“I have had a very primal belief about the power of stones and gems all my life,” Ms. Small said. “I strongly believe that the earth holds a powerful energy that is contained in a stone. The charms I wear are gathered over my years of working with communities all over the world.”
These included a gold locket containing snippets of her twin children’s hair and a nine-gemstone charm, both made by artisans in Jaipur, India. There was also a gold seed pod representing life and potential, made by a man she said was named Juancho, with metal that had been panned from the rivers of Chocó, Colombia.
The windows of her fuchsia-painted storefront reveal a cornucopia of jewelry inside, including rough chunks of aquamarine with simple twisted gold wires, lapis lazuli doves, and little gold rabbits for clients to wear alone or en masse.
“In many places people’s beliefs in the powers of symbols are very profound, and they’ve rubbed off on me,” she said, rubbing her gold locket between her fingers. “I would never be without them, they offer a shield of protection and comfort.” While she chatted about her own collection, a customer was busy placing various combinations of amulets on a velvet tray, seemingly as riddled with indecision as a child choosing from an array of candy.
Charms are not a modern concept. Amulet necklaces have been found in the ancient graves of Assyrians and Babylonians, for example. And Queen Victoria had a bracelet made of nine tiny enameled heart-shaped lockets, each one containing the hair of one of her nine children. Charms surged in popularity in the West in the years after World War II: Auction houses and vintage sites still often feature bracelets jangling with tiny metal talismans from the 1950s and ’60s.
Michele Edwards, 61, a Los Angeles dealer of vintage charms, credits her mother’s love of jewelry with her infatuation with charms. “As a child,” she said by phone, “I’d go with her to a little jewelry store in Chicago where I’d be handed a tray of charms to play with while she looked at the ‘important’ jewelry. I have charms I have known my entire life.”