Why not kick off 2012 with a little good-luck bling? Humans have relied on jewellery for protection against evil and misfortune for thousands of years. The early Egyptians believed that deity-inspired baubles contained magical properties, and in Middle Eastern and East African countries, the hamsa—considered the It accessory, or Cambridge satchel, of its time—was worn as protection from the evil eye. Most cultures have protection symbols, says Dr. Angeles Arrien, a San Francisco-based cultural anthropologist. “They vary in form, such as amulets, medicine bags, crosses, beads and yarn bracelets. All these have significant meaning and are meant to benefit the wearer.”

Jewellery’s power mojo has also been an enduring motif in popular culture. Where would Wonder Woman have been without her bullet-stopping gold statement cuffs and projectile tiara? And, long before the Cullens set the standard for a gentler breed of bloodsucker, Buffy’s trusty crucifix saved her from countless vampire attacks.

While we’re not a superstitious clan, my family believes in good-luck charms. In November 2010, my cousin Chris Stafford was deployed to Afghanistan to serve with the Royal Montreal Regiment. The stories coming out of Afghanistan were filled with firefights and body counts, and it was hard to picture one of our own doing such dangerous work on the other side of the world. My mother, Lynne O’Neill, approached Toronto-based jeweller Delane Cooper to ask her to create a piece that would protect Chris and honour his Irish and Scottish heritage. She gave her an ancestral item—my grandmother’s engagement band—and left the rest to the designer. “I modelled Chris’ piece after dog tags so that it would be masculine,” explains Cooper. “We melted the ring and wrapped it around the tag to symbolize the arms of the family. I also added the Stafford knot, a Celtic symbol that signifies protection.”

Chris spent nine months in Afghanistan, where he escorted convoys through Kandahar Province, including the Taliban-controlled Horn of Panjwaii. “IEDs [improvised explosive devices] were a constant threat,” he told me. “Once, we got into a firefight and one guy fired two shots at my head. I moved—just out of luck! If I hadn’t, I would have been smoked. There were so many close calls. Now my charm is full of Afghan dust and it’s a little beaten up—but I still wear it every day.”