Written by Shantelle-Ann Marquis
The origins and historical timeline of charms and charm bracelets vary from different nations and cultures, and therefore, impossible to determine an exact date that the charm bracelet came to be. Here is a brief timeline of the history of charm bracelets as dictated by historians and archeologists.
It is believed that charm bracelets originate as far as the Prehistoric - Neolithic Era, in which people would carry pieces of wood, animal bones, rocks, seashells, and gemstones to ward off their enemies and evil spirits or bring them good luck.
Historians suggest that they were later carved and crafted into talismans and amulets.
Such ancient charms have been discovered in Africa, Europe and other parts of the world but they weren't always worn on the wrist as bracelets -some were worn as protective necklaces, or carried in pouches or the persons clothing.
There is some archaeological evidence that shows Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs were buried wearing elaborate jewellery which included charms and charm bracelets embedded with rare and precious stones.
It is believed that due to short life expectancy up to 30-40 years, the ancient Egyptians took great care preparing for their afterlife, obsessively gathering goods made of gold, gems and other precious materials.
Charm bracelets played a significant role in the preparation for the afterlife and were worn on the neck or wrist as a sign of status and protection. They were also used as identification tags that assisted their Gods to guide the wearer of the charm to their proper status and possessions in the afterlife.
Ancient Assyria, Babylon, and Persia
Archaeologists discovered evidence of charm bracelets worn in Ancient Assyria, Babylon, and Persia in as early as 600-400BC. The bracelets had tiny charms and were attached around the wrist using leather cords.
It was the early Christians during the Roman Empire that first began wearing symbols on their charms. As many were afraid of being prosecuted for their Christian faith, the early Christians carried small charms in the shape of a fish. The fish charm was used as the Greek word for fish “Ichthys" was an acronym for “Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ” which means "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour". The fish charm was worn under their clothes
To identify themselves to other Christians such as to gain entry into secret and forbidden worship activities, the early Christians either drew a fish symbol on the ground with their foot or displayed their fish charm worn under their garments.
During this time, the Jewish people also wore small charms around their necks as an act of reverence, piety and keeping their law close to their hearts. These Jewish charms were in the form of golden amulets that held tiny slips of Jewish Law written on parchment.
Similar to the people in the Roman Empire, the Greeks also wore charms, for superstition and respect for the gods. The Greek charms were lockets that held important information, as it was believed to be held close to the heart and mind so that the body would better absorb the information.
Men going to war often carried locks of their wife's hair and other trinkets as a reminder and to wish them good luck. Middle Ages
People continued to wear charms during the Dark Ages despite the fall of the Roman Empire. In Medieval times, people wore charms on their belts to represent their family origin, religion and to denote their political standing or alliance to a specific ruler. Knights also wore charms under their armor to keep them safe in battle, as the charms were used with incantations to wreak havoc on the enemies.
The wealthy people began to lose interest in charm bracelets during the Renaissance as people turned to literature and the medieval superstitions faded away.
However, the lower classes of people continued to wear charms and amulets as they were not given the same if any, access to education as the wealthy.
During the early 20th century, Queen Victoria the ruler of Great Britain inspired the wealthy elite class of Europe to wear charm bracelets. The Queen not only loved to wear them herself, but she also loved to give personalized charm bracelets as gifts to others.
When her husband Prince Albert passed away, the Queen had a 'mourning' charm bracelet made with a locket of the prince's hair and mementos of their life together.
Charms went from being symbols of spiritual and superstitious meaning to pieces of jewellery fashion, and people throughout Europe could not get enough of it. Charms bracelets and necklaces were worn as lockets, glass beads, and family crest, as the wealthier class wanted to show off their fortune by wearing exotic clothing and fashion accessories.
Tiffany and Co
Tiffany and Co, the high-end jewellery store first introduced their iconic charm bracelet in 1889. Some believe it was a response to the popularity of Queen Victoria charm bracelets. The Iconic charm bracelet with a dainty heart-shaped charm instantly became a symbol of status and luxury and has remained that way ever since.
The Great Depression
Despite the economic hardship faced by many during the Great Depression, the charm bracelet remained a popular jewellery accessory. The wealthy of the time had charm bracelets made from diamond platinum and gemstone charms. The average classed people also wore charms made from broken jewellery items, hand-carved trinkets, or found objects.
World War II
Wearing charms with sentimental value became popular during World War II, as soldiers collected trinkets as a reminder of men they knew, the women they loved, and their time in battle. These charms were reminders of happier times, with friends and families for many soldiers and their families waiting at home as it captured their emotions and their memories.
The end of WWII
The popularity of charm bracelets spread throughout the world after the Second World War as soldiers leaving Europe and islands in the Pacific purchased handmade trinkets as gifts to bring home to their sweethearts. Native craftsmen also created replicas of local items as souvenirs so that soldiers could feel better connected to the places they were stationed. This later sparked a trend in the USA to create charms for all occasions.
Children became the new charm collectors during the 1940s, as charms were often used as prizes in gumball machines and candy boxes. Children collected the jungle and pet animal, sports, ships, army themed charms and wore them on necklaces of strip and bead chains like dog tags. This began a trend in commercially produced charms based on comic strips such as Popeye, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, the Seven Dwarfs, and Orphan Annie.
The 1950s to 1960s
Charm bracelet gained popularity throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and became a staple jewellery piece for girls and women, as they mixed and matched their collected charms daily to express moods and thoughts.
Charms also became popular presents for a girl's 16th or 18th birthday or as a wedding or engagement present. Women also collected charms to record important life events such as birthdays, achievements, graduations, weddings, travel, hobbies and the arrival of children.
It was also a popular jewellery accessory among movie stars such as Joan Crawford and Elizabeth Taylor who were often seen wearing charm bracelets.
People stopped wearing Charm bracelets during 1970, and charm bracelets themselves had completely disappeared from the fashion scene as people turned to wear plain gold chains as a symbol of their wealth and status. Once loved charms soon found their way in antique stores and flea markets.
The 1990s saw a boom of charm bracelets in circulation, including that of vintage charms when people were now snapping up at antique stores.
The prices of charm bracelets had also increased from $10 in the 1950s to $70 and over. Limited edition and vintage mechanical charms (charms with moving parts) were also listed as highly prized by antique collectors and sparked a trend of people trying to sell their bargain found and inherited charms on the internet.
The 1990s also introduced an Italian designed charm bracelet known as a 'link bracelet' as it was a series of linked, squares on a stretchy band. This allowed the wearer to replace the links with personalized charms such that of as the traditional, flat and dangling styles.
Following the boom of charm bracelets, the 2000s saw a further increase in the production of charm bracelets.
Highend Luxury brand Louis Vuitton declared charm bracelets a must-have jewelry accessory and through Marc Jacobs launched their own charm bracelet designs.
Pandora, Danish Jewellery brand launched their first-ever charm bracelets in the early 2000s, however, the brand did not reach its highest sales until the early 2010s.
The Pandora charms offered a unique twist on the traditional personal charm bracelet with round-shaped charms threaded on a circular wire bracelet.
Today charms and trinkets on bracelets and necklaces are still sought after all over the world. Many celebrities and influencers have also used charm bracelets to promote charities, religions, travel destinations, fashion, and jewellery brands as well as to keep souvenirs of their happiest and sentimental memories.