Charm bracelets existed in the 19th century but did not become popular until the early 20th century. They were generally in gold and platinum and one of the more popular motifs was the naval pennant flags spelling out loved ones’ names or messages. Faberge eggs, or copies, were also a popular drop to attach to charm bracelets. Heavily laden charms became popular in the 1920s and drops were in the Art Deco style.
It was not until the 1950s that charm bracelets became widespread and it is from this time that the greatest proportion of costume charm bracelets was made. Of the few manufacturers making them, the most popular was Napier, whose bracelets are the most collectable, a though Art also produced a line. Aiding the saleability of a bracelet includes features such as the subject matter of the charms and how many are squeezed on.
Condition is paramount. The charms inevitably suffer a good deal of wear and tear, and cracks, chips, and dents are not uncommon. Charm bracelets with glass drops commonly have chunks knocked out of them and sometimes the whole of the glass portion of the charm is missing, leaving only the support and the links to the bracelet itself. In order to check thoroughly to see if any are damaged in this way or if any are missing altogether, lay the bracelet on a flat surface so that all the charms lie on one side and check the spacing of the charms.
Napier Chinoiserie Charm Bracelet, early 1950s
The chinoiserie motif bracelet is the most common one found made by Napier, who made these bracelets in the early 1950s. Among the most common motifs for the chinoiserie-style drops are Chinese lanterns, faces, Buddhas, lucky coins, and faux jade. Other motifs include drinking vessels, jugs and amphorae, coins, animals, shells and other sea paraphernalia, Egyptian symbols and "artefacts", flags, and lucky symbols. This bracelet has several problems which are discussed below.
Gilded Napier Chinoiserie Charm Bracelet, early 1950s
Here we have a charm bracelet in better condition and one that would be much more attractive to the collector. Although the colour of the plating is not very important, the fact that it seems that all the original charms are present and in good condition is; also, the bracelet has not been shortened. Again, the charm motifs are on the popular chinoiserie theme with a good range of designs and little repetition.
• Many jewelers produced loose charms that could be collected and added to bracelets. Many of these charms were commemorative or symbolized a place, such as a tourist site.
• Charms, by their very nature, jingle and jangle around, resulting in many getting worn and damaged, so always check condition.
• Many charm bracelets have charms that have been collected over a period of years, so the individual quality and style of charms vary. This is actually a point of interest and should not affect value.
The Napier Company has a long and venerable history dating back to 1875, making it the oldest fashion jewelry manufacturer in the United States. It was founded in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, and made chatelaines, watch chains, and silver-plated match cases. During the First World War, the famous jewelry firm made bayonet scabbards, gas masks, and trench mirrors, and in the Second World War it made flying boat landing frames, officers' belt buckles, and radar panels, among other things.
In 1922 the company adopted its current name, and, under the leadership of its president, James H. Napier, it grew enormously: from 1920 well into the 1960s the firm became one of the world's top costume jewelry manufacturers. The production of the firm was prodigious indeed: in 1964 there were a massive 1,200 design lines, and each season at least 50 per cent of the lines were new to the market. Napier is now the largest independently owned costume jewelry firm in the United States.