Beyond bracelets: 21st-century charm jewellery

Charms are working their magic once again, but this time worn on necklaces and earrings too. Vivienne Becker reports

Amrapali gold, silver and multi-stone bracelet, £13,400, exclusive to Net-a-Porter
Amrapali gold, silver and multi-stone bracelet, £13,400, exclusive to Net-a-Porter

It’s the sound from childhood that I remember most: the rich, sing-song jangle of my aunt’s massive gold charm bracelet announcing her entrance into the room. And the sensuality as it swayed when she walked, clanging the whole assortment of gorgeous geegaws, antique gilt seals, spinning “love” discs and a cluster of miniature symbols whose significance was known only to her. 

Carolina Bucci amazonite bead Lucky Charms bracelet with vintage gold and silver charms from the Recharmed collection, £2,560
Carolina Bucci amazonite bead Lucky Charms bracelet with vintage gold and silver charms from the Recharmed collection, £2,560

That classic charm bracelet was the height of sophistication in the 1950s and 1960s – far more fashion must-have than soulful talisman, but these days the charm is equal parts fashion and amulet. A certain playfulness is back, bringing with it a childlike delight in these miniature marvels that distinguishes charm jewellery from the concurrent genre of spiritual jewels. 

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Since it bounced back into the collective consciousness around the time of the new millennium, the lucky charm has cut loose from the classic curb-chain bracelet and clambered all over the body, clinging onto earrings, clustering around necklaces, forming a stud, even dangling from your Birkin – all part of the intense personalisation and self-expressive freedom of jewellery-wearing we know today. 

Clockwise from top: Annoushka gold, ebony and diamond conker charm from the Mythology Collection, £3,500. Harry Winston gold and diamond With Love charm, £4,150. Asprey gold, diamond and enamel butterfly charm from the Woodland collection, £2,150
Clockwise from top: Annoushka gold, ebony and diamond conker charm from the Mythology Collection, £3,500. Harry Winston gold and diamond With Love charm, £4,150. Asprey gold, diamond and enamel butterfly charm from the Woodland collection, £2,150

Over the past year or so, the charm has also begun shape-shifting into esoteric, obscure, eccentric, even downright strange motifs and symbols – not least the tiny, perfectly formed, shiny gold electric chair that features in a collaboration between Annoushka and rock-chic fashion label The Vampire’s Wife. The charm has been at the core of Annoushka Ducas’ business since the jeweller established Links of London with her husband in 1990. This year, the Annoushka brand’s eponymous founder and creative director teamed up with Susie Cave, founder of The Vampire’s Wife, to create this collection of 13 charms (from £550), each inspired by one of Susie’s favourite songs by her husband Nick Cave. 

Van Cleef & Arpels gold and mother-of-pearl Magic Alhambra 5 bracelet, £5,250
Van Cleef & Arpels gold and mother-of-pearl Magic Alhambra 5 bracelet, £5,250

Cave wanted to create a playful, irreverent take on the traditional charm bracelet, with a highly polished finish and a gypsy flavour. So Deanna, with its murderous lyrics, is represented by a gold gun with a spinning chamber and a diamond bullet; Mermaids is represented by a golden siren sitting on a freshwater pearl, her swishing tail set with orange and yellow sapphires; and the Mercy Seat takes the shape of that chillingly detailed electric chair. Cave herself wears them all as a charm bracelet (£23,795), while her jeweller friend wears hers on a choker-style necklace (£1,500). “I’m fascinated by miniaturisation and by the narrative of charms, especially today when there are so many ways of wearing them,” says Ducas. “The charm itself is much more quirky and subversive and it doesn’t even have to dangle now – it can be a stud earring.”  

Dior Joaillerie gold, diamond, onyx, turquoise, mother-of-pearl, opal and malachite Rose des Vents bracelet, £8,000
Dior Joaillerie gold, diamond, onyx, turquoise, mother-of-pearl, opal and malachite Rose des Vents bracelet, £8,000

This autumn, a Seeds collection is the latest addition to Annoushka’s ever-evolving Mythology “family” of charms. It features five of Ducas’s favourite seeds – acorn, pea pod, sycamore, conker and olive – all intricately detailed, with a focus on touch, texture and colour. The acorn (£3,200) is carved from smoky quartz, or pavéd in diamonds (£6,500); the pea pod (£2,500) bursts with lustrous pearls; while the conker is either carved from smoky quartz and encased in green tsavorites, or shaped from ebony, inside a case of matte gold and trimmed with diamonds (£3,500). Like all the Mythology charms, these can be easily swapped from bracelet (from £595) to necklace (from £280), and the lighter charms can be hung on hoop earrings (from £295 each). 

