This is Part II of a two-part guide; to read the first part, click here: Part I.
If you collect vintage gold or silver charms or charm bracelets, you're bound to have questions about practical matters like selecting a bracelet, attaching your charms, cleaning and care, and so on. Here are my answers to the questions I'm asked most often. There are no pretty photos here (for that you have to see my other guides), because this is about the technical side of charm collecting—just the FAQs, ma'am!
What can I do to keep my opening and moving charms from being damaged?
Check them regularly to make sure that clasps are secure and that nothing’s coming loose. A loose charm is much more vulnerable to catching on something and coming apart.
If someone who isn’t familiar with moving charms is examining your bracelet (and no doubt swooning with delight), show them how to open and close and move and spin and play with the charms gently. This goes double for children, who of course see your charms as toys. But they’re not—they’re jewelry, and like all vintage jewelry should be treated with respect.
What can I do about an opening charm that won’t stay closed?
Sometimes the catches of openers loosen over time because of the malleability of the metal. If this happens and the little piece of metal that latches the charm shut is in the right position, you can retighten the charm by gently but firmly pressing the latch against a wooden surface (don’t use your antique mahogany dining table for this) to bend it back to its original position. Do a tiny bit and check, then a little more if needed, and so on. If the latch is in the wrong position to be pressed against a hard surface, you can use a pair of chain-nose pliers with the grasping surfaces wrapped in masking tape to keep them from marring the metal (or stick on those tiny felt dots used to keep knickknacks from scratching furniture). Always err on the side of caution, since you’re dealing with fractions of millimeters here. And be gentle, so that you don’t snap off the latch and ruin the charm.
Some charms won’t stay clasped not because the catch has loosened but because the hinge has. When that happens, the two pieces of the charm have too much lateral play, and the catch won’t stay lined up with the part of the charm it’s meant to catch onto. In that case you have to tighten the hinge. Use your pliers (cover the tips as above to protect the silver) to squeeze the hinge together from either side, again working gradually. Don’t squeeze the pin that joins the two halves of the hinge; squeeze the hinge itself, above or below the pin, or both. Again, work gradually, and don’t hurry.
In my experience, the above adjustments are usually much easier to make on silver than on gold. If a working gold charm isn't working correctly, you'll probably want to take it to a jeweler for adjustment.
Should I have my jump rings soldered?
Soldering is an excellent way to keep from losing charms. But having said that, I have to admit that I never get it done myself. For one thing, it’s expensive, often $5 a charm or more—possibly much more, depending on where you live. For another, I’m always revising my bracelets and moving charms around; with soldering you lose that easy fluidity. And the heat of the soldering process can discolor your charms and bracelet, necessitating a thorough cleaning by the jeweler, which will remove all oxidation from silver, leaving it looking brand new—something that may or may not please you. And now that I've found heavy-duty jump rings that stand up to whatever you can put a charm bracelet through and still stay secure, I don't need to solder. I often (but not always) have these for sale on eBay; if you want to check, you can click here: My fabulous jump rings.
What about using split rings?
Split rings, if you’re not familiar with the term, are rings that look like tiny key rings. You open one end just enough to thread your charm on, and then rotate the ring until the charm is no longer trapped between the doubled part of the ring; you attach the ring to the bracelet in the same way. While split rings can work very well, since they won’t accidentally pull open as jump rings can, they have one serious defect. If they get stretched out to begin with, as they can if you attach them to a bracelet with thick links, then they will never ever close up completely. In that event a charm can easily work its way off the ring and out of your life. That being said, there are many people who find split rings a good solution. If you'd like to try them, there's a terrific guide to their use by the seller evercharming, Using Split Ring Pliers and Tweezers to Attach Charms.
How do I attach my new charm to my bracelet if I want to do it myself?
The way I do it is to use two pairs of small chain-nose pliers. With the pliers in my left hand (I’m right-handed), I hold the charm by its jump ring just to the left of the ring’s opening, with the opening positioned so that it points upward. With the pliers in my right hand, I grasp the ring on the other side of the opening. I then push outward with my right hand (gently!) so that the ring opens up and is no longer a flat circle but (if this makes sense) the beginning of a spiral—not a larger circle with an opening. I hang onto the charm on its open ring with the pliers in my right hand, hold the bracelet with my left, and hook the ring through a link. Then I pick up the pliers again in my left hand and reverse the pushing-apart movement to bring the ends of the ring together. I actually bring them a tiny bit past where I want them to be; then they spring back into the perfect position when I let go. (There are some very minor modifications to this if you're using the jumps I sell; your package will come with specific instructions.)
How do I determine the proper bracelet length?
It depends on how much drape you like—in other words, how loose you like your bracelet to be, and how far up your arm and down your hand you like it to move. Generally speaking, anything from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches longer than your wrist measurement should be a good fit, with 1 inch being the standard. I find that very wide bracelets don't look good when they're too loose, so don't go up more than an inch or so on those. If you're going to attach a ton of charms to your bracelet, be aware that all those jump rings take up space and will push the bracelet out from your wrist, making a longer length necessary; however, that's usually an issue only if you really, really load your bracelet.
How is a bracelet measured?
What you need to know when choosing a bracelet is its length when clasped—its wearable length—since that's what's relevant. It can be very different from the length measured end to end, depending on the kind of clasp, but is always shorter than that. If a bracelet is especially chunky and thick, measuring it laid flat will give a deceptive result, since once it's on your wrist, that flat measurement will be the outside circumference of the bracelet; the inner one, which lies against your wrist, will be smaller. I'll always take this into account when giving you a bracelet's length, by saying that, for example, it measures 8 inches but fits as if it were 7 1/4 inches, or has a wearable length of 7 1/4 inches.
If you found this guide helpful, you might also enjoy reading my other three guides for vintage charm collectors.
What are my vintage charm credentials? I've been a collector and dealer for years, and started eBay's Vintage Charms & Charm Bracelets group, which I lead. I was the technical advisor for Charms and Charm Bracelets: The Complete Guide, by Joanne Schwartz (Schiffer Books, 2005), which includes many photos of charms from my collection, and together with Joanne lectured on antique and vintage charm bracelets at the 2005 Vintage Fashion and Costume Jewelry convention in Providence, RI. I'm a member of eBay's jewelry category Voices program.
And yes, I adore vintage charms!
Important note! The Items from eBay Sellers shown to the right of this guide are chosen by eBay, not by me, so please don't assume that I have anything to do with their selection, or that I endorse them in any way.
Copyright © 2003-2006 gelatogrrl. This material may not be reproduced in any form, or linked to electronically, without the express written permission of the author.