INKLINGS: Charm bracelets

  • Thursday, January 19, 2012

I’ve had charm bracelets for 60 years, and loved them all. My late mother had them as does my sister Cynthia. Each charm is more than adornment; each is a story about us – where we went, what we did, what we like – who we are. Curious about our “wrist history” I did some investigating and was amazed at how far back this particular jewelry goes.
There are reams of pages on charm bracelet history on the internet, but three sources seem to have compiled the most complete data. They include jewelry designer Tracey Zabar in her book Charmed Bracelets, and research published by Lewis Jewelers of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Elizabeth Florence, president of the Jewelry Information Center.
Neolithic man started it all by carrying an unusual piece of wood or stone as a charm to ward off enemies. Ancient Egyptian charms served as status IDs as well as jewelry. Roman Empire era Christians used “ichthys” (fish) charms to identify themselves to other Christians. Middle Ages charms were used by knights and kings as “incantations to wreak havoc” on their enemies. Queen Victoria’s numerous bracelets brought charms back into jewelry fashion. After WW II, military personnel brought trinkets back from Europe and the Pacific for their sweethearts and caused an explosion of charm jewelry. In the 1950s – my era – charm bracelets became the “must-have accessory.” Things slowed down a bit until the 1990s brought a boom in collectibles and in 2001, charm bracelets became enormously popular via fashion giants like Louis Vuitton.
The first Christmas after my sister’s wedding her husband asked what she would like as a gift. Cynthia suggested a double-link gold bracelet and Jon, puzzled, asked if that wasn’t too plain. “That’s where you come in,” she told him, and 22 years and some 40 charms later he’s “come in” quite a bit. Many of those charms, however, came from her “pre-Jon years,” including a prancing horse she won in an equestrian show, an artist pallet from her schooling, a shamrock for our heritage, one from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and her high school ring. Her marital charms include all the states they’ve lived in, trips they’ve taken – including one to Las Vegas which produced a royal flush charm, and another from a Masters trip to Augusta, Georgia.
A few years ago Cynthia and I put together a family history book and gave it to our siblings and children for Christmas. We have identical “books” on our charm bracelets to remember this. My book is silver, as that’s my choice of metal, and I come in second with charms, counting but 32. (But we both have many not on these bracelets.) I have four children and six grands with their names on disks. I have the Union Jack and a Beefeater to recall living in England, a Celtic cross from a family journey to Ireland, and many other trip charms. A pelican reminds me of Edisto Beach, a lobster trap recalls our years living on Cape Cod, and to try and cover all bases, I have a charm of St. Paul, the patron saint of writers.
Whenever we walk down the street together there’s quite a jingle and jangle of traditions – both personal and historic.

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