From the Vault
Here's how the expansion bracelet, beloved by generations of watch-wearing men, got its start
This bracelet sits in my dining room corner cupboard with other cherished antiques. Dulled from wear and repair, its delicate links break easily and can no longer be worn.
Every day for 15 years, Id don my bracelet and my watch. The bracelet shined with a goldplated surface that covered its underlying base metal. For an expansion bracelet, it fit comfortably on my left wrist and was loose enough I didnt even feel I was wearing it. It was elegant in its simplicity.
One day, a link broke. The bracelet loosened, almost falling off my wrist. Id have paid any cost to have it repaired because the bracelet represented my mom and my grandmother. It had been passed down through the generations. When I wore it, I felt closer to them.
Can you fix my bracelet? I asked the neighborhood jeweler. He broke the bad news that it was so old, he couldnt restore it and that I should retire it to a jewelry box for safekeeping. His words hit me like a death in the family.
Only with my aging did the age and history of the bracelet become important to me. My mother always believed her uncle, Arthur Hadley, invented it. Upon further research into the pages of the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office, I discovered it was a collaboration between my Great Uncle Art and his co-worker, Charles P. Kuehner. It was patented on Feb. 11, 1913, and manufactured in Great Uncle Arts jewelry shop. He was the founder, president and treasurer of the Hadley Jewelry Co., which formed in 1913 on Fountain Street in Providence, RI. Born to British parents in 1885 in Cape Town, South Africa, Great Uncle Art moved to Providence with his family when he was 3. He graduated from the Technical High School in Providence and first worked as a toolmaker. A prosperous businessman, he divided his time between England and America until retiring in 1937. He died in 1941.
Bert Kalisher, editor of Chronos magazine and onetime owner of Hadley Jewelry Co., says Great Uncle Arts expansion bracelet invention was the forerunner of the popular expansion wristwatch band, beloved by generations of men. Wristwatches originally were considered too feminine for men, but they started to wear them during World War I, when soldiers found them easier to use in combat.
This type of expansion band used the scissor system with springs for watchbands manufactured through World War II. These were produced by companies such as Speidel, Lenox and Hadley-Kalbe. The scissor expansion band faded in the 1960s and 70s because it was too costly to make and tended to break. Speidels Twist O Flex replaced the scissor system in 1960 under a patent leased from a German company.
Kalisher notes an original wristwatch is showcased in the Smithsonian, attached to Great Uncle Arts expansion band. With each dusting of the corner cupboard and careful cleaning of Great Uncle Arts expansion bracelet, I take great pride in knowing the family history of the first expansion bracelet ever made.
||The original Hadley expansion bracelet, lovingly photographed and cared for by the grandniece of the inventor, Arthur Hadley.
By Suzanne G. Beyer
Suzanne G. Beyer lives in Bothell, WA.