exactly an investment, either.)
One result is that tennis bracelets no longer pair diamonds exclusively with gold or platinum. Consider the ceramic, in multiple colors, used in the 14-karat yellow gold Folded Heart tennis bracelet (starting at $3,998) by the Los Angeles-based designer Adina Reyter. Each heart-shaped element is divided, with a colored ceramic on one half and a white-diamond pavé on the other.
“Sometimes, with stones, there are variations of them, and with ceramic, you are able to kind of get the same color and tone” every time, Ms. Reyter said.
Even gold settings have been getting an update. Eva Zuckerman, founder and creative director of the New York-based brand Eva Fehren, has been dipping the white gold of her tennis bracelets into black rhodium to give the pieces a tougher, more raw look.
Blackened gold also highlights the stones, Ms. Zuckerman said. “So when I use it with diamonds, it’s a really graphic contrast and has a lot of pop to it,” she said.
Semiprecious stones and minerals, like labradorite and lapis lazuli, are also being used, as they are easily obtained and more affordable than precious gems. And some jewelry owners are just fond of them, like Natasha Omezi, a British consultant on financial crime and cybercrime.
Ms. Omezi said she had been looking for an aqua topaz tennis bracelet to add to her Swarovski crystal ones because, she said, the color “reminds me of the sea, so it might have a different,” more calming effect.
An industrial look, achieved by integrating the shape of everyday hardware into a tennis bracelet, is leading the design changes. For instance, Uniform Object, a New York-based online jeweler that opened in September, offers an 18-karat gold emerald or white diamond tennis bracelet featuring a diamond-accented spur-and-spring-lock clasp.
Created with 3-D software, the bracelet design has thick, round bezels holding the stones, creating “a chunkier look” than that of traditional pieces, said David Farrugia, the company’s founder and creative director.
Linking the clasp to the bracelet proved difficult, he wrote in an email, explaining that the spur and the spring lock had to blend with the overall design and “bend like the rest of the bracelet.” The emerald design, $12,950, is now being sold by the jewelry retailer Twist, which has online sales in addition to its stores in Portland, Ore., and Seattle.
Designers have also been adding more layers of stones to their creations. The Los Angeles-based designer Suzanne Kalan plans to debut a double-row tennis bracelet at the Couture show in Las Vegas from June 9 through 12. One version will have a line of baguette shapes in 18-karat gold linked to a second line of diamond baguettes. The idea was “to make an expensive diamond piece to look casual and dressy at the same time,” Ms. Kalan said, adding that the gold “tones the diamonds down a little bit.”
A pink-sapphire and gold version will also be shown, she said, and other combinations are planned, such as emerald and gold, and ruby and gold.
For the young, London-based socialite Kofi Case, multistrand tennis bracelets just have more impact than the traditional single-line design. He said that when he is a dinner guest, he wears a three-tier diamond tennis bracelet by Lorraine Schwartz, bought at Harrods.
“It’s so eye-catching, and I kind of like to keep it for special things,” he said. “And not to overwear a piece, because then it loses the speciality for me.”
While Mr. Case also has six classic tennis bracelets from Cartier and other designers — these pair diamonds with white gold or platinum — he said he liked to wear the Lorraine Schwartz bracelet with a black tuxedo by Tom Ford or a waist-cinching black-and-white Proenza Schouler suit. The bracelet “is such a beautiful piece,” he said. “It’s appropriate, and I feel glamorous and fun.”
Even the shapes of the bracelet’s stones are changing, with gems forming flowers of decreasing size at Sophie Bille Brahe, colorful hearts at Emily P. Wheeler and elongated ovals at Nakard, Nak Armstrong’s diffusion line.
“We have tried to play with the proportions of things a little bit, and sometimes that can get complicated, because you have to get the cutters to find the material that can do these longer cuts,” said Mr. Armstrong, who is based in Austin, Texas. “We just went back and forth until they got it right.”
Designers, however, are divided on whether reinventing such a classic piece is more difficult than creating a new design.
“It’s very hard to reinvent something that is simple,” Mr. Armstrong said. “I had to remove the bells and whistles, and just focus on the minutiae of how big is that setting, how thick is the bezel that goes around the stone, how close can I make it — thinking about what is the finish that is going to be on the metal.”
But, for Ms. Reyter, reinterpretation is less of a challenge. “Having a foundation in anything you do is easier,” she said. “Imagine having to come up with a car for the first time. But once it’s designed, you can always make it better from there.”
Technology has been driving many of the changes in the tennis bracelet’s design, said Paul Schneider, a co-founder of Twist. “It’s fairly complicated when it comes to how the different pieces are connected to each other, and how the stones are held in, and technology has really changed that,” he said, citing increasingly precise diamond-cutting machines and advances in computer-aided design systems.
Re-examining the tennis bracelet’s design has also led artisans to some creative departures. Ms. Wheeler, who is based in Los Angeles, said she had been making only hard cuffs and bangles, but once she began doing tennis bracelets, she was encouraged to try other soft bracelets. “I hadn’t quite appreciated that today’s modern jewelry collector stacks a lot of bracelets, maybe with a watch” on the other wrist, she said, adding that “I hadn’t quite appreciated how a thinner, softer bracelet beautifully breaks up that aesthetic.”
And Matthew Harris, founder of Mateo New York, has combined a prong setting with a track, or channel, setting (the gems are set in a row with metal strips on either side), to turn the tennis bracelet’s classic design into his own. The technique requires a great deal of precision, he said.
Yet even as jewelry designers reinvent the tennis bracelet, they say the basic form still has resonance.
Mr. Farrugia of Uniform Object compared it to a large cuff, like Elsa Peretti’s bone cuff for Tiffany & Company. He described tennis bracelets as “classic, powerful statement pieces that are aspirational, that a lot of jewelry houses have their own take on.”
For Mr. Harris, wearing the design is almost like donning a cross, he said. While “the tennis bracelet has no religious affiliation,” he explained, “it’s almost a sacred thing to have a tennis bracelet in my family.”
But perhaps the best comparison is to large hoop earrings, Mr. Armstrong said. Like those pieces, a tennis bracelet, he added, is “a simple idea that has become an item that, you know, every woman should have in their wardrobe.”