What are your thoughts when you think of charm bracelets?
Maybe you hear the jingle jangle of your mother’s bracelet as she hurried to the car to get you to school on time. Perhaps you remember sitting in your grandmother’s lap, looking at each tiny ornament in wonder and being especially fascinated by the fan charm on her bracelet that actually folded and unfolded. Or, maybe you have inherited a bracelet from a relative that is a sweet reminder of her life.
People have had the urge to preserve a tangible memento of events since long before cellphone cameras documented every waking moment of our lives. Think about the impulse to pick up a pretty seashell at the beach to put on a chain and wear for the rest of the summer. Going back as far as the Neolithic age, trinkets such as seashells, bits of stone, or carved pieces of horn worn on leather thongs have been found. From the Babylonians and the Egyptians through the Middle Ages to the most recent Saturday at the Pandora store, practically every age and every culture has had some form of a bracelet made up of a number of meaningful, decorative objects. The significance and the purpose of these objects has changed over time, but the impetus for collecting and wearing them has remained steady.
The modern form of what we think of as a charm bracelet was begun and popularized by Queen Victoria, that jewelry loving, most sentimental of monarchs. Being a queen and not short on jewels, Queen Victoria had quite a few charm bracelets. Prince Albert, her husband, had a bracelet made for her that included a charm for each of their children, and when Albert died at a young age, Victoria had a bracelet made that included a lock of Albert’s hair, a miniature portrait of him, and other sentimental tokens of their life together. Queen Victoria also had bracelets made as gifts for people who were close to her with personally meaningful charms, and this practice started a major jewelry trend among the English aristocracy — everybody wanted to be like the Queen.
World War II, when large numbers of American soldiers were sent all over the world, was a turning point in the popularization of the charm bracelet. Soldiers collected tokens of their battles and the places they visited, sending them home to their wives and sweethearts. In the post-war era of the 1950s and ’60s, when the economy was booming and travel became possible for ordinary Americans, the charm bracelet hit its peak of popularity. They were made in every material and form, from a tiny sterling silver bracelet with miniature-sized charms for a young girl to a chunky 14 karat gold bracelet with oversized charms for the jetsetter.
While their popularity has waxed and waned over the years, charm bracelets have never gone away, and it’s interesting to consider some of the reasons for their enduring popularity. For example, charm bracelets embody several compelling elements: they are simultaneously jewelry (always popular), a tangible memory book of life’s big events, and an expression of the wearer’s individuality. As jewelry, charm bracelets have enormous appeal due to the fascinatingly miniature, intricate work that gives a charm its charm, such as a tiny little tennis racket with gold strings actually strung into the racket, maybe with a diamond tennis ball attached, or a minute Ferris wheel that actually turns. Such charms have a light-hearted appeal and show the wonders of a jeweler’s skill.
Also, from the jewelry aspect, the fact that charm bracelets are assembled over time has two noteworthy benefits — the cost of purchasing charms can be spread out over years, and the fun of shopping for another charm is always on the horizon. Having tangible reminders of life’s milestones constantly accessible can be reassuring and provide a quick emotional lift in the middle of a busy day.
Further, the ability to express one’s individuality in a charm bracelet is appealing. From the size, weight, and material of the chain itself to the selection of each charm, many decisions are made that reflect the personality of the wearer. It is also a wonderful conversation starter — who can resist telling someone the story behind a particular charm?
Whether you’re starting a bracelet for a young relative or contemplating the crowning glory to finish a personal bracelet, whether you wear your charm bracelet as a bracelet or connected to a chain as a necklace, whether you ever wear your great-aunt’s heirloom bracelet or just admire the charms from time to time and remember her influence on your life, charm bracelets are fascinating and time-honored, and they will continue in one form or another as long as women adore distinct jewelry.