Annina Vogel gold Love & Luck necklace, from £1,250 at Liberty
Annina Vogel gold Love & Luck necklace, from £1,250 at Liberty

Quintessential British jeweller Boodles draws on that most British of fruits, the golden pear, for the charm-laden jewels in its Orchard collection. Earrings, rings and bangles dangle lusciously plump and sensually rounded pear-shaped charms, at their most enchanting in understated matte gold (from £2,200 for a ring), to capture the softness of the fruit’s skin, or for more dazzle there are diamond pavéd versions (£6,500). 

Boodles gold and diamond pendant from the Orchard Collection, £6,500
Boodles gold and diamond pendant from the Orchard Collection, £6,500

In fact, earrings could be the new charm bracelets. London jeweller Robinson Pelham does a roaring trade in Ear Wishes, a collection of 100 charms (from £130) that can be hung – easily, by a hinged loop, one or a few at a time – on hoop earrings (from £384 a pair) of different sizes, either gold or gem-set. They’re sold singly, in tune with the trend for mismatched, asymmetric earwear. Director Zoe Benyon wears five hoops bearing different charms stacked along the edge of her ear. “Charms used to be souvenirs, mementoes – now they’re much more personal,” she says. “It’s about the individual, the giver or wearer, about promises or wishes, strength, hope, courage…” 

Robinson Pelham gold bracelet, £1,985, with gold, blue, yellow and pink sapphire, diamond and green tsavorite Ear Wish charms, from £130
Robinson Pelham gold bracelet, £1,985, with gold, blue, yellow and pink sapphire, diamond and green tsavorite Ear Wish charms, from £130

And there’s not an Eiffel Tower or a Leaning Tower of Pisa in sight; instead, the brand’s Ear Wishes menu offers a little gold rocket that symbolises potential and power, a cloud for dreams and creativity and a watermelon for welfare and freedom, all of which can be added to a chain-link bracelet (£1,985). Abundant and appealingly priced, these “wishes” provide an extra layer of meaning and an instant bond, making it easy to succumb to their charms. 

From top: Tiffany & Co gold Heart & Arrow tag charm, £1,125. Azza Fahmy gold, silver and gemstone mismatched Eye & Star earrings from the Gypsy collection, £1,250
From top: Tiffany & Co gold Heart & Arrow tag charm, £1,125. Azza Fahmy gold, silver and gemstone mismatched Eye & Star earrings from the Gypsy collection, £1,250

A pavé diamond rocket charm (price on request) is the cornerstone of Asprey’s Cosmic collection, launched earlier this year, inspired by the brand’s signature rocket-shaped cocktail shaker designed in the 1930s. The collection also includes the Orbit charm (£3,225), a swivelling globe of gold and lapis lazuli star-set with diamonds. These follow on from the success of the charms in Asprey’s Woodland collection (from £2,100) – beautifully modelled fruits, leaves, plants, birds and insects (£2,150) that evoke the British countryside with a nostalgic, succulent lusciousness. “Clients are looking for sophisticated charms with new levels of intricacy and craftsmanship as well as playfulness,” says Craig Cairns, Asprey’s New Bond Street store director. Technical innovation has also made charms easy to change and therefore more versatile: “Gone are the days of needing your charm permanently affixed to one bracelet. Our clients wear theirs singly, in multiples, around the wrist, on a pendant or even on a handbag.” 

Belmacz gold, pearl, coral, lapis lazuli, emerald and onyx Dingly Dell Requiem bracelet, £2,890
Belmacz gold, pearl, coral, lapis lazuli, emerald and onyx Dingly Dell Requiem bracelet, £2,890

It was this same spirit of playfulness that Carolina Bucci wanted to capture in her original Lucky Bracelets, launched 15 years ago; each silk and gold braided bracelet (from £550) finished with a dangling gold Lucky charm. More recently, she says she wanted to give the charm a powerful emotional resonance; to layer luck with individuality and personal meaning. In the family atelier in Florence she uncovered a hoard of old charms – leftovers from various eras that had lain untouched since the 1950s. “Each was a little piece of my heritage,” she says. “On each birthday, I was given a gold charm – a bunny, bell or balloon – engraved with the date.” Digging these out of her jewellery box to make four necklaces sparked the idea for her Recharmed collection of hardstone bead necklaces and bracelets (£2,560), hung with charms, or Bucci’s contemporary Lucky miniatures necklaces (from £4,640), some with a textured, sparkling Florentine finish.

