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A Brief History Of Charms

10 min read

The pieces we find most attractive when looking for jewelry are those that speak to us the most, those that feel like they have a special meaning or significance on an individual level. For all the jewelry in the world, nothing can come close to giving quite as personal a touch as a charm bracelet. But just how long have we been wearing charm bracelets and what are the meanings behind some of the most popular designs?

The concept of a charm bracelet is deceptively simple. It is a piece of jewelry worn around the wrist to which many different meaningful designs or ‘charms’ are attached. Because these charms are interchangeable, many more charms can be collected than can fit on the bracelet, so different charms can be attached for different days and occasions. They are usually made out of silver or gold and can feature colorful gemstones and enamels as part of their design. Their appeal lies in just how personal they can be, and many people see charm bracelets as a way of ‘telling’ their story, choosing charms that represent significant milestones in their own lives. This interchangeability and the variety of charms available means it’s unlikely that any two people will have the same bracelet. Much of their appeal is in their individuality, which is why they make such popular gifts.

The wearing of charms is thought to have come from the idea that they offered protection and acted as a talisman to defend against evil and increase one’s luck. There is evidence to suggest that as long as 75,000 years ago, early man was using pieces of shell for personal adornment, and delicately detailed tusk charms have been dated to 30,000 years ago in Germany. As well as shell, early charm carvings made from bone, clay, rock and wood have all been discovered.

By 3,000 BC, the wearing of charms was commonplace in Ancient Egypt among pharaohs and the wealthy, both on the wrist and around the neck. Charms could even be a part of the elaborate headpieces worn during this era. One of the most popular charms was that of the scarab beetle, which was associated with the Ancient Egyptian sun god Ra, and also represented rebirth and regeneration. The Ancient Egyptians had a deep preoccupation with life and death, as evidenced by the pyramids. These magnificent structures were built as eternal resting places to protect the physical bodies of pharaohs, and the mummification process was intended to keep the spirit of each pharaoh recognizable in the afterlife. They were buried with all their finest possessions, including their jewelry and charms, which would have been seen as a symbol of their status on earth. This was thought to act as a kind of ‘passport’ to the afterlife. At the very least, their names, possessions and knowledge about their culture and lifestyle still live on, such is the magnitude of the architecture they left behind.

Silver Charm Bracelet

The wearing of charms continued throughout the Roman Empire. Many Christians would wear a small fish charm concealed on their person so they could identify to other Christians that they followed the same teachings, without fear of being persecuted. Charms continued to be used as amulets and talismans throughout the middle ages and were particularly popular during the period where witchcraft was feared by large numbers of an increasingly superstitious population. Kings and knights would also carry charms into battle, believing they gave them protection. Certain charms would act as identifiers to a person's familial, political and trade background.

Magical superstition soon gave way to the age of enlightenment, and the use of charms as protective possessions faded, as did their general popularity. To continue to show off their status, the noble-born and aristocracy of the time replaced their charms with gemstones and jewelry, as global trade and access to precious stones and metals began to grow. Later still, the mechanical advancements of the Industrial Revolution significantly improved the speeds and methods of mining metals and gemstones and allowed charms to be mass produced for the first time, bringing down their price and making them affordable to the middle classes for the first time. Before this, only the affluent could realistically afford to own items of such craftsmanship.

The popularity of charms had waxed and waned throughout much of the period between the 1300s and the 1700s, but in the late 1800s, Queen Victoria started to wear charms. As an extremely popular monarch, what Queen Victoria did with her clothes and jewelry could influence the trends and fashions of the day. When she began wearing her charm bracelet, it kickstarted the next significant charm renaissance, which eventually spread across most of Europe. This moment is seen as the beginning of the charm industry as we know it today because Queen Victoria made an important change to the type of charms she wore. Rather than being for luck or protection, her charms were personalized to her and were worn purely for fashion. She had a gold charm bracelet onto which she placed charms that represented members of her family, including gold lockets with photographs inside them. She even went as far as having locks of hair from her family members, and a miniature portrait of her beloved Prince Albert after he passed away. Queen Victoria loved charm bracelets so much that she would often give them as gifts to others.

Two-Tone Charm Bracelet

Their acceptance by the fashion industry and immense popularity at the end of the 19th century led Tiffany & Co to introduce their first charm bracelet in 1889. The ever-popular design consisted of a single heart charm on a multi-link bracelet, a variation of which is still on sale today. In the 1920s and 1930s Diamond charms came into widespread use for the first time, despite the great depression, establishing the modern trend of charms with inlaid precious and semi-precious gemstones. World War II was an unlikely contributor to the history of charms when soldiers began collecting small trinkets sourced from local crafters in the areas they’d been posted. On returning home, they would often present these mementos to their loved ones, and many of them found a home on charm bracelets.

