Charm Jewelry Decoded: What Your Favorite Symbols Actually Mean
For some, charm jewelry feels playful and nostalgic — as a child of the '90s, my interlocking Italian charm bracelets were the epitome of cool. To others, a charm is an incredibly meaningful heirloom or symbol, serving as an identity marker in the form of a bracelet, necklace, earrings, or a ring. It's something many find comfort in during times of uncertainty, not unlike the current pandemic. Zodiac signs, birthstones, and initials are among the most popular charms for jewelry, but styles designed with religious, protective, or astrological symbols have proven particularly popular in recent seasons. As women increasingly seek out purchases with a more personalized feel, understanding the history or inspiration behind certain charms can connect the wearer to what they ultimately buy.
Colette Steckel, founder and designer of Colette Jewelry, created her latest Santos y Cielos collection as an ode to her father — she designed medallions for him to wear for luck and protection before his passing. Afterward, the collection came to life with each charm, necklace, bracelet, and ring serving as a protective talisman with ancient symbols of protection and luck. Incorporated throughout are horseshoes, figs, and evil eyes. "Many of the pieces are an homage to my faith, with handmade components that have small saints, angels, and other religious motifs," she tells The Zoe Report.
Steckel says many people view jewelry as armor, protecting against harm and are part of every person's story when collected over time. "Now, more than ever, I see charms as a token of resilience, reminding us of our strength, and that there's always a light at the end of the tunnel," she says. "I'm a firm believer that there's a higher power that influences our lives, and these pieces are meant to bring us closer to that and give us a sense of comfort that someone or something is keeping watch over us."
A deep connection to nature has long served as a point of inspiration for jewelry designer Cathy Waterman. Growing up among the redwood trees in California, she tells TZR of the peace and inspiration she finds from her natural surroundings. As such, many of her designs are literal interpretations of the natural world's beauty, while others are more abstract, like her Tree of Life pendant, which symbolizes life, family, generations, and growth. "I'm humbled by the beauty and ferocity of nature," Waterman says. "I see patterns of leaves and petals when I close my eyes. I'm happiest and the most inspired when surrounded by nature."
Personalization, charms, and layering are at the core of the fine jewelry line Jemma Wynne, co-founded by Jenny Klatt and Stephanie Wynne Lalin in 2008. "People are looking for personal jewelry pieces they can connect to, and that tell their story. That's the fun with charms ... they are buildable, collectible, and more often than not, symbolize a major milestone or special significance in one's life," Klatt says.
As symbols of empowerment, the designer says charms remind people who they are and what they've been through, be it a heart, a lucky four-leaf clover, a birthstone, or a moon. They're also an element of personalization that consumers crave — a charm can be tied back to a symbol that feels special or particular to them. As for styling, Klatt finds an effortlessness to the look of layered charms, particularly when paired with today's more relaxed wardrobes. "We call it T-shirt jewelry because that's how they look best, with your favorite worn-in tees and tie-dye!"
Whether you're browsing for a gift, craving some embellishment to personalize chain necklaces, or simply here for the knowledge, keep reading to learn the meaning behind some of today's most popular charms, as explained by Steckel, Waterman, Klatt, and additional jewelry designers. If you're ready to make a purchase, the edit ahead will undoubtedly satiate your desires.
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What Charm Jewelry Means: Evil Eyes
"The evil eye is an ancient motif in jewelry meant to protect the wearer from just that, evil eyes or negative spirits or energy being cast their way," says Lauren Harwell Godfrey, founder and designer of Harwell Godfrey. Traditionally, evil eye charms are blue, but different designs can add additional meaning. "I made a collection with blue, green, violet, and brown 'eyes' surrounded by inlay stones known to have healing qualities."
Ileana Makri — creative director for Reinstein Ross and designer of her eponymous line — created a Greek Eye collection inspired by traditional evil eyes with precious materials like hematite, lapis, turquoise, and malachite worked into each design for added significance. "I implemented lapis because its energy stimulates clarity and creativity, and the celestial blue is the universal symbol of wisdom and truth," she tells TZR. "The Greek Eye collection is not only a form of protection but also meant to inspire the wearer to look deeper within to live a more harmonious life."
What Charm Jewelry Means: The Hamsa
"The Hamsa is an ancient amulet symbolizing the hand of God," says jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche. "As an adornment, it inspires feelings of happiness, good health, and protection. I have always considered the hamsa to be a magnet for positivity and blessings. Keep it close, and any negative energy within you will be dispelled."
Sylva Yepremian, creative director of Sylva & Cie, was inspired to design her Hamsa pieces after a trip to the Middle East, where a universal understanding of the symbol exists despite cultural or religious differences. "This is a sacred symbol to many Middle Eastern cultures," she tells TZR, noting the charm's good luck and fortune connections.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Snakes
"Snakes have a bad reputation in Western mythology, but in Japanese folklore, snakes represent rejuvenation, heightened perception, and wisdom," says Milamore's founder and creative director, George Root. Snakes help people let go of the past, the designer adds, which leads to better decision making for the future.