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Perhaps the versatility of the charm – along with its enduring emotional appeal and our fascination with the concept of luck – accounts for the resurgence in popularity of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Alhambra – the lucky little four-leaf clover motif, a contemporary classic that celebrates its 50th birthday this year. The joyful simplicity of the motif reinvented the traditional charm for a whole new generation in the 1960s, first incorporated into a sautoir and then into every form of jewellery imaginable, in seemingly endless permutations (bracelet, £5,250) with different-coloured inlays, golds and sizes.  

In a similar spirit but in her own individual storytelling style, Victoire de Castellane, creative director of Dior Fine Jewellery, has redefined the charm yet again, with Rose des Vents – the little gold disc with a wind rose emblem that recreates the metal star Monsieur Dior found in the street and kept in his pocket as a good-luck charm. Now the Rose des Vents is worn as a pendant charm (£3,200), on a charm bracelet (£8,000), in various sizes on long drop earrings (from £1,430) and most dramatically on the latest multi-layered bib necklaces (£37,500).  

Nomadic tribes have always been known for their superstitious beliefs and their attachment to lucky charms such as the rabbit’s foot – eclectic objets trouvés, gathered on their travels and imbued with magical and talismanic properties. This nomadic lifestyle, with its entrenched beliefs, is a theme that runs throughout the silver and gold collections of Egyptian jeweller Azza Fahmy. The Talisman collection is focused on charms: individual emblems stylised and beautifully modelled in gold and silver with gemstone accents, including the owl (£425), symbolising wisdom, the frog and fish (£95), invoking strength, protection, happiness and prosperity, as well as more familiar amulets like the hamsa (or Hand of Fatima, £210). There are also mismatched Eye & Star earrings (£1,250) in the Gypsy collection with a single, large Evil Eye motif. It would seem that the nomadic custom of accumulating random yet meaningful objects on a journey and throughout life, accompanied by the spirit of freedom, might well be fuelling the present resurgence of lucky charms, and the trend of embracing their intense, idiosyncratic individuality. 

Someone who fully understands the breadth and scope of this eclecticism, and the semiotics of charms, is Annina Vogel, whose work was launched by Liberty of London nine years ago. The daughter of an antique-jewellery dealer, Vogel says she’s been “obsessed by charms” since childhood. She specialises in vintage and antique miniatures (from £150), many of them Victorian and Edwardian, that are exceptionally crafted and loaded with symbolism, including gold horseshoes, birds, insects, boots, bottles, keys, cricket bats and coffee pots and countless other miniature curios. All of these she composes into contemporary short chain necklaces (from £1,250), cluster necklaces (from £395) and bracelets (from £395), adding in modern charms (from £95), which include a rocking horse, kettle, cup, a top hat and cane. Many of her necklaces are themed, as in Childhood Memories, Love Makes the World Go Round or Nature Lover; they’re playful and whimsical, and the vintage flavour intensifies the charms’ intrinsic nostalgia and the sense of the personal keepsake.  

Along with the quirkily eccentric, there’s a counter trend towards old-school charms and classic universal emblems. Tiffany & Co’s bestselling Return to Tiffany heart and disc tags, in silver or gold (£1,125), have had a makeover, aimed at giving these sweetly sentimental charms a modern edge with splashes of enamel, graffiti-style heart-and-arrow motifs etched on a rose gold heart, or astrological signs punched into the metal. In the new Covent Garden concept store, Tiffany & Co will personalise your charm or tag, transferring your own doodle (sketched on a tablet) onto the heart or disc by machine engraving (from £20). Harry Winston, meanwhile, offers a choice of very pretty gold, diamond- and sapphire-set charms – among them a forget-me-not (from £2,700) with petals formed by pear-shaped pink or blue sapphires or diamonds; a pavé diamond love letter (£4,150), in platinum or gold; and an appealingly tiny solitaire diamond ring in gold or platinum (from £2,300), set with a small brilliant-cut diamond – a miniature version of the jeweller’s classic engagement ring. 

There are even signs of a return to the traditional weighty charm bracelet, as in Amrapali’s exclusive creation for Net-a-Porter – a gold chain from which hangs a collection of silver and gemstone charms (£13,400) in an array of striking shapes – clusters, drops, quatrefoils and spheres – handcrafted and set in a style that evokes the splendour of Indian court jewellery. Or for a lighter, more playful contemporary look – albeit inspired by the significance of charms to all cultures and civilisations – there’s Belmacz’s lively take: an assortment of dangling baroque pearls styled to look like skulls, and gemstone charms – antique Mediterranean coral, Swiss lapis lazuli, emerald and onyx baubles – all of which dance and dangle merrily on a bracelet called Dingly Dell Requiem (£2,890). Could it be the nostalgic sing-song sound heralding the comeback of a joyful jewellery classic? If so, it’ll work like a charm.

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