The fabulous 50s and swinging 60s saw charms being adopted by the emerging teenage culture, with a gift of a charm bracelet for a woman on her 18th birthday not uncommon. These bracelets would be added to at each significant milestone of her life, such as at an engagement, wedding and birth of a child. There were also charms to represent hobbies and interests, and represent birthstones and star signs, a concept now very familiar to charm collectors worldwide. Pop culture, fashion and glamour touchstones of the era, such as Elizabeth Taylor, also bought the charm bracelet a vast amount of extra attention. Bracelets of this era solidified the concept of a charm bracelet telling the story of its custodian, and many went on to become heirlooms, passed down and added to by the next generation. Charm bracelets of an early to mid 20th-century vintage were sought after by collectors in the 1970s and 80s, who were less interested in creating something new for themselves and more interested in finding items with a story and a legacy. The trend of collecting old charms continued into the 90s, as the internet boom made tracking down and buying vintage pieces even easier.

The start of the new millennium saw the rise of the current charm resurgence. Big fashion brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton championed new charm collections, and stand-alone brands like Pandora emerged, built entirely around charms. The trend is currently enjoying a prolonged period of mainstream recognition around the globe, and our charm collections, Kama and Milano, are enjoyed by a huge number of Gemporia customers. Our charms, as with everything we do, only ever contain genuine gemstones. Small numbers of new charms are regularly introduced, whether they be universally loved icons like hearts, stars and horseshoes to more seasonal designs like Easter eggs, reindeer and butterflies. The concept may be an ancient one, but collecting charms and telling a story through a personalized piece of jewelry is as timeless as the gemstones they contain. Whether buying for yourself or as a gift for someone else, every unique bracelet will be utterly charming.

GEMPORIA CHARM COLLECTIONS

We’re very proud of our charm collections and we have two very distinctive brands, both with a wide range of designs to choose from, that have been delighting Gemporia customers for many years.

MILANO CHARMS

Milano Charms

These are playful yet meaningful charms, carefully designed to capture those special moments in life, with sparkling gemstones in a design for every celebration and occasion. This traditionally styled collection features designs in sterling silver, with each charm featuring a clasp with which to fix it to one of our selection of bracelets or necklaces. Diversity and individuality are key, so whether you want a bracelet bursting with beautiful charms or a necklace with just a single meaningful charm, Milano is adaptable enough to deliver your wish.

Click here to browse and buy Milano Charms

KAMA CHARMS

Kama Charms

These are contemporary, solid and stylish charms that fit neatly over a bracelet to create a row of designs sitting side by side. The many charms created for this modern slant on the charm bracelet are crafted in sterling silver, and there’s a fun design for every occasion. With many genuine gemstones and traditional concepts in the Kama range, you can style the bracelet exactly how you want it, and we even sell stylish ‘stoppers’ to bookend your charm choices if you’d rather they weren’t free to slide around the bracelet.

Click here to browse and buy Kama Charms

POPULAR CHARMS AND THEIR MEANINGS

Even though modern-day charm bracelets are built around telling the story of their wearer, some charms still retain their traditional meaning. Here, we explore the meanings behind some of these designs.

BUTTERFLY

Butterfly Charms

Associated with bringing good luck, renewal and dealing with change.

CRESCENT MOON

Crescent Moon Charms

Traditionally thought to offer protection, but also represents new beginnings.

CROSS

Cross Charms

A traditional symbol of Christianity, this is also associated with bringing good luck.

DOVE

Dove Charms

Heavily linked with freedom, hope and peace. Birds also represent flying the family nest.

FLOWER

Flower Charms

Said to represent blossoming love but also linked with renewal and rebirth.

HEART

Heart Charms

Often worn as a symbol of love. Popular in both single and interlocking designs.

HORSESHOE

Horseshoe Charms

A traditional and well-known symbol of good luck, fortune and protection.

INFINITY

Infinity Charms

A reminder of the unlimited possibilities of life and never-ending love.

A WORD FROM KATI ELLIOTT, HEAD OF CHARMS

Kati Elliott

There are a lot of new exciting designs in the pipeline here at Gemporia. My Fabergé inspired egg charms launched recently and I'm currently finishing up the drawings for some lucky charm designs. There are a further 16 collections planned and ready to draw up too, so there’s lots to get excited about.

Charms carry a whole different level of sentimentality, so I feel it's important to convey that in every design. I think one of the most interesting things about charms is the meaning behind them. When designing each charm, I have my own ideas of sentimentality that I associate with each one. However, it's always really fascinating to hear from collectors as they often attach their own reasons and meanings to each charm. I try my best to incorporate customer ideas into upcoming collections. If you have any requests you can email me at [email protected]

Browse and buy Milano charms here

Browse and buy Kama Charms here

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