It’s not hard to discover the history of charm bracelets because they are in and of themselves artifacts of someone’s personal history. From carved mammoth tusk charms to thousands-of-years old African shell charms to the fish charms that Christians would hide in their robes during the Roman Empire, charms have been signifiers of what means most to us throughout the ages. As Leland Little Fine Jewelry Director Nancy Blount notes “There’s not another piece of ladies’ jewelry that so documents a life lived like a charm bracelet does. From sweet sixteen charms, to high school diplomas, to travel, wedding, and hobby charms - these bracelets take us on a journey through the life of their original owner.”

In our Important Spring Auction, we offered a diamond and platinum charm bracelet that is an exquisite example of the style of the first decades of the 1900s. Its unique appeal evokes the many charm bracelets worn by fashion icons through the ages - the personal nature of a charm bracelet was the perfect outlet for the individual tastes of these famous trendsetters. Read on to learn the story behind the charm of some of the most well-known stylish women in recent history.

Queen Victoria wearing one of her many charm bracelets
Queen Victoria

Over the long span of her illustrious reign, Queen Victoria was responsible for popularizing more than one jewelry trend, and charm bracelets were one of the most enduring. Victoria made a tradition of giving charms as New Year’s Eve gifts, and she owned several charm bracelets that commemorated her famously affectionate marriage to Prince Albert.
Upon the birth of their first child, Albert gifted Victoria a bracelet with a single enamel heart locket charm, containing a curl from the new Princess Vicky. Albert then added another heart charm to the bracelet for the birth of each of their children, nine in total. After Prince Albert died, Victoria had a mourning charm bracelet made in his honor, with charms in gold and black enamel, that she wore constantly. When she herself passed away, she left instructions for both charm bracelets to be placed in the “Albert Room” at Windsor castle (the room where Albert died) in perpetuity, rather than be passed down to family members.

Wallis Simpson wearing charm bracelet from Edward VIII
Wallis Simpson

Queen Victoria’s great grandson, Edward VIII, inherited his great grandmother’s penchant for romance. Edward famously abdicated the throne in order to marry his American love, the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Over their life together, Simpson amassed an historic jewelry collection. She said of herself: “I’m nothing to look at, so all I can do is dress better than anyone else.”
Like Victoria, Simpson had a number of charm bracelets, but the Cartier one that Edward gave her as they courted in secret, while she was still married to her second husband, is the most dramatic. In the style of the 1930’s, like the one in our Important Spring Auction, it was platinum and diamond, with platinum-set precious gem cross charms. Edward gave Simpson each cross to commemorate the milestones in their developing relationship, each with a secret inscribed message and date. Simpson wore the bracelet at their wedding after Edward had at last given up the throne to be with her.

Grace Kelly in Rear Window
Grace Kelly

The English weren’t the only royals to set trends. Grace Kelly, who would become Princess Grace of Monaco, was the ultimate style inspiration for ladylike women in the mid-1950s. When she appeared in the movie Rear Window, opposite Jimmy Stewart, in 1954, she was at the height of her movie stardom.
In the film, Kelly played the fashion editor girlfriend to Stewart’s sports reporter. As a fashion professional, her character of course had to dress the part. Kelly’s costumes for the film, designed by Edith Head, were almost another character. They were accessorized with jewelry created by Joan Joseff, who also made costume jewelry for the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth. One bracelet in particular, a multi-strand pearl charm bracelet, worn with a crisply tailored green suit, left an impression on audiences. The bracelet is known to this day as the Rear Window bracelet and has been copied hundreds of times over, at all price points.

Casual Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor

The siren to Grace Kelly’s ingenue, Elizabeth Taylor punctuated her dramatic life with jewelry and likely had the most well-known jewelry collection in history. When Taylor’s jewelry was sold at Christie’s in 2011, the entire group brought $116 million, which was donated to Taylor’s AIDS foundation. Among the record-breaking diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds were five charm bracelets, each replete with tokens from the actress’s storied life.
Many of the charms on these bracelets carried inscriptions from Taylor’s roster of famous husbands, like Eddie Fisher, or the long-suffering assistant to Taylor and Richard Burton, Raymond Vignale. Others commemorate her movies, like a director’s slate that reads “The Taming of The Shrew” or her four children, with their initials. The bracelets, which gave the buyer direct evidence of Taylor’s ownership and her legendary life, brought anywhere from 13 to 30 times their estimated prices.

The Important Spring Auction
Live Auction
Saturday, March 14th
10:00am (EDT)