Talisman jewelry has come a long way: originally used as symbols, they are now the means of expressing emotions.

The jewelry section of the Nordiska museet (Nordic Museum) in Stockholm boasts an outrageously unusual collection of pocket watch chains made from hair. Women’s hair was used for men’s watches, given mostly as gifts. “Promises and keepsakes’ says the legend, referring to the popularity of such accessories in the 19th century. There is something fascinatingly primordial about them. These pieces are like an emotionally valuable chain, a physical connection between two people, a guarantee of the sanctity of their marriage.

In my personal rating of physiological jewelry, these chains come second only to 15-cm bronze cuffs, cast in the 12th century B.C., from the Kyiv History Museum. The coiling armbands were a tangible good luck charm: massive like any armor, they were worn by warriors for protection.

By the 20th century, the protective function of jewelry had transformed into an emotional and symbolic one. Of such value was a talisman of one of the most prominent female aviators Jacqueline Cochran, custom made by Cartier. A slim white gold bracelet resembled woven twigs of a broom. Jacqueline was the first woman to go “supersonic”, breaking the sound barrier (1953) and piloting an aircraft at twice the speed of sound (1964). In the male dominated aviation world she was a frequent target of sexist jokes, comparing her to a witch. So she had a witch’s talisman made for her. Jacqueline wore it to various functions and was photographed by Horst P. Horst for American Vogue with the bracelet gracing her arm.

With time, people were less inclined to interpret the idea of jewelry as lucky charms. In the 20th century, talismans became a part of social life. Pieces sporting eyes, sacral geometry or alchemic symbols seem almost pagan now. Jewelry speaking the universal language of symbols is gaining recognition instead — Amulette de Cartier pieces unlocking wishes, Happy Hearts by Chopard for never-ending love, Tiffany Keys for happiness, the Talisman collection by De Beers oozing the power of rough diamonds.

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