Story and Photographs by Pamela Backus
When I started researching and writing this article I had a charm bracelet someone had given me as a birthday gift, but I didn’t have any desire to add to it. It just sat in my jewelry box and I wore it every now and then.
During the process of writing this story, interviewing the women you’ll meet here, and reading about the history of charms, I learned so much, both about the history of charms and the different reasons women collect them, I have become eager to start adding to my bracelet.
Here are the bracelets, stories and women that inspired me to actively collect charms. And who knows, maybe by the end you’ll be inspired to start your own bracelet.
When Christy Keirn was in 7th grade, her grandmother took her on the trip of a lifetime—a Mediterranean cruise that included stops in Greece and Israel. Christy chose to commemorate the experience by starting a charm bracelet.
Her first charms included a small cruise ship and coins from Israel. Since that trip she has added more than 50 charms to the bracelet, most of which are souvenirs from her travels. They include the Coliseum from Italy, Big Ben from London, and the Eiffel Tower from Paris, as well as charms from her travels in the states, such as a lighthouse from the Outer Banks.
For Christy, charms have always brought good memories. One of her earliest memories is of a charm that was on her mother’s bracelet. It was a gold football, and it became Christy’s comfort item. She would sit and rub the charm between her fingers.
In the same way that the thought of the football brings good memories, each charm on Christy’s bracelet has a special memory attached to it. Michelangelo’s David reminds her of the trip to Italy with her girlfriends, and the medallions of the trip to Santa Fe with her mother and sisters.
She has a pendant her husband gave her for their anniversary that always brings a smile to her face. The pendant was a gift for their 10th anniversary, but it had the number 14 on it. When she asked about the significance of the 14 (she was stumped and couldn’t imagine), he told her it was because they had gotten married on August 14…and it was his football number in high school.
Most of the women I talked with started their charm collections while they were in their early teens, but most girls aren’t finished growing at that time. What happens if the bracelet is outgrown?
One option is to have the charms put on another bracelet, but Theresa Powell of Bull Shoals had an interesting solution. She was given a charm bracelet by her foster mother when she was 13, and when she outgrew it, she attached the bracelet to a silver chain and uses it as a necklace.
Like Christy, Theresa collected charms as souvenirs from trips she took, but she also has several that mark special occasions or things in her life. She has a Sweet Sixteen charm, and one that commemorates her 18th birthday. She has a Chihuahua charm that is a memory of the dog she owned for 10 years. One of the charms that has become even more special is the pendant that says, “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” which was given to her by her late husband.
While charms and charm bracelets are often something we start for ourselves, that is not always the case, sometimes they are heirlooms handed down through our families.
Rosalyn Blagg received her mother-in-law’s charm bracelet. The bracelet was made up of charms that represented each of her grandchildren. When Rosalyn received it, she gave each of the grandchildren their charm, and she is keeping the tradition up with her own grandchildren.
Celia DeWoody also has an heirloom bracelet with a unique story. She inherited it from her paternal grandmother, Marie Aubert Taylor Bailey. At first she thought it originally belonged to her great-great-grandmother, Amanda Doerr, but now she believes the bracelet was her grandmother’s and that some of the charms on it belonged to her great-great-grandmother.
There are several charms on the bracelet that are very special to Celia. One is the locket that contains a lock of brown hair that may have been Amanda’s. This was a very popular thing to do during the Victorian period.
Several others appear to be handmade by her great-great-grandfather, Charles Doerr, who was a jeweler. One of these is a disk engraved “A.D. from…” and instead of his initials there is a small wrench. Celia thinks this was either his nickname or a reference to a private joke between them.
The date engraved on the disk is June 17, ’85. The other side of the disk shows that it was a charm commemorating the Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans in 1884. This means that the women in Celia’s family have been collecting charms since at least the late 1800s.
Two other charms that are very special to Celia are additions that her grandmother made to the bracelet. They are her grandmother’s and grandfather’s sorority and fraternity pins from Ole Miss from the late 1920s or early ’30s.
Her very favorite charm is the tiny wrench because she feels it represents a tender, private joke between her great-great-grandparents. Because some of the charms on the bracelet have been in the family since the late 1800s, and the bracelet has been together since the early 1900s, it has become a precious family heirloom, and Celia plans to continue the tradition by passing it on to her niece, Amanda, who is her great-great-great-grandmother’s namesake.
Charm bracelets don’t have to be made up only of charms you have collected, or only of heirloom charms; sometimes they are a combination of the two. Kim Este of New Orleans has a bracelet that is just that, a combination of heirloom and collected charms. The charms she has collected for her bracelet represent both the places she’s traveled to and milestones in her life.
The charm she considers the most special, though, is one that came off her mother’s teething ring. This charm has her mother’s name, Ann, engraved on one side of it, and on the other is a clock with the hands at 9:30, the time of her birth. It even has teething marks on it.
Kim’s bracelet has so many charms that it is too heavy to wear every day. Over the years she has considered splitting it into several bracelets, but she can’t stand the thought of splitting the bracelet up. She did decide to remove all the enamel charms from it and place them on another bracelet that she finds herself wearing several times a week.
Just as there are many different reasons for collecting charms, charms themselves come in many different shapes, sizes, and prices. They can be made of anything from platinum to silver to pewter to enamel to clay. They can cost anywhere from less than a dollar to several thousands of dollars. They can be factory-made, resulting in thousands of charms that are identical, or they can be handcrafted with no two alike.
These can be the most unique charms because they are limited only by the artist’s imagination. And if the artist is anything like local artist Allison Backus, the imagination isn’t limited. Allison creates polymer clay charms shaped like food, animals, and other everyday items.
Charm bracelets remind us of the people we’ve known, places we’ve visited, and events that have happened. They create a map of memories and a heritage for our descendants. They keep the memories of an ancestor alive in a tangible way.
Charm bracelets are fun to create, and can be made of either a specific type of charm, such as enamel, or a certain theme, like travel, or they can be a hodgepodge of everything we’ve experienced in our lives.
Each bracelet shows the personality of the person who created it. Whether we start them as children or as adults, or have more than one, each bracelet is unique and special. So whether you have a bracelet you’ve kept since childhood, or one you started as an adult, revel in the fact that you have a special way to remember your life well lived.