They’re one of the most deeply personal pieces of jewellery you can wear – and super-stylish to boot. YOU’s beauty director Edwina Ings-Chambers still mourns the loss of her family charm bracelet, but now she’s ready to create her own story.
That charm bracelets – and all things charm-jewellery related – have had a fashion renaissance is evidenced by the appearance of super cool supermodel Cara Delevingne fronting the Dior campaign for its lucky-charm based Rose des Vents jewellery collection (see below for an exclusive behind-the-scenes image). But despite this vogueish edge, charms remain a very evocative jewellery choice, one that takes me back to my own very first piece of ‘proper jewellery’: my mother’s passed-down charm bracelet. I’d long been obsessed with it: a chunky gold chain (also very now) with lots of miniature treasures dangling from it, ranging from a lucky four-leaf clover to a folded-up one pound note in a glass-fronted gold square, with the words ‘in emergency break glass’ engraved on the side. Her father, who died when she was only 14, had given it to her, so it also came imbued with the generational ties of love. I prized it.
Then somehow it was lost. I have no idea how. I’d been sure I’d taken it back to her before I went travelling for a few months, but she has no recollection of this and is convinced a friend stole it when they came to stay. I prefer to believe otherwise, and have lived in hope for years that one day we’ll open a box somewhere and there it will be – put so safely away that none of us could find it. So far that hasn’t happened, which also means I’ve lived with the low-level guilt that something so precious was entrusted to my care and not properly protected. It isn’t about the monetary worth (though it certainly had some), but the emotional value; this is something that can never be replaced and something I know my mother treasured, a tangible gold link to her father.
It also means that I have developed a bit of a charm obsession, in large part because I’m trying to replace the irreplaceable. But also because I’ve always adored the miniature design of charms and the intensely personal approach to jewellery they represent: they’re all about reflecting the interests and characteristics of the wearer, something that stems back to the woman who first made the modern incarnation of the charm bracelet so popular.
While charms were originally believed to have more of a protective purpose, to ward against evil, the miniature aesthetic we associate with them today is a trend believed to have been started by Queen Victoria, explains Kristian Spofforth, head of London jewellery sales at Sotheby’s. She took the custom for wearing a ring or locket filled with a lock of a loved one’s hair and instead had one made to wear around her wrist. The fashion trickled down from there.
I’ve considered going to Annina Vogel – who for years has been making necklaces adorned with vintage charms – and buying a complete replacement. But I’ve never quite gone through with it: I love her work and although the materials would be authentic the end result would feel like a fake, a quick affair to vanquish a lost love. One day I will go to her, but I feel I have other emotional jewellery work to do first. I must interpret my own charm language.
So in the meantime I stalk Instagram accounts such as @jewelsantiqua, scouring for vintage charms that speak to me, and very slowly build up a collection and a new story that I can tell not just for myself, but for my mother and the grandfather that I never met.
Luckily, charms are also back in fashion – and feel very appropriate at the moment as a way to send a gift to someone you may not be able to see but that shows you appreciate their individuality.
My lucky charmers
The good-luck luxe: Dior
The long-held belief that charms bring you luck is the notion behind the Christian Dior Rose des Vents collection. Dior himself was superstitious: when he found an eight-pointed star on the street, he took it as a sign he should open his own couture house. It’s this emblem, combined with a rose – a flower he was obsessed with – that forms the basis of the signature design emblem for this talismanic collection. The medallion on a fine gold chain bracelet is a fashion editor favourite, but you can opt for anything from rings to chokers.
The hidden gems: Carolina Bucci
Hailing from a long line of jewellers, Carolina offers a Recharmed service: take in your unworn jewellery and she can turn it into a charm necklace. She’s also brought a new dimension to charms. In lockdown necessity became the mother of invention: ‘I was worried if FedEx stopped shipping how we could send jewellery in a normal envelope with a stamp.’ Inspired by stories she’d read of knights wearing their heart on their sleeve, she created CB Wishes, 18-carat gold charms that come with a threaded needle and can be sewn on to anything as a lucky talisman. Designs include a star for health, scales for balance and a heart for love.
The locket boosters: Loquet
Founded by Sheherazade Goldsmith, the brand is known for its crystal lockets framed with gold into which you can drop mini bejewelled and precious charms: a shell for protection, a diamond X for a kiss. They can be worn as bracelets or necklaces – I wear one on a long chain with just a diamond four-leaf clover inside. The new collection, Lumiere, is a collaboration with jewellery designer Chantal Conrad and about ‘modernising an old Victorian idea’, says Chantal. Inspired by a vintage charm given to Chantal by her husband that contained ‘tiny words’ viewed through a small magnifying lens within, plus her love for letters, the duo have created a modern version that allows you to engrave miniature messages. People have commissioned everything from favourite poems to marriage proposals.
The rites of passage: Annoushka
When it came to celebrating ten years of her brand, Annoushka Ducas (who also founded Links of London) launched My Life in Seven Charms, a bespoke service where she will help to create a set of beautifully made charms that represent important things in your life. ‘There’s a distinct sentimentality in the charm bracelet for me,’ she says. ‘It takes me back to my childhood when my mother who travelled a great deal would bring me back a different charm from every place she visited.’
The high-street heroes: Pandora
Creating personal charm jewellery doesn’t have to be expensive. High-street chain Pandora and its signature Moments charm bracelets, introduced in 2000, are an affordable way into the trend. Their success shows how much we love to display our life and love stories: latest figures show that Pandora presides over a revenue of nearly £2.5 billion.