Icon Chris Evert continues to add sparkle to the world stage

American tennis player Chris Evert is pictured in action during the competition to win the final of the 1978 Open Women’s tennis tournament at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows – Leo Mason/Popperfoto via Getty Images

Great athletes are often measured by their ability to penetrate beyond the realms of their own sport as much as what they can do on the playing field. Influencing popular culture, dominating the business world, or even coining a phrase is enough to make an athlete’s legacy.

When former tennis player Chris Evert did the latter, he had no idea the impact it would have on the fashion world. It started with a broken clasp on her diamond bracelet. When he felt it fall, Evert did what anyone would do and dropped to the ground to look for it. At the time, however, he was in the middle of the court at Flushing Meadows, New York, at the 1978 US Open.

“I’m 67 years old, so I can’t remember every detail,” he laughs, recalling the incident 44 years ago. “But I was playing on center court at the US Open and the bracelet pretty much fell on the court, it broke. So I raised my hand and stopped the game. I had to go find it.”

When she realized it was broken, she ran to her chair to leave it for safekeeping and then returned to the court to continue her match. To her, it wasn’t such a big deal. “I remember thinking and feeling ashamed that I broke it,” she says. “I have to stop the game, go ahead and put it down [at my chair] – was more trouble.

“I never, at that point, thought, ‘Oh, this could be something really special or grow into something iconic.’

She went on to defend her title, but, unknown to Evert, it was from this offhand comment that the eponymous “tennis bracelet” was born and the fashion world turned on her. Jewelery brands have released diamond bands attached to a chain and called them tennis bracelets, some of which retail for tens of thousands of pounds. Whether those who bought the coveted accessory were sporty or not, the name entered the fashion language that lives on to this day.

Along with her 18 major singles titles and her prolific on-court rivalry with Martina Navratilova, Evert says she has been asked many times about the bracelet incident.

“Over the years I definitely have, because every now and then there are articles about the tennis bracelet and I get quoted,” he says. “I was mentioned a lot at the beginning, but I think other players were wearing jewelry at the time – Billie Jean [King]Martina.

“It’s not called a golf bracelet, is it?”

“A lot of the female players were, it just so happened that after that match was when they coined the phrase. I’m not responsible for being the only athlete to ever wear a tennis bracelet but it’s not called a golf bracelet, right?’

Like all sports folklore, some of the details have been lost to history. There has been debate as to when it happened and even if it happened at all. But Evert is certain it was 1978. “When I looked back at all my pictures, with the diamond bracelet, I knew it was 1978,” he said. “I don’t remember everything, but I remember a green pitch, white lines, sweat – and I remember diamonds.”

She’s holding the record now, as she’s decided to capitalize on the event through a new collection of tennis bracelets bearing her initials, created with jewelry designer Monica Rich Kosann.

Maria Sharapova and Emma Radoucanou may never have landed lucrative deals with Swarovski and Tiffany & Co respectively if not for Evert and her team of female tennis players who make accessorizing part of their process.

As empowering as that is, for Evert it’s always been about feeling like herself on the court: “Jewelry has always been an important component of women’s athletics. At that time it was basically all about men playing sports,” he said.
Outside of the Olympics, tennis was really the first women’s sport to become successful.

“For me, and I’m not apologetic about it, I’ve always wanted to look feminine on the pitch, whether I was wearing braids and a ribbon in my hair or wearing nail polish or a diamond bracelet.

“I always felt that you could maintain that femininity and still be very strong and tough and athletic on the field. And have all these accessories. I feel like that’s the modern woman.”

Monica Rich Kosann’s tennis-CE bracelet collection will be exclusively available online at www.monicarichkosann.com

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