The Charm Diaries

As far as we know, the chronicles of the Charm Bracelet go all the way back to the prehistoric Neolithic Era of the Stone Age in the earlier BC years, when a man would carry a stone or piece of wood to protect himself from his enemies.

Egyptian Wedjat Eye Amulet made of gold (664–380 B.C.) *

The first recognizable charm bracelets appeared during the Egyptian Dynasty Era which started at about 3100 BCE ending in 30 BCE with the death of ancient Egypt’s famous last ruler, Queen Cleopatra VII.

The charms of the day were called amulets and highly regarded by the culture in having the power to invoke divine forces of protection and regeneration, a power activated by instructions or spells spoken over the amulet to infuse it with the metaphysical energy.

Scarab shaped amulet with image of Amenhotep III, promising its owner 'life' in this world (represented by an Ankh), 14th century BCE

Additionally, the relatively short life span of citizens in ancient civilizations such as Egypt prompted them to obsessively prepare for the afterlife, in which the Charm Bracelet played an essential role. Seen as protective shields and signs of status, charms were used as “ID tags” to help the Gods guide the wearer to the proper place in the afterlife.

Overlapping with the Egyptian Era, the Roman Empire which roughly started in 750 BC, records the “ichthus” fish symbol fashioned on the body of early Christians to identify themselves as followers of Christ.

At that same time, Jewish scholars wore pendants that held tiny scrolls of parchment inscribed with sections of Jewish Law, an act signifying that the law was close to their hearts and its teachings easily accessible.

Pictured on the right is an ancient scroll amulet discovered in the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem’s Old City around 600 BCE. The scroll contains a blessing for the people of Israel on two small, silver amulets.

During the Middle Ages, the great fear of witchcraft and wizardry, drove high English Royalty including Kings, Queens and Knights to wear charms as protective amulets.

Facing a decline in popularity within the higher echelons of society during the European Renaissance, marked by scholastic progress where science and books replaced mere superstition, the charm re-emerged once again during the reign of Queen Victoria, which last from 1837 until her death in 1901.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) ruler of Great Britain’s UK and Ireland & Empress of India

Queen Victoria (seated) with Empress Frederick, both in black mourning garb for the death of Emperor Frederick III (June 1888)

The comeback of the charm during the Victorian Era was sparked by her majesty’s own personal interest in this type of jewelry.  This time, the charms were used to denote connection with family and loved ones, whose photos or locks of hair were often encased by the charm.

You can see Queen Victoria wearing her charm bracelets in this photo.

The late 1800’s were also the time when the charm bracelet crossed over into the fashion world.  Case in point, Tiffany & Co. introduced their first charm bracelet at the Paris Exposition in 1889, the famous chain link charm bracelet with a single dangling heart pendant, which proved a great success at its inception… and still remains so today.

Exhibit of Tiffany and Co. at the Paris Exhibition, 1889

The post-war 1920’s & 30’s gave way to the emergence of a new, more simplistic, geometric style influenced by the artwork of abstraction masters such as Piet Mondrian, concurrent with the Art Deco movement.  This modernist approach to design was reflected in everything from visual arts to architecture, interior design and of course, charm jewelry!

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor with cross charm bracelet, photo by Cecil Beaton (1937)

In the 1940’s soldiers returning from World War II, brought back locally-crafted wooden and metal mementos commemorating their emotions and memories to families and loved ones.  The trend was swiftly picked up by jewelers in America and Europe offering charms for all of life’s moments.

The fashion spread further to include plastic charms in candy boxes and cereal packages, depicting an array of subjects including commercial and pop culture figures such as Betty Boop and Mickey Mouse, enjoying a large customer base of young collectors.

Bette Davis with charm bracelet
Elizabeth Taylor with charm bracelet

From the 1950’s to 1970’s, the Charm culture infiltrated the upper circles of American and European society becoming a must-have for girls and young women of that class.  The Charms were now icons marking occasions, interests, hobbies, as well as a display of birthstones, astrological signs, and even moods.

Once again, Charms took a dive in the 1970’s and 80’s when gold chains and bold jewelry became the statement, fueled by music industry fads of the day.  Charms now took a backseat to 80’s glamour, being mostly designated to antique markets and collector forums.

Though the idea of the Charm Bracelet never went out of style, it visibly reemerged in the 1990’s with the sought-after quality-craftsmanship of vintage jewelry and collectibles, including a special demand for the valuable MECHANICAL “moving” charms.

In the 21st century, the Charm Bracelet was brought back to the market – big time, by fashion giants Louis Vuitton and Chanel as well as newcomers like Pandora Jewelry which scored fortuitously with its charm bracelets all over Europe and North America in the early 2000’s.

Louis Vuitton (1821 – 1892) French fashion designer, businessman and founder of the Louis Vuitton brand

Louis Vuitton Carousel Charm featuring LV luggage set under a movable tent (2012 collection)

Louis Vuitton’s signature contribution was the creation of a game-changing trunk design which facilitated shipping in the late 1850’s, in line with the post-industrial revolution modes of transportation like railroad and steamship.

This charm depicts the legacy of Louis Vuitton fashion empire founder, the one-time personal box-maker and packer to wife of Emperor Napoleon III (circa 1853), hired by Empress Eugénie to “pack the most beautiful clothes in an exquisite way.” 

Bottom line.  We LOVE wearing beautiful things with a story.  They give us a sense of meaning, continuity, longevity, and above all… timelessness.

CHANEL Matryoshka Russian Doll Charm Bracelet (2010)

Coco Chanel (1883-1971): milliner, fashion designer, businesswoman, founder of Chanel brand

Pictured here is the couturier empress who came from a penniless background, starting her career out in an orphanage where she learned the skill that would become her life’s work, and which combined with her force of a character, took her to fashion legend status.

* The Egyptian Wedjat Eye represents a human eye with its brow, the two lines below the eye are often identified as the facial markings of a falcon. This was supposedly the eye that Seth tore from Horus during a battle over who would lead the gods. Thoth healed the injured eye, returning it to Horus as the “sound one.”
Wedjat-eye amulets were used from the Old Kingdom through the Roman Period worn as a bracelet for everyday wear or tucked among mummy wrappings, as a source of protection, strength and perfection.