Acharm bracelet is a chain of silver or gold, worn around the wrist, to which individual jewelry symbols, called charms, are attached. Traditionally, the wearer, usually a woman, begins with a simple chain then chooses and adds charms that have personal meaning to her own life. Though jewelry bearing charms has been worn through the ages, the modern wave of popularity of the charm bracelet began in the United States during the 1940s and lasted into the early 1960s.
Originally a charm was an object that was thought to provide luck or protection to one who wore or carried it. Good luck charms, also called amulets, were worn on jewelry on the wrist and around the neck at least as far back as ancient Egypt, in about 3000 b.c.e. Around 500 b.c.e. the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians wore bracelets to which they attached small objects they believed had special powers. The modern charm bracelet fad began in England during the late 1800s, when Queen Victoria (1819–1901) began wearing a gold chain with lockets that contained portraits of her family. This introduced a new identity for the charm bracelet, as decorative jewelry with a personal meaning, rather than an amulet for protection or luck, and many women copied the queen by hanging glass beads and lockets from their bracelets.
During the 1940s, as American soldiers traveled through the cities of Europe and Asia, they picked up small jewelry charms as souvenirs to take back as gifts to the women in their lives. Women attached these to bracelets that soon became quite popular, and American jewelers began to produce small symbols specifically for charm bracelets. By the 1950s charm bracelets had become a part of an American middle-class girlhood. Often the chain, in gold or silver, was given to a girl before she reached her teens, and charms were added throughout her life. Usually the charms symbolized turning points in the wearer's life, such as a sixteenth birthday, graduation, wedding, or the birth of children. Some charms represented interests or hobbies. A girl who loved horses might hang a silver horse or saddle from her bracelet; one who played tennis might buy or be given a golden tennis racquet. Charm bracelets thus became prized personal heirlooms, passed down to daughters and granddaughters.
Charm bracelets faded from popularity during the very casual fashions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but they had a revival during the 1980s. Then, however, young women did not put together their personal bracelets but rather bought older charm bracelets that had been put together during the 1950s as part of a vintage, or antique, look. By the early twenty-first century fashion designers such as Louis Vuitton were introducing new charm bracelets.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bracken, Thomas. Good Luck Symbols and Talismans. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998.
Ettinger, Roseann. Popular Jewelry, 1840–1940. 2nd ed. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1997.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Charm bracelets actually date from ancient times. They were worn by men as well as women and were intended to protect one from one's adversaries or reflect one's profession, religious or political affiliation, or status within the community. They came in a range of styles. Chinese bracelets, for example, included jade carvings, metal objects, and glass beads, all of which were attached to a black string and fastened to the wrist. Originally charm bracelets were meant to have a magical effect on the wearer, but the bracelet's purpose and meaning and evolution into a fashion statement changed with the shifting culture and values of the twentieth century.
The typical twentieth-century charm bracelet was adorned with objects representing good luck (a four-leaf clover, horseshoe, or dice), happiness (an elephant), prosperity (a pig), or dreams coming true (a wishbone). Love, represented by a heart, was a favored theme. Variations included obsessive love or infatuation (a heart pierced by an arrow), love put forth and returned (two hearts pierced by one arrow), and devotion to the one you love (a padlocked heart). A cheerleader megaphone, telephone, cat, dog, or money bag represented items the wearer desired or already had possessed or achieved.
More expensive charm bracelets were made of silver or gold, while less costly ones were stainless steel, copper, or brass. Their charms often came in a variety of materials; small plastic ones were even purchased in gumball machines or came as prizes in candy boxes. A girl's charm bracelet eventually was replaced by a wedding band, at which point the bracelet was retired to a jewelry box as a keepsake of her youth. Some grown women, however, also wore charm bracelets.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Congram, Marjorie. Charms to Collect. Martinsville, NJ: Dockwra Press, 1988.
Oldford, Kathleen. My Mother's Charms: Timeless Gifts of Family Wisdom. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
[See also Volume 4, 1930–45: Charm Bracelet ]