August 31, 2018—I don’t know when it happened, but the story about how Chris Evert’s diamond bracelet became known as a tennis bracelet has gotten mixed up. When I sat down to write a post about the iconic style in honor of the U.S. Open, I did a digital dive to check my facts and was surprised at what people were reporting.
Almost every story I came across said when Chris Evert was playing a match in 1987 her diamond line bracelet flew off her arm. She stopped to find it and from that moment the jewelry style became known as a tennis bracelet. One writer from a respectable outlet got so specific, I thought if she is right, I don’t know how the finer points have passed me by. She said the incident of Evert and the bracelet took place in 1987 at the U.S. Open “during an exceptionally long rally.”
My main quibble is actually with the date people are claiming the event took place. A lot of jewelry history is oral history and I had always heard the diamond line bracelet, a style that has been around since the 1920s, was named a “tennis bracelet” during the 1970s when Evert began to wear one while she ascended the ranks in her chic sporting gear and jewelry to become the number one player in the world. My understanding was the extravagance of playing in diamonds was such a novelty, her jewel was dubbed a tennis bracelet, by no one knows who, and the name stuck.
I went deeper in my search for the facts. One very solid piece of evidence, that immediately dismisses the 1987 U.S. Open notion, was published in The New York Times on July 17, 1987. The article named “Toward a Backhand” on the popularity of tennis bracelets predates the Grand Slam that took place from September 1 to September 14. The journalist wrote, “Why, you may ask, a tennis bracelet? Most likely because Chris Evert, among others has worn one on the tennis court.”
An August 4, 1987 piece in the Los Angeles Times, marveling about the diamond studs worn by Australian men’s champion Pat Cash said, “And, let’s not forget what Chris Evert did for the diamond ‘tennis bracelet.’” In other words, the name is fully in place by the 1987 U.S. Open. It did not happen at that Slam.
If I have to get academic about it, and it seems I do, the 1970s date for the jewel is the one that makes sense historically. It was the disco era when people were beginning to dress down and wear denim with diamonds. There was a desire for low-key luxury and high-end jewelers began making it. Elsa Peretti launched her toss it on and wear with everything Diamonds-by-the-Yard necklace at Tiffany. Cartier’s designer Aldo Cipullo who created the Love and Juste un Clou bracelets during the period, said “It was the marking of a transition to something totally different which nobody was doing.” Arguably in this context, Chris Evert wearing diamonds while she played tennis and the design being named a tennis bracelet fits in with the overall fashion mood.
In an effort to confirm the facts once and for all, I went to the source. Chris Evert’s publicist Tami Starr relayed in an email, “Chrissie recalls that she was wearing a diamond and gold bracelet and it broke and fell onto the court in an early round of the Open and they had to stop play while she looked for it.” Starr went on to add, the tennis champion remembers it happening the year the U.S. Open moved from Forest Hills to Flushing Meadows which was 1978.
I am thinking somewhere along the way on the wild internet, someone transposed the numbers of the year from 1978 to 1987 and the misinformation snowballed. Long story long, jewelry history is not an exact science, but I think we can all agree Ms. Evert would know the year when she almost lost her diamonds.