Pamela Love says snakes symbolize rebirth and the cycle of life. "That's why so many of my serpent styles are wrapped around, like the ring wraps around your finger and the end of the snake meet."
What Charm Jewelry Means: Coins
Dating back centuries, Steckel tells TZR of the vast symbolism coin jewelry holds. "Coins have been worn throughout history as tokens of luck and good fortune, and many also have religious significance." The Colette designer says coins representing love — many of which are hand-engraved with poetry or a message of adoration — are popular when worn as talismans and date back to the 13th century.
Zodiac coins, representing astrological signs, are among the most popular, whether you wear your sign or that someone dear to you. "More often than not, a coin represents something meaningful to the wearer, which is why we see them so often as the foundation of a layered look," Steckel says.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Lions
"The lion is a fierce symbol of integrity and strength," Kirsty Stone, designer and founder of Retrouvaí, tells TZR. One of Stone's most popular pieces is her lion signet ring, designed to serve as a reminder to stand up for what you believe in. "It's about resilience and having the power to be forward-thinking and moving onward."
Baylee Zwart, founder and creator of Azlee, takes inspiration from ancient civilizations for her charm designs, including her Animal Kingdom Coin featuring Greek and Sicilian motifs. "The lion signifies strength and power; the Dolphins signify love and guidance," Zwart explains.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Goddesses
Like coins, goddess charms vary in meaning, though beauty and strength are common associations, which Zwart says is represented in Azlee's Goddess Coin, featuring Sicilian motifs.
"We believe that jewelry should be a vehicle for self-empowerment, a proud symbol of past, current, and future female leaders," Jill Johnson, founder of Awe, tells TZR of her goddess collection. The mythological and historical heroines depicted represent the adversity they overcame and the boundaries they pushed, Johnson tells TZR — a true celebration of feminity.
Brent Neale designed her Artemis collection as a visible reminder of strength, encouraging wearers to go after what they most desire. "The jumping-off point was Artemis' most famous accessory — a bow and arrow — made in diamonds, rubies, and 18-karat gold," she tells TZR. "[The symbol] is perfectly suited for a modern Goddess of the Hunt."
What Charm Jewelry Means: Flowers
Flowers are at the crux of Foundrae's Resilience collection, depicted alongside thorns to represent adversity. "The blossoms bloom around and over [the thorns]," co-founder and creative director Beth Bugdaycay, tells TZR. "When someone wears these pieces, I want them to recognize that they have the resources inside of them to deal with any situation they may find themselves in and that not only do blossoms bloom against adversity, but they bloom in abundance, with wild abandon."
ARK designer Ann Korman features lotus flowers in her fine jewelry collection, which grow out of the mud and symbolize enlightenment, transformation, and rebirth. "Just like the lotus, we too, have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness, and radiate into the world," she says.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Horseshoes
"The horseshoe has long been a symbol of luck and protection," designer Ashley Zhang tells TZR. "The horseshoe contains luck which pours out from the ends. If the shoe is facing up, the luck is contained within the piece. If it's facing down, the luck is pouring on to you."
What Charm Jewelry Means: Scarabs
The scarab is a species of beetle that represents immortality, transformation, resurrection, and protection. "My mother had a scarab pendant that was given to her when she was 16," Love muses. "It inspired me to research the history of this symbol, and I felt compelled to introduce it into my line as a jeweler."
Jenna Grosfeld, founder and designer of Jenna Blake, says that historically, the scarab reminds people of life's cycle. "Even in our darkest moments, we can overcome obstacles and hardships, ultimately leading to new identities and roles from experience," she says.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Elephants
Elephant charms are famously associated with luck, but also signify strength and wisdom, designer Elizabeth Locke explains. The trunk plays a big part in the interpretation — Locke and designer Helen Ficalora say that an upward-facing trunk is most indicative of luck. In contrast, a downward-facing trunk can signify luck running out.
Zwart says elephants are also synonymous with loyalty, which she incorporated into Azlee's Elefante Coin, featuring Spanish and Sicilian motifs.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Owls
According to Greek mythology, the owl symbolizes Athena, goddess of wisdom, designer Temple St Clair explains. "She's never without one perched on her shoulder," St Clair says. "It's said that her owl helped her to be all-seeing and all-knowing."
What Charm Jewelry Means: The Sun
LA-based designer Zoë Chicco says the sun symbolizes growth, strength, optimism, and creativity. "It's our life force." Though frequently depicted on its own, Chicco says the sun and the moon often go hand-in-hand and carry deep spiritual significance. "They're powerful opposites representing light and dark, yin and yang, and female and male energies. When shown together, they represent balance, which I think we could all use more of these days!"
