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A brief history of charm jewellery

Charm bracelets and necklaces are, without doubt, a jewellery classic. A style that’s endured over the years in different forms, the history of charm jewellery is a long one. In fact there’s strong evidence to show that the wearing of charms dates back thousands of years to when our ancestors were pondering the age old question of how to best accessorise your animal skins.

Early charm jewellery

Archaeological digs have uncovered quite intricate designs at many sites and early charms included fragments of shell, bone, teeth, berries and clay beads strung onto strips of leather. Through the ages and as jewellery production became more sophisticated, more elaborate designs emerged incorporating metals and semi-precious stones.

It is not known what this early jewellery signified, but it is thought that it may well have been worn in the belief that it would protect the wearer from harm or bring then good luck. For many civilisations, the wearing of charms was seen as an important way of warding off evil spirits.

Indeed, the Ancient Egyptians wore amulets for protection during life as well as burying them with their dead and each one carried a very specific meaning. There are some fabulous examples (like those pictured above) on New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art website with further details about how they might have been used.

In the pre-Christian Roman Empire, followers of Christ came to use ichthys charms to discretely alert others to their faith and avoid persecution and possibly death. From the Greek for fish, the ichthys symbol represented Christ’s feeding of the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fishes and reflected the belief that his disciples were ‘fishers of men’.

Charm wearing as protection continued throughout the Middle Ages, as Medieval Knights wore talismans to keep them safe in battle, but fell out of favour again post-Enlightenment, due to an association with ‘unscientific’ and superstitious beliefs.