Charms and charm bracelets have been a part of the human story since the beginning of recorded history. The purpose of wearing charms, either as an amulet around the neck or on a bracelet, has remained fairly constant throughout the ages – to bear a message to the world around the person wearing them.
Charm bracelets have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, bearing symbols both mystic and mundane, stamped into golden discs, or made with intricate inlays of gold, silver and gemstones. Some of the charms were meant as a message to the gods, so that the body would be clearly identified for being transported into the netherworld, while other charms told the story of the life of the person wearing them.
In Roman times, members of the nascent Christian church would use charms as a pass sign, to show that they were members of the new religion, bearing the symbol of the fish that still appears on charms today, but worn openly to profess religious affiliation. In some cases, the charms would be worn as amulets with small parts of scripture folded inside to hide it from persecutors.
During medieval times, knights and royalty wore charms, but with magical intent. Western Europe had its earth worship pagan religious symbols co-opted by the rising Christian faith, and it was not unusual for knights to wear charms meant to mystically strike at their enemies in battle. Such charms were at times also given and worn as tokens by the knight’s paramours or ladies, to show their devotion to their lady.
Queen Victoria’s charm bracelets were perhaps the reason for the sudden widespread use of charms as jewelry throughout the modern world at the end of the 19th Century. Her bracelets were renowned and noted all over the world, and the newly-forming British middle class was quick to adopt the fashion of Her Royal Majesty throughout the globe-spanning Empire.
Following World War 2, soldiers returning to America brought with them charms made of stone, seashells, and worked from metal, bringing an Asian and Polynesian influence to the Western World and the art of charm crafting.
Charm bracelets throughout the ages have retained a single key element, as signs of events or concepts that identify with the person wearing them. Whether the charms have been made from plastic, bone, precious metal, steel, or aluminum, charm bracelets and amulets are worn all over the world, both for religious and sentimental purposes.