Antiques and Art Around Florida — 2010-2011 Issue
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Vintage Charms
Patti Esbia

Everyone’s mother had a charm bracelet and as a child you remember how you loved playing with it! Those little charms that dangled from her bracelet, each one was so different and unique, some made noises, some made you smile and some reminded you of a special occasion. Maybe it’s because of their nostalgic appeal, but charms are the newest, oldest, craze around!

There are a vast variety of charms in the marketplace, both in material (platinum, gold, silver, bakelite, celluloid, brass, etc), and content; art deco, military themed, risqué (erotica), political, watch fob charms, novelty, musical (yes, they really do play music), charms that light up, whimsical charms, just to mention a few.

My personal preference is “vintage” charms. As you’ l l discover, if you’re searching for the perfect charm it is the only way to go! They have character, craftsmanship, detail and uniqueness. In today’s massproduced manufacturing world you’ll never see those qualities again.

The most popular charms and the era I will be writing about are from the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s. These charms in my opinion are the most fun to find and collect. Many of them have moveable parts or do something unexpected. For example, one charm is a jail, and when you open it up, it has a prisoner wearing stripes. It amazes me how the intricate enameling could have done with such precision. Another is a jack in the box; when it is opened, it has an enameled face that looks like a mime and was miniaturized into exact detail to about the size of a pin head. Another of my favorites is a slot machine; it has a handle you pull down which makes the rolls spin, however, I’ve never been able to make it pay out!

Perhaps a bracelet with all moveable charms, such as an outhouse that opens to see Sam & Lew on the throne, the devil that pops out of the cocktail shaker, a globe that spins and says “you are the world to me”, or a cottage that opens to see two people in bed under a blanket would be your favorites.

The moveability and intricacies in these charms are what distinguishes the vintage from the new. I don’t think there is a subject matter out there, no matter how bizarre, that a vintage charm hasn’t been made to express. Personally, I would only have vintage charms in my store. They are much more interesting than those cheap looking, stamped, diamond cut charms that some stores sell today.

Charms have been around since the beginning of time. The ankh is an example of an ancient Egyptian charm that symbolizes life. It was cherished back then as it is today. How many things do you know that can stay in vogue that long? It transcends generations!

You see charm bracelets on the runways in Milan, red-carpet events in Hollywood, or a chic woman sitting next to you on the plane. Collecting charms is something anyone can do, no matter what the budget may be. I’ve sold charms to dealers and collectors from as far away as Japan, Germany and Australia!

Collecting charms is an artistic expression of ones’ personal life through jewelry. Memories of the different phases that we all go through. Many mothers and grandmothers start buying charms for their babies even before they can walk. A young girl’s first charm bracelet might consist of an engraveable birth certificate, a baby carriage with spinning wheels and a moveable hood, an artist palette for her favorite hobby, a kitten for her first pet, a holy Bible that opens into 3 pages with the Lord’s prayer for her First Communion, a megaphone for when she became a cheerleader, a comb and mirror combination because she might be vain, a pair of crutches from when she broke her leg skiing, a graduation cap with moveable tassel, and so on and so forth.

The fun thing is that they can always be added to as you live your own life story….there are charms to remind you of your favorite travel destinations like; the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Parthenon in Greece, a double decker bus that opens to see people inside for London, or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

Another popular subject are good luck charms such as horseshoes, four leaf clovers, the number 13, wishbones, etc. Or a collection of all hearts. There is such a variety to choose from like the classic hollow Victorian hearts, which were most popular in sterling, or they can all have stones such as diamonds, sapphires, rubies or any combination. There are hearts that come with keys (key to my heart). There are hearts that say “I love you” with spinners, that when you spin them it lands on yes, no, or maybe. The varieties are endless.

One of my clients collects the winning breed from the annual Westminster dog show. Another celebrity client collects telephone charms. I never realized how many different types of telephones there could be until I helped her with this project. To date she has acquired over 25 varieties of mostly moveable telephone charms.

Charms are as individual as you are. The one thing you can be assured of is no two bracelets will be the same. Just as no two people are the same.

I first got interested in charms back in the 1960’s when I was lucky enough to work in my Fathers jewelry store on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island. I loved to go though all his charm catalogs & ordered all the ones that I found interesting. I was not into bracelets at the time, so I bought a heavy open link necklace to put my charms on. Each charm had to be soldered about every third link. You see, from the start, I considered my charm necklace to be my diary. Some of my charms on that necklace are a working pinball machine, (I was a pinball champion), an America’s Cup charm, (I was the first girl to sail on France 2 of the America’s cup), a girl in a bathtub with lots of bubbles, (I loved long bubble baths), a double deck of cards, (I was a blackjack dealer about 10 years after I started the necklace), a Jack-O-Lantern that opens with a candle inside, (my favorite holiday is Halloween) and a black enamel bat for the same reason, a set of movable teeth (that reminded me of Dr. Josephson-my elderly dentist that would miss with his drill and sometimes result in cut gums or a fat lip; once he even gave me a black eye, not on purpose of course), a spinning globe, (because I love travel), and many more, but you get the picture. There are no rules here. I just always loved things that can make me smile. And I still wear it today.

Charms are also incredibly thoughtful ways to give a gift that you can be assured a positive reaction; a smile, a laugh, a tear of joy from the recipient. Charms are especially good for the man who has a hard time finding that perfect something that is both thoughtful and relatively inexpensive. I have been dealing in charms for over forty years. I have colaborated in a multitude of articles and books on charms. I invite everyone to come in to my world of charms …you will be delighted at the treasures you will find!

Patti Esbia, owner of Patti Esbia Antique & Estate Jewelry, offers signed, high-end period jewelry with a twist, at her Palm Beach store. Nationally known for her expertise on charms, she also offers the largest collection of vintage charms in the world. Because she exhibits at many premier antique shows throughout the U.S., and has kept her Palm Beach store for more than 19 years, Esbia is proud of being able to bring wholesale prices to everyone. She is now carrying vintage couture edgy clothing, such as JP Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Prada, and Moschino at up to 90 percent off original prices.

Patti Esbia Antique & Estate Jewelry
326 Peruvian Ave.,
Palm Bch, FL. 33480, 561-833-9448,,