Vintage jewelry can be so many things – expensive designer as well as very affordable “no-name” pieces, estate and costume jewellery, etc. The term “vintage” usually describes jewelry that has been owned before, but opinions differ on which specific era or years they hail from.
Some good sources for finding vintage jewellery include antique and consignment stores, flea markets, estate sales, auctions, yard sales, online, and older relatives’ attics. Prices vary widely; you can find old buttons for pennies and end up spending thousands of dollars for designer vintage fashion jewelry. Stores and flea market vendors mark their products up, and at auctions, prices can escalate quickly as the bidding begins. At a yard sale on the other hand, the seller wants to get rid of the stuff and not have to pack it up again at the end of the day, and if you arrive close to the end of the sale, you may be able to negotiate even better prices (although you also risk missing something that sold earlier in the day).
You may find a vintage piece you love to wear just the way it is, but you may also find jewelry you only like certain elements of. Or you may find you want to use old pieces in a new way – for example, old sparkly earrings can be re-made into pendants, vintage buttons and beads can become charms, antique watch faces can be hooked together into a bracelet. We are all trying to be good about recycling, re-using and upcycling these days, and it’s not only fun to create jewelry this way, but also a great way to give old, forgotten pieces new life.
Perfect examples of this are the stunning vintage cluster earring bracelets from Auckland-based designer DotStitch.
She also makes rings and necklaces, and I asked her how she came up with the idea for the bracelets and where she finds her supplies. She graciously agreed to share her story with us:
“I began making these bracelets early in 2010. I have always loved vintage and antique costume jewelry and I was first inspired to make something using these pieces by the gorgeous statement necklaces I had seen that used vintage components. Then one Saturday I went to an artisan market and a lady was selling cute button bracelets using a bracelet base and stacks of buttons and beads.
At the time I only had about 30 or 40 vintage earrings that came from my Mother’s costume jewelry collection and various charity shops. It was enough to put together a bracelet. You know the little feeling of excitement you get when you create something that you know is right? I got it and I was hooked. It took several tries before I got the technique right, so that the earrings were not damaged and sat flat on the base and that the bracelets were robust. Finally, around six months after seeing the button bracelets, after sourcing supplies and researching glues and most importantly, wearing a couple of my own bracelets to test their durability and “wearability” I was ready to go.
I started DotStitch in August 2010 and I love it! It’s just wonderful that people purchase the items I make. I have already had several commissions for wedding jewelry and more recently a lady has asked me to make a bracelet out of a special pair of her Mother’s earrings that her Mom used to wear when she went dancing with her Dad. Such a great idea!
I find a lot of the earrings on ebay. Also, estate sales, charity shops, vintage shops and curiosity shops can be great sources.”
Inspiring, isn’t it?
Photos: Pamela Ball
So how do you make a traditional charm bracelet using vintage jewelry supplies?
If your going all vintage, you need to find a chain of some sort, vintage jewelry findings (a clasp, head pins and jump rings), and trinkets to use as charms. The chain does not necessarily have to be an old bracelet – it can be a necklace, fob or pocket watch chain, anything you find and like. The clasp can also come from any type of old jewelry piece, as long as it hooks together somehow.
And now the really fun part: the charms. If you’re like me, you’re probably always keeping an eye out for pieces that can be used as charms, and it really is an ongoing process. Say you want to create a blue and silver charm bracelet – in my case, I would dig through my collected trinkets to see what I have that would work, and then supplement them with new (vintage) purchases. Or, maybe you find that you have 4 equestrian-related pieces that can be re-worked into charms, and decide to do an entire horse-inspired bracelet with those pieces as your starting point. If you don’t have jewelry boxes full of charms already, start searching for items that would be perfect for the bracelet. Be warned though: this “hunting for charms” is a very addictive hobby!
Once you have all your components, lay out the chain and position the charms along it (do not attach them yet). Move them around until you like what you see, and start attaching them with the help of head pins and/or jump rings. Or, if you prefer items that attach with a lobster clasp, Thomas Sabo charm style, put a small clasp on each charm and then attach them to the bracelet (make sure the chain you have works for this before you start though – the chain openings can’t be too narrow). Add the clasp, and you are all set!
To see more examples of how old items get a new life, check out my post about costume jewelry made from recycled items