This is a sudden post. And all because there was a long queue of people through the door of a shop in Cardiff the other day and I was surprised to find it was the Pandora jewellery shop. The ideal Christmas gift for young and stylish women?
Very shiny, quite expensive, needing no thought at all, or maybe too much thought, to decide which of the single beads you can afford to add to the basic bracelet.
I have of course seen these “beads on bangles” around – mostly in adverts and shop windows rather than on people’s wrists. But I hadn’t realised until now that they were “charm bracelets”. So it made me think, and Google, and remember…
When I was a child in the 1960s, most of my female cousins, sisters-in-law and aunties wore charm bracelets. These were big clunky things and I always wanted one. Today I have big “hands like feet” and wouldn’t want to draw attention to them by wearing any bracelet or bangle.
These 1960s bracelets were chunky chains, usually with a padlock. You started with the chain, and maybe one metal charm, and then for years everyone would buy you a new charm for every birthday or Christmas – until you ran out of links, I suppose. These bracelets became VERY heavy!
Charm bracelets appeal to the collector in us all…
You can theme your bracelet on your hobbies or pets, horoscope signs, life events (coming of age, marriage, sports success) or perhaps travel…
I guess the charm of charm bracelets is amassing the trinkets over a lifetime, each one a memory, although it is difficult to build up a well-matched collection. And I am impatient, so would want to have the whole lot at once…
In Italy, I find, they have their own take on charm bracelets, made of ornamental links that clip together.
And when these Italian jobs have pendants, they don’t dangle as much as those on our old-style charm bracelets. Bet they are still noisy if you wave your arms around too much, though!
In all this it took me a while to remember the original point of charm bracelets – as “charms” for good luck. Thanks to Frank Hague for this next bit of history. I am summarising, so follow that link for more information…
Charm bracelets were first worn by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Hittites from 500 to 400 BC. Those charms were created from lapis lazuli, rock crystal and other locally-available gems and were inscribed with symbolic designs, like figures of gods, humans and animals. They were closely associated with magical spiritual powers and served as protective talismans.
Eventually religion gave way to fashion and Queen Victoria gave charm bracelets a boost by wearing a charm bracelet of tiny lockets holding family portraits.
In America during World War II, soldiers stationed abroad acquired charms as souvenirs from the European cities where they were stationed and brought these trinkets home as presents for wives and girlfriends. The fashion trend continued well into the 1950s.
The Egyptians aren’t mentioned there, but they certainly had charms, even if they didn’t wear them on bracelets. We would call them talismans (I so want to call them talismen) or amulets.
CHARM: From French charme, from Latin carmen, a song
TALISMAN: From Arabic tilasm, from Greek telesma, meaning payment, rite or consecrated object
AMULET: From Latin amuletum
And is there a difference between charms that are “lucky” and those that “protect” the wearer? And between “religious symbols” and “charms”? Crosses and stars, keys and rabbits’ feet?
I love the word amulet – which I first came across in The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit. This is one of the sequels to Five Children and It and was my favourite. I read it several times as a child and remember writing a poem about the fall of Atlantis as a result (“Marble parapets, silver domes, screaming children, sinking homes…”) – I took it to school and recall the English master wondered where my rhyming scheme came from. It was probably Hiawatha!
The amulet in that book is an Egyptian tyet or “knot of Isis”…
The tyet looks a bit like the more famous ankh with arms down, the ankh being something I mentioned in my Treasures of Tutankhamun blog post. I had an ankh pendant as a teenager, but I love these variations from Darla-Illara…
But back to charm bracelets and bangles. I find that Pandora is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, but its jewellery is made in Gemopolis, Thailand.
The company was founded in 1982. Which is interesting, as there was already a company in Copenhagen doing the same sort of jewellery – the family firm of Trollbeads, which now brands itself “the original since 1976”, as if to make the point.
According to the Trollbeads website, the first “Trollbead” had six faces and “was designed by Søren Silversmith and sold from his father Svend’s jewellery shop in central Copenhagen. The beads were created at a time where it was fashionable to have a silver bead hanging on a leather thong around the neck. But instead of letting the bead hang in an eyelet, Søren wanted to let the leather cord go through the bead. Later on, Søren’s sister, Lise, began to put the beads on silver bracelets, one on each bracelet.”
Trollbeads gradually added gold and pearl beads and experimented with different locks for the bangles. Then in 2001 they added glass beads for the first time.
The site says “Each piece in the Trollbeads collection has its own little history, taking its inspiration from mythology, astrology, fairy tales, fauna, flora, cultural diversity, and last but certainly not least, the familiar things of everyday living.”
So Trollbeads and Pandora seem to have grown up together side by side. Both now do bangles made of metal or leather, but for the metal ones at least, the Pandora ones seem to be stouter and have more secure locking devices.
Pandora beads are also a bit “prettier” and more international, but Trollbeads, as their name suggests, seem to be more rooted in folklore – and the beads are still sculpted by the creative Nielsen/Aagaard family plus 10 other top Danish designers. Dare I say they are more “authentic”?
The name Pandora means literally “all-gifted” or “all-giving”. So far, so good. But I’m not sure the people who named the Pandora company knew all the details of the myth – Pandora’s box was not a trinket box (in fact it was a jar). But the main point is that Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and when she opened the “box” she let out all the evils of the world. All that remained, tucked in a corner, was Hope.
And I hope you have a Happy Holiday/Merry Christmas! Don’t spend too much!