Did your mom or grandmother have a charm bracelet when you were little? My mom had one that she no longer wore, and passed down to me and I loved hearing her explain why each charm was on there and what it meant. Eventually, she decided it was time to start building my own and part of the fun for many years, was collecting and adding the charms together to mark occasions, including a trout for the day I legally formed Manic Trout! My maternal grandmother also had charm bracelet but hers was not so much a marker for events and likes, but held coins that her eldest son collected when he was deployed during the Vietnam War and made into a bracelet for her when he returned home. As I began researching this post, I had to chuckle that the women in my family were the exact ages to follow the history of charm bracelets in the US perfectly. It’s no wonder they was such a part of my childhood!
The Origin of Charm Bracelets
The oldest charms date back to the pre-historic period, when jewelry charms were made from shells, animal-bones and clay. Later charms were made out of gems, rocks, and wood. There is evidence from Africa that shells were used for adornments around 75,000 years ago. In Germany intricately carved mammoth tusk charms have been found from around 30,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, around 3000bce charms were used for identification and as symbols of faith and luck, called amulets. These were worn around the neck and wrist. Charms also served to identify an individual to the gods in the afterlife.
During the Roman Empire, Christians would use tiny fish charms hidden in their clothing to identify themselves to other Christians. Jewish scholars of the same period would write tiny passages of Jewish law and put them in amulets round their necks to keep the law close to their heart at all times. Medieval knights wore charms for protection in battle. Charms also were worn in the Dark Ages to denote family origin and religious and political convictions.
The first trend of charm bracelets were worn by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Hittites in the form of bracelets to which they attached small objects they believed had special powers around 500 bce.
Modern Charm Bracelets
The modern charm bracelet originated with Queen Victoria during the late 1800’s in England when she started wearing a gold bracelet chain with lockets containing family portraits. (I will eventually write an post on Queen Victoria, as she is responsible for a considerable amount of jewelry trends and influence.) Queen Victoria introduced the idea of wearing charms that were personalized rather than for luck. Women in the European noble classes began to copy the Queen and wore bracelets adorned with hanging lockets and glass beads. Queen Victoria not only enjoyed wearing charm bracelets, but she would give them as gifts as well. When her beloved Prince Albert died, she even made “mourning” charms popular; lockets of hair from the deceased, miniature portraits of the deceased and charms carved in jet.
In 1889, Tiffany and Co. introduced their first charm bracelet: a silver link bracelet with a single heart dangling from it, a bracelet which is still an iconic symbol for Tiffany today.
Along with great advances in design and jewelry, platinum and diamonds were introduced to charm bracelet manufacturing during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Despite the Great Depression, women were spotted with diamond studded charms on their wrists.
During WWII, in the 1940’s, American soldiers began collecting small charms and trinkets as reminders of the men they knew, the women they loved, and their time in battle as they traveled through Europe and Asia. Fighting, often away from their loved ones for years at a time, soldiers would buy small reminders of the places they had been as presents for their families back home. Such presents, some bought, others found, seemed to encapsulate moments from the soldiers’ time away and as such charms became hugely popular as a means of capturing emotion and personal memories. When presented to the women they loved upon returning home, these charms were then attached to bracelets. These bracelets became so popular that jewelers began to produce charms specifically to be added on to them, it is soon found that leather bracelets also become popular.
By the 1950’s, charm bracelets had become a regular part of the American middle-class childhood. The chain was gold or silver and given as a popular gift on a girls’ 16th or 18th birthday or as a wedding or engagement present. and then charms were added throughout her life. Typically the charms symbolized turning points in the young woman’s life, such as a sixteenth birthday, graduation, wedding, or the birth of children. Mixed in were charms which represented interests or hobbies. A girl who loved horses might hang a silver horse or saddle from her bracelet; one who played tennis might buy or be given a golden tennis racket. The idea was that charms could be added and old ones removed and kept. This meant that girls and women were able to change facets of their charm bracelets on a daily basis to express their own mood or thoughts that day. Charm bracelets thus became prized personal heirlooms, passed down to daughters and granddaughters.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the casual fashions that were more in style faded the charm bracelet from popularity. There was a revival of the style in the 1980’s, but at this time women were not putting together their personal bracelets but rather bought older charm bracelets that had been put together during the 1950’s as part of a vintage, or antique, look.
By the early 2000’s, fashion designers such as Louis Vuitton and brands like Pandora (whose charm bracelets are in the Italian style of flat, interlocking and interchangeable band style bracelets) were introducing new charm bracelets and placing them once again in the jewelry spotlight.
Famous Charm Bracelet Enthusiasts
Queen Victoria, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Wallis Simpson, Lauren Becall and Bette Davis.