What Charm Jewelry Means: Crescent Moons
"The crescent moon has had many different meanings in jewelry throughout history," says Zhang. When paired with stars, the designer says they symbolize spiritual guidance and direction. "The moon also symbolizes change — just as the moon cycles through phases, so does life."
A signature of Colette's Galaxia collection, the designer says crescent moons symbolize fertility and growth. Similarly, as a consistent motif in Godfrey's line, they represent powerful feminine energy. "One of my son's first words was 'moon,' and we spent our quarantine in Sonoma, California, locally referred to as the 'Valley of the Moon.' I felt compelled to explore what such an enduring symbol would look like using my design language, highlighting inlay techniques and unexpected gemstone combinations for a fresh take on an old favorite."
What Charm Jewelry Means: The Full Moon
"The full moon represents a peak or culmination and signifies beauty, wisdom, intuition, and clarity," Chicco explains, commonly designed in tandem with the sun. "The moon and stars symbolize celestial wisdom and protection from negative energy. I love designing pieces with the intention of bringing the wearers good luck."
What Charm Jewelry Means: Stars
"Stars are another powerful symbol, representative of guidance, leading you in the direction you're meant to go," says Zhang.
What Charm Jewelry Means: The Eye of Horus
Kim Carosella, the co-founder of Sorellina, tells TZR, "The Eye of Horus is the ancient Egyptian symbol for protection and good health — definitely something we all can appreciate right now!"
What Charm Jewelry Means: Daggers
"Daggers have always symbolized protection," Love explains. "I think for women, it's also a symbol of tremendous strength and independence."
What Charm Jewelry Means: Shields
Korman says shields are a symbol of strength and protection, often carried by goddesses to defend the world's good. "The shield protects us when we encounter challenges and urges us forward when we feel we are stuck. It reminds us to stay aware and awake."
Shields are also represented in diamonds, beloved for their geometric shape and step-cut facets. "The shield diamonds we use throughout our collection are to be interpreted as a beacon of protection," Zwart says.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Horns
Since ancient times, horns have protected from evil and are believed to ward off danger if worn as an amulet. "Horns are an incredible source of inner-strength and power," says Aiche, who considers them a collection signature. "They instill their beholder with confidence and a deeper sense of connection to the earth." The designer says a double horn carries the grounding energy of Mother Nature, but with a hint of rebellion."
What Charm Jewelry Means: Clovers
"Four-leaf clovers symbolize luck and magic," Waterman says. "My clover charm represents a sense of adventure, like when I was a child searching for clovers and the great good luck I felt when I found a four-leaf."
Stone says, "The clover is traditionally inspired by the omen of good luck, and I love being able to wear physical reminders that fortune favors the brave. For a look that's both modern and retro, Retrouvaí's version of a four-leaf clover features hand-cut gemstones, and the label's signature ridged gold technique.
"Even though the symbolism behind four-leaf clovers originated in Ireland, they've become an emblem synonymous with luck across all cultures," says Klatt. Jemma Wynne's clover pendants are one of the brand's bestselling charms because they resonate so well as a totem of good fortune.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Fish
"The fish has always been a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and positivity for me," says Love. As a Pisces, the designer has always included fish symbols in her collections.
Milamore tells TZR that, according to Japanese folklore, goldfish symbolize good luck in all stages of the life cycle. "Their bodies are full of eggs, which lead many to believe they were a good omen to women who wished to bear children. Additionally, goldfish were believed by nobility and samurais to bring purification and wealth while alive, and remove misfortune when they die."
What Charm Jewelry Means: Doves
Designer Arman Sarkisyan takes inspiration from the symbolism that birds, such as doves, carry, incorporating them into many of his designs. "I find doves to have particularly beautiful meaning. They're a centuries-old symbol of peace and tranquility, but can also represent love and loyalty."
In Azlee's charm collection, the Aphrodite Coin features the goddess of love surrounded by olive branches and doves, which represent peaceful love, according to Zwart.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Ladybugs
It's said that, when a ladybug lands on you, you'll have luck for as many years as there are dots on that ladybug. But more than luck, designer Erin Sachse of Eriness sees ladybugs as a reminder of gratitude. To wit, they're a reminder of love, strength, and protection from her mother, which lead to Sachse's Ladybug Collection. "Luck is not infinite, and the most important thing is to be grateful for the people and love in our lives," she tells TZR, hoping her ladybug designs bring strength, protection, and gratitude to her wearers, as it does for her.
What Charm Jewelry Means: Om
You've heard the sound in yoga, but the meaning of "Om" is not always realized, particularly in jewelry. "'Om' is a Sanskrit word that can mean everything and nothing, an emptiness, and fullness, all at the same time," Ficalora explains. "It's a powerful mantra that can be used as a symbol for unification and to find peace and stillness within oneself."