Today when we think of charm bracelets, the first things that probably come to mind are the modular products of contemporary Italian companies like Zoppini and Unodomani. But charms and charm bracelets have a rightful place in the pantheon of fine jewelry, and there’s no better place to begin than Victorian England.
Queen Victoria wore charm bracelets during her reign, making them a popular fashion accessory among noble Europeans. Sterling silver hearts—some set with precious or semi-precious stones, some puffed up in a style called répoussé—were as popular then as they are now. Hearts with beaded edges were frequently adorned with symbols of love (Cupid’s bow and arrow) or good fortune (shamrocks). Usually one of the hearts on a bracelet would open with a key so the piece could be removed from the wearer’s wrist.
Though not charms in the strict sense, teeth and claws were also favorite Victorian adornments for bracelets. Another practice was to use a bracelet as the armature for a collection of jingling, sterling silver coins.
One of the most highly collectible types of Victorian charms is the mechanical charm. The word "mechanical" refers to any charm with a moving part, such as the legs of Can-Can dancer that kick when you push a lever, or the limbs of a jester that bend when a little chain is pulled.
At the end of the 19th century, charms of all sorts were offered to give wearers a chance to express their personalities. Ride a bicycle? There’s a bicycle charm for you. Into horses? Pick up a gold horse head with a swinging chain below it. And, of course, there were lots of lockets, into which you could put a treasured photograph or some other secret keepsake.
By the 1930s, charms and charm bracelets reflected the Art Deco design sensibility that was in the air. One stunning example that sold recently at Christie’s featured a platinum bracelet studded with diamonds, from which dangled 11 members of a gem-studded band—the straight sides of each cut stone gave the little horn players, guitarist, and other musicians an angular, ’30s look.
Some of the most collectible charms from this period are those created for fraternal organizations such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, and Elks. The Elk charms were perhaps the most...
Less controversial today are the vintage charms made out of plastics such as Bakelite and celluloid. Charms for the latter were shaped into animals (cats, alligators, monkeys, to name but a few), devils and skulls, and mythical creatures (the winged horses are especially nice). There were even charms in the shape of comic-book characters of the day, such as Orphan Annie and Moon Mullins.
One of the many companies that bounced back and forth between fine and costume jewelry was Walter Lampl. Based in New York, the firm was one of the leading producers of charms through the 1950s, when it boasted more than 750 different styles of charms in one of its catalogs.
Lampl charms were made of gold or silver and were often embellished with pearls, rubies and other stones. Lampl heart charms featured enameling and machine-made, guilloche backgrounds, while its mechanical charms were some of the most inventive around. For collectors, Lampl charms are relatively easy to identify because they are one of the few charms with a maker's mark (look for "WL" in a shield).
Indeed, the 1950s was a terrific decade for charms—if you are considering putting together a vintage charm bracelet, you might want to focus on items from that era. Lampl made 14-karat gold charms for the Marchal Company, which sold everything from charms for new moms (storks, strollers, shoes, high chairs, etc.) to charms for high-school students (report cards, school bells, pencil sharpeners, diplomas, and the like). And if that sounds too domestic, choose charms relating to nightlife, such as a lamppost holding up a drunk, an ashtray with a stubbed out cigarette, and a barrel labeled "For Emergency Only" that was designed to hold a couple of aspirin to soften the blow of the inevitable next-day hangover.
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Recent News: Charms and Charm Bracelets
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In the closet with actress Holli DempseyExpress.co.uk, April 18th
The charm bracelet my mum bought me from Thomas Sabo and the black pearl earrings and pendant my brother Marcus gave me. Have you ever made a fashion faux pas? Yes, but it was deliberate. When I auditioned for Vicky in Derek I dressed in character ...Read more
Lilly Pulitzer for Target on Sale Sunday: How to Get What You WantDNAinfo, April 17th
You really want that charm bracelet? Be prepared to play dirty. 3. Stalk the fitting room. This is the single biggest lesson We Learned From Wu and the only reason I'm still on speaking terms with Target. If there's a clothing item you had your heart...Read more
Pulitzer Prize winning biographer shares memories of past presidentsFayetteville Observer, April 16th
The audience of the packed auditorium at Methodist University remained captivated as Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin shared stories of past presidents that she has uncovered during her research. Goodwin drew from her work to ...Read more
William Allen students share daughter's story of a Holocaust survivorlehighvalleylive.com, April 16th
At the end of her presentation, Kohner fielded a few questions and showed students the charm bracelet her mother received as a guest of "This Is Your Life." And she was sure to tell them that her mother's story wasn't the only one to remember. "This is...Read more
James Avery Opens Its 71st LocationRapaport, April 15th
James Avery also launched a Charmed Life Bracelet Event through May 31 across all of the company's sales channels, whereas patrons who purchase any two charms in a single transaction will receive $49 off a single charm bracelet, while supplies last...Read more
Chico's FAS, Inc. Announces Fifth Annual May is for Miracles Campaign ...Satellite PR News (press release), April 13th
The Chico's brand is offering an exclusive, limited-edition Miracle Charm bracelet which will be sold in boutiques, outlets and online for $20, with $10 from each sale benefiting CMN Hospitals. White House Black Market is selling an exclusive, limited...Read more
James Avery Jewelry Launches a Charmed Life Bracelet EventBusiness Wire (press release), April 13th
James Avery is best known for its meaningful designs and extensive charm collection, including Avery Art Glass and colorful enameled charms. Each James Avery charm is designed to symbolize a special memory or a significant event. A charm bracelet tells ...Read more
Charm bracelet and engagement ring among jewellery items stolen in ...Bury Free Press, March 26th
Offender(s) broke into the property between 1.45pm and 3.50pm and made a search before stealing items including a silver charm bracelet with 12 charms, a blue stone dress ring on a gold band, pearl earrings and a matching necklace and bracelet, a gold ...Read more