Charms have been traced to have held both meaning and mystery in human civilization since the Neolithic era up to present day. The first instances of charms date back to 4500bc discovered by archaeologists across the world. Crafted from bone, wood and stone the meaning of these ‘charms’ is ultimately unknown, but it has been speculated that their purposes were to ward off negative spirits and to bring good luck. These stone, bone and wood charms were strung together to form delicate bracelets and necklaces which date as far back as the stone age.
Ancient Egypt has also been observed by historians as a popular period in history for the carrying and wearing of charms, which by this time were more frequently made from precious gems and metals. Pendants and charms during this time were worn as necklaces bracelets and adorned head pieces of the wealthy but also held meaning which they hoped would be transported to the after life. It was thought by wealthy ancient Egyptians that wearing precious charms would protect them from evil, grant them good luck and if buried with them would guide them into a prosperous afterlife.
The Roman Empire
Whilst charms had played an important role in human civilization since the stone age it was The Roman Empire where this became most prominent.
In particular the use of the Christian 'Ichthys' or fish symbol was a powerful and meaningful symbol which was used as a subtle way for Christians to covertly identify each other in a strictly Jewish society, where the practice of any other religion was seen as sacrilegious. The use of charms was now no longer just for purposes surrounding superstitions i.e bringing good luck and warding off evil spirits, it was now a religious and political tool used by Christians to disguise their religious allegiance from the wider society whilst also cleverly identifying one another. The symbol of the fish represented the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus, on the shores of the Jordan River.
Whilst Christians in the Roman Empire used the ‘itchthy’ charm as a social tool and symbol of religious allegiance the link between superstitious beliefs and charms was reignited during the middle ages where belief in witchcraft and wizardry was popular opinion. Once again charms were held close by Kings and Queens to ward off bad spirits and tempt in good fortune and luck.
The Enlightenment Era
Thoughts of superstition, witchcraft and wizardry soon faded as the enlightenment era came into being and rational thought was increasingly replacing superstitious beliefs in magic and spirits. Whilst pendants and charms lost their spiritual meaning during this time they were still worn to indicate wealth and superiority amongst the nobility.
The popularity of charms as a fashion accessory was never more obvious than during the reign of Queen Victoria who adorned herself in charm jewellery crafted from the most precious metals and gem stones which were designed to contain meaningful items like locks of hair and display family crests. Like the royals today Queen Victoria’s fashion choices were closely observed and followed by the British nobility and in 1889 Tiffany and Co released their first charm bracelet at The Paris Exposition. Charm jewellery had transitioned from an ancient mechanism to ward off evil spirits to the ultimate European fashion accessory.
WWII and 1940’s and 50’s
Following the Second World War charms became an increasingly popular purchase for young men in the 1940’s and 50’s. Soldiers of war bought charms and trinkets for their loved ones and sweethearts from cities they had visited and they themselves often wore the dog tags of fallen fellow soldiers.
The place of charm jewellery within the world of fashion was firmly cemented by iconic screen star Elizabeth Taylor who sky rocketed the popularity of charm bracelets after wearing them in blockbuster films and glamorous photo shoots.
By the 1960's charm jewellery and in particular, charm bracelets were an important part of the world of fashion and accessories. Birthdays, graduations and special life events were celebrated by the gifting of charms to young women who would own a unique collection of charms to reflect special occasions or hobbies and interests. Most of the time these charms could be attached or un- attached to a link bracelet so the charm jewellery could be totally personalised at any time, much like how it is worn today.
Today charm bracelets are just as common across the world and some of the most famous and luxurious jewellers offer a large selection of charm jewellery and trinkets to suit all styles and personalities. Tiffany and Co, Links of London and Pandora are just a few major names in the world of jewellery who are famous for their charm jewellery products, popular amongst women of all ages.
The history and ever shifting usage of charms across history offers a fascinating insight into the way in which human beings have always sought meaning in the objects which surround them. There is seemingly something intrinsically human in the desire to carry or wear charms and they have always held an important significance to us in both a physical sense and through the often spiritual connotations attached to them. Charms are used as a physical representation of what we believe to be interesting, important , lucky or just aesthetically pleasing and this has been the case from ancient times up to present day. These days charm jewellery is a common fashion accessory but the history of charms helps to tell the stories of human civilisations across time.
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