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Adventures in Style: Antique Silver Charm Rings

Years ago, our founder Betsy Nathan went for tea at Muriel Lubeliner’s fantastically boho Chicago apartment. Lubliner was a true style pioneer, known for her adventurous travels in the 20th century, her role as muse to her brother, the lauded decorator Richard Himmel, and her museum-caliber collection of Chinese Ming & Qing porcelain spoons. Muriel did everything with an unexpected twist, including keeping her beloved collection of 19th century Chinese charm rings in a giant bowl on the coffee table.

Antique Chinese Charm Rings from PAGODA RED
Clouds, flowers, insects: symbolism on Chinese charm rings comes from the natural world

When Betsy admired them, Muriel said she’d collected them in the 1980s, when she and Richard traveled throughout China, Japan, and Korea. Muriel was instantly taken with their tiny auspicious symbols, including bats and peaches. She continued to buy them as she traveled, eventually amassing a sizable, wholly original collection. She joyfully told Betsy that the best way to wear them is “…a bunch all at once. They jingle on your fingers!” Muriel pulled out one ring after another, noting the details she loved about each one. Many were cast with intricate relief designs hung with charms of repoussé metalwork, a challenging technique in which the design is raised by hammering the reverse side.

A Miao woman wearing beautiful silver jewelry. Photo by Betsy Nathan

In her 90s, Muriel downsized and entrusted PAGODA RED as the next stop on the journey for this fantastical jewelry. She has since passed away, and we’re honored to represent a collection we know she treasured. We’ve learned that the rings were made by the Miao people, an ethnic minority group in Southwestern China known for their silver jewelry and fabulous embroidered textiles. In her own travels, Betsy has seen Miao women wearing similar charm rings, often as part of meaningful and elaborate outfits.

One of our favorites from Muriel’s collection chimes with three tiny bells shaped like fruit, while another features a thick band engraved with a ripe pumpkin, symbolizing a life of plenty. On one ring, the popular Qing dynasty motif of butterflies and gourds conveys blessings for a large family with many sons. On another, two miniature pigs symbolize wealth and sustenance–thoughtful, layered symbolism abounds.

Antique Chinese Charm Ring from PAGODA RED
With beautiful repousse’ work and auspicious symbols, each silver ring is a 19th c. good luck charm.

The rings at PAGODA RED date to the late 19th century, and were certainly designed to protect the wearer from bad luck and malevolent spirits. Each ring is adjustable to accommodate many sizes. We think the mystery behind the symbolic combinations on each antique ring is part of their appeal. Were they custom jewelry upon request? Given as a gift or token? It’s fun to think about the possibilities.

Jo, our Marketing Director, wears her charm ring as a tie ring.

These rings absolutely always make a statement, whether gathered in an oversized bowl, reimagined as tie rings, or decorating the hands of women worldwide. We found them through one chic adventurer and know each one is destined for more stylish adventures to come.


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