Charms and charm bracelets have been hanging around since ancient times and have been hot and then not more often than Madonna.
But their prominent play at this weekend’s American Craft Council Atlanta Show — a gathering of more than 225 top contemporary jewelry, clothing, home decor and furniture artists from across the country — is evidence that they are trending yet again.
An ACC official who helped launch what it calls the American Craft Charm Collection last year acknowledges that the Minneapolis-based crafts-promoting organization is hardly alone in bringing back charms and charm bracelets, pendants and pins. In fact, the ACC, which presents four shows nationally each year, closely studied escalating charm sales of manufacturers and retailers such as Chamilia, Pandora and Jared before creating its own program.
“Coming out of the recession, not everyone can afford a $5,000 or $10,000 piece,” ACC marketing and communications director Pamela Diamond said. “So the notion was, this is a great way to help people think about investing slowly in something that’s valuable to them. Jewelry is a very strong category for us, but this makes it relevant and affordable and exciting for (a wider cross section of) people to start collecting.”
For instance, a customer at the Atlanta show, opening Friday at Cobb Galleria Centre, could start by selecting individual charms, spending $50 and up, she suggested. Those pieces then could be added to and mixed and matched over a few years with work by different artists, or with charms passed down by a relative, for a bracelet or necklace that’s one of a kind. One that is, as Diamond said, “personal to you and not the same thing that every other woman has.”
In her book “Charmed Bracelets,” jewelry designer Tracey Zabar called such charmed creations “an oh-so-feminine autobiography on a chain.”
To help show attendees create their own story-chains, the ACC will have a large, custom-made display case front and center, spotlighting examples of the nearly two dozen jewelry artists who will be exhibiting charms in one form or another at the show this year. An ACC associate can help sort through the range of offerings and then direct guests to specific artist booths, which have branded signage marking their participation.
Further, an online catalog at craftcouncil.org/charm/atlanta presents photos, descriptions and contact information for 22 artists participating in Atlanta and an additional 45 makers included in the charm collection.
The pieces cover a broad range of aesthetics (from funky to classic), materials (from skateboard pieces repurposed by Raleigh, N.C., artist Tara Locklear to the stingray leather employed by fellow Raleigh artist Megan Clark, to the gold and diamonds of San Franciscan Cornelia Goldsmith) and price points (from $50 to upward of $1,500).
What they all have in common is “just how unique every single piece is,” Diamond said. “They’re all handmade. There’s nothing here that you would find in any store.”
Of course, just like the ACC show’s hand-sewn wearables and hand-thrown ceramics, the price point is higher than you’d expect to pay for mass-produced lines at retail stores or online sites.
Keith Lewis, a nature-inspired jewelry-maker from New York’s Hudson Valley, sold the first charm bracelet he created at the Atlanta show last year for $1,200. Dangling from an oxidized sterling foxtail chain, the elements of his couture creation included mica with a Japanese patina on copper, gold leaf, diamonds, rubies and freshwater rice, seed and button pearls.
“People relate to charms, whether from memories of travel, of friends or some personal experience,” said Lewis, who also creates charms for jacket earrings. “Think of how many cultures throughout history have used them for good luck, as talismans to protect themselves or as a way to identify with others. They are objects which, because we chose them, say something about ourselves, and I think that’s pretty cool.”
Lewis has been a regular at ACC shows since 1981, right out of grad school at the State University of New York at New Paltz, specializing in earrings.
He had never considered creating charms, but the launch of the American Craft Charm Collection gave him what he called “a kick in the pants.”
"We can get so mired down in what we do in the studio,” Lewis said. “Craft, a lot of it is making, but the art part of it is creating. What a program like this does is get you to get your head out of the sand and try something new. It was really creative on the ACC’s part and a great challenge.”
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American Craft Council Atlanta Show
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. $12 advance, $13 door; $29 three-day pass (includes ACC membership and American Craft magazine subscription); free under age 12; $5 after 5 p.m. Friday. Preview party, 6-9 p.m. Thursday, $75 advance; $85 door. Free parking. Cobb Galleria Centre, 2 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 770-955-8000, craftcouncil.org/atlanta.
THE CHARM OF CHARMS
In the introduction to her 2004 book “Charmed Bracelets” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $21.95), jewelry designer Tracey Zabar gives her take on their long-lasting appeal:
“There is something innately charming about a charm bracelet. Some people might love the signature jingle and jangle such a bracelet makes when the wearer is in motion, while others enjoy the fact that you really need to get up close and personal to examine each quirky little charm dangling from the links. But for me, the most irresistible and alluring thing about a charm bracelet is its ability to tell a story unique to its owner. Consider a charm bracelet ‘history on a wrist’ — there is nothing more personal or symbolic. Laden with tiny figurines, fond remembrances, and sweet forget-me-nots collected over the years, charm bracelets chronicle small moments in a life lived.
“Truly, to wear one is to wear your history upon your sleeve. And while the adornments women choose have always been an expression of personal style, few ornaments, barring the engagement ring, have held as dear a place in women’s hearts — or create as big a commotion, both literally and figuratively — as the charm bracelet. Walk down the street wearing one, and a woman will stop you in your tracks to share stories about her own treasured charm bracelet, her mother’s, or even her grandmother’s. Charm bracelets encourage a connection. Like quilts or samplers, they are a woman’s art and such a ‘girl thing.’”