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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The two girls that started the line reached out to me to design a charity charm bracelet and they told me, “You can choose a charity and you can design the bracelet. I was like, “Oh my god, I'd love to.” We found this amazing, amazing charity called...Read more
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Mother asks for return of stolen charm bracelet containing murdered son's ashesThe Denver Channel, July 30th
Mother asks for return of stolen charm bracelet containing murdered son's ashes. 8:06 AM, Jul 30, 2015. 14 mins ago. shannon paolini | ashes | el paso county sheriff's office. Previous Next. The bracelet with the ashes can be returned, no questions asked...Read more
Police seek jewelry stolen from Sidney homePress & Sun-Bulletin, July 29th
State police are investigating a theft of jewelry and gold coins from a home in the Town of Sidney. Investigators say the stolen valuables include an antique gold charm bracelet with five large heart-shaped gold charms that may contain inscriptions on...Read more
St. Michael principal has unique, classic styleThe Courier-Journal, July 24th
Signature accessories: Pearl earrings that were my mother's, my charm bracelet, and a variety of bracelets that I have bought at street markets in NYC. I also never leave home without my Brooks running shoes and workout clothes. You never know when you ...Read more
Artists spend a Saturday at Pocket ParkDeming Headlight, July 19th
They are custom designed with the same principles of a charm bracelet. Visitors to the park were impressed by her jewelry and the local artists who exhibited their work. Foot traffic was steady from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The park is located at the 100...Read more
Power up with the Avengers Assemble Charm Bead SetChip Chick, July 9th
ThinkGeek has had Avengers charms for a while, but hey, it's a lot easier when they all assemble for you. To make things a little easier on your mouse-clicking index finger, ThinkGeek is now selling one charm bracelet that comes with all six of their...Read more
Mine: The charm braceletWashington Post, February 13th
When she died and we cleared out her apartment, I found her charm bracelet. As I fingered the four baby booties with our names almost worn off, the telephone charm whose rotary dial turned, the mementos from states she'd visited, mysteries surfaced...Read more