It was John Lennon who, during the Beatle’s performance at the Royal Variety Performance in London, November 1963, brashly asked the audience in the expensive seats to “just rattle your jewelry” in lieu of applause. Charm bracelets would be well suited for such an occasion. Many women will remember the wonderful feeling as a child of picking up their charm bracelets and hearing that rattling sound—the more charms the more sound. The sound effect, the sentimental attachments, and the joy of collecting were all part of the attraction of the charm bracelet. For many girls it was the first experience with a piece of jewelry of their own. Often received on a special occasion it was the promise of more special occasions to come and thus new charms to add.
But there is more to charms. Although our memory, and that of our mothers and grandmothers goes back to the 1950s and 60s—the heyday of charm bracelets—the origins of charms are much older, existing since prehistoric times. In Europe beautiful examples of bronze fibula have survived, adorned with charms or pendants hanging from them. The generally accepted explanation is that these charms were amulets or talismans. When the fibula was worn the charms would rattle and ward off evil spirits. Similarly, baby rattles were initially intended to keep the evil spirits away from the child.
In painted portraits from late Medieval and Renaissance periods we can find adults wearing belts with many bells, hanging from chains all around, or royal toddlers adorned with symbolic charms (hearts, crosses, reliquaries, animal paws, coral, horn, ivory) that were pinned in abundance to their long white dresses. Charivari (shivaree), a word used in France and Germany, indicates decorative chains adorned with charms. The word charivari actually means pandemonium or mess, and refers to the discordant noise from banging on metal pots and pans. In Bavaria charivari were worn as talismans for successful hunt and functioned as status symbols.
Etymologically there has always been a relationship between sound and charms. Sound, meaning, and symbolism all come together in what we consider the charm bracelet, a specific type of jewelry that became popular among the upper classes in the 19th century thanks to Queen Victoria’s fascination with it. The mid 20th century saw the democratization and industrialization of charm bracelets (and necklaces) which culminated in ready-made charm bracelets by fashion brands in the late 20th and 21st century.
To invite contemporary jewelry artists to make two charms for the exhibition Charmed—one to be part of an oversized charm bracelet, like a miniature Gesamtkunstwerk, which will be donated to a museum, and the other for sale at the gallery—is an apt way to celebrate the maturity of Sienna Patti’s gallery. As a collaborative art work it marks Sienna Patti’s 20th jubilee by uniting the gifts of artists with whom she worked these past two decades. Together these contemporary charms form a three-dimensional sample book of each individual artist’s signature. The dissonant sound of this collaborative charm bracelet is a beautiful and poetic representation of the multivocality of contemporary jewelry.
Liesbeth den Besten
Art historian, writer, and curator
For me, the jingle-jangle of a charm bracelet conjures memories of my grandmother. On her silver bracelet were thirteen round disks, each with a name engraved on one side and a date on the other. Individually these charms celebrated the birth of her children and grandchildren. Collectively the bracelet represented her family. Today, when I hear the gentle tinkle of a cluttered charm bracelet, I cannot help but smile.
Among the most personal examples of jewelry, the charm bracelet is an autobiographical ornament. Typically assembled over time, charms are collected as tokens of remembrance – souvenirs – intended to memorialize vacations, anniversaries, and celebratory moments in one’s life.
In that spirit, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Sienna Patti Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts, 79 artists each crafted two charms. The impressive roster includes artists that Sienna has worked with over the last two decades. One of each pair will be sold as part of an anniversary exhibition, while an oversized charm bracelet, complete with 79 charms, will enter the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). At the MFA it will become part of a collection than spans the globe and more than 6,000 years of jewelry history.
Over the last twenty years Sienna Patti Gallery has been synonymous with creativity and ingenuity. Sienna has built lasting relationships with a generation of artists (many of whom are women), and furthered her role as a global leader through her work with Art Jewelry Forum. Sienna’s work propels the field forward, and Charmed – or as I have come to think of it, Sienna’s Bracelet – honors that.
Emily Stoehrer, Ph.D
Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston