The custom of wearing charm bracelets dates back thousands of years, and though the materials and designs on them have changed, the concept itself has never gone out of style.
This form of jewelry initially had a religious function, and dates back to the prehistoric era. According to Elizabeth Florence, president of the Jewelry Information Center, “The first charm bracelets were probably worn by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Hittites from 500 to 400 B.C. Those charms were made of lapis lazuli, rock crystal and other gems and were inscribed with small designs, such as figures of gods, man and animals. They were immediately associated with special powers.”
As time passed, charms lost their protective spiritual functions and became fashion jewelry. The 1890’s saw a renaissance of charms, especially in Victorian England, where elaborate and intricate jewelry was in vogue. Queen Victoria helped popularize the trend by wearing a charm bracelet of small lockets holding family portraits.
WW II caused another revival of charm bracelets in America in the 1940’s and 1950’s, as soldiers stationed abroad picked up charms as souvenirs in the European cities they visited and brought them home for wives and girlfriends. The fashion trend continued well into peacetime.
Charms still remain a popular jewelry item, as personalized keepsakes in an increasingly mass-produced jewelry market. Popular themes include horoscope signs, birthstone charms, travel souvenirs, and family keepsakes. Many women start collecting charms when they are children, and the charm bracelet grows along with them, reflecting hobbies and personal experience. A charm bracelet can hold a small replica of a graduation cap, wedding bells, or lockets with children’s photos.
Charms are also a popular gift because of their affordable price. An intricate silver charm can be obtained for less than ten dollars, though it is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on a charm made of 18K and set with gems.
Italian charms, a genre in and of themselves, do not dangle from a chain like traditional charms. Instead, they are soldered onto flat links which snap onto an extensible bracelet. They are embellished with letters, symbols, pictures or stones, or have enamel pictures painted on them. Charms can be snapped on and off these modular bracelets to create new configurations to match different moods and outfits. They are traditionally made of stainless steel or 18k gold. Italian charms are of the same standard size and the resulting bracelet can be customized to fit every wrist; a small size holds 17 or less links, a medium 18, and a large 19 or more.
There are different companies which produce Italian charms, but all brands can be interchanged on the same bracelet. The basic “starter” bracelet of blank links costs approximately five dollars, and the charms cost fifteen dollars and up. China also manufactures Italian charms, and while these are popular (and, as with most Chinese goods, very competitively priced), some consumers report occasional oddities such as reversed images and poor fit.