Making Repurposed Jewelry Is A Fun Way To Put New Life Into Old Treasures

 I love jewelry!  I love finding small odd items at flea markets, yard sales, and thrift stores that are interesting and inexpensive, but catch my eye as a treasure in the raw, that can be turned into something wearable. I have many of my own personal mementos that I keep tucked in a drawer; old family photographs, a single earring that was part of a pair, old keys, and even the rabies tags of pets that are long gone, that can be put to good use in repurposed jewelry. You probably have similar things that you wonder what to do with. Wouldn’t it be fun to take those items and make them into a necklace or bracelet that you can wear?

Many jewelry artists, both professional and amateur, are doing just that. They are making repurposed, or recycled, jewelry. It is not expensive. You can create one-of-a-kind pieces. All you need are a few simple tools, a bit of creativity, some small treasures and a tube of jewelry glue. The cost of what you use is up to you. Simple personal items are great to have a memory necklace. Many antique and jewelry designers shop for items that are vintage and pay more for their pieces to have a “look” that fits their antique booths. There is an endless supply of what you can use if you will use your imagination when you start thinking about creating jewelry.

The definition of “repurposed” is: to use or convert for use in another format or product. For those of us that like the “thrill of the hunt” going through what some folks refer to as “junk” to find a piece to repurpose, is as exciting as finding any large piece of antique furniture. The good news is you don’t need a truck to bring your treasure home!

My good friend, Cheryl Alexander, an antique dealer for some thirty years, started adding repurposed jewelry to her antique booth at ‘Antiques In Old Town’ in Lilburn, Georgia, two years ago. She is constantly on the hunt for antique pocket watches, old rhinestone necklaces and pins, skeleton keys, small leather or mesh coin purses and tiny porcelain doll parts. She mixes and matches all her finds on chains for necklaces, creating one-of-a-kind pieces that are a miniature works of wearable art. The pocket watches don’t run, the doll parts are just that, ‘parts’ of what once was a whole doll. The remains of recycled and repurposed parts now used to make beautiful new creations that hold a bit of history and are full of Victorian charm.

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Pocket watch and pearls, repurposed necklaces by Cheryl Alexander.

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Antique baby shoe as part of the necklace by Cheryl Alexander.

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Necklace made out of vintage small mesh change purse by Cheryl Alexander.

I also make jewelry. My jewelry is botanical in theme. I call my repurposed jewelry ‘Time In A Garden’ and use vintage bug, frog and flower pins. I don’t buy chains, instead I search thrift stores for lovely, gently worn necklaces that can be used as the base for my nature pieces. Many of those necklaces are priced between three and four dollars. As a starting point, that is cheaper then buying lengths of chains at craft and jewelry supply stores. It also assures that my pieces are truly unique and can’t be duplicated. My vintage critters and flowers are more expensive, but I also add brass stampings of bugs that help fill in to make each piece more affordable. Each necklace I design has a watch face in the mix, so you have ‘Time In A Garden’.  I sell my necklaces at The Atlanta Botanical Gift Shop and at my own little shop in Lilburn, Georgia.

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A grouping of “Time In A Garden” botanical repurposed collection.

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“Time In A Garden” necklace, Victorian porcelain pocket watch face, dragonfly pin, face of small porcelain antique doll and vintage charms.

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“Time In A Garden” necklace made from frog pin, on chain from thrift store and pendant from craft shop. 

Since I work to help raise funds for animal rescue groups, I have designed charm bracelets and charm necklaces using old dog rabies tags. Most of the tags were bought online in small lots, but using the tag of a beloved pet that has passed away gives a memento to carry close as a remembrance of a dear friend.

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Charm bracelet made by author with old rabies tags.

As an antique dealer most of my life, I am always stopping somewhere while running my errands to look for “stuff”. I am lucky I live in a metro area that is full of antique shops and thrift stores. I also shop for supplies online. “Etsy: Your Place To Buy And Sell All Things Handmade” is a wonderful source for buying completed jewelry pieces or parts to make your own. The individual dealers there sell handmade and vintage items. Their website is www.etsy.com .

After much experimenting with glue that disappointed me, I discovered the perfect jewelry glue. E-6000, permanent bond craft adhesive, is incredible to work with. It does not set up quickly like super-glue, but after it dries it bonds and holds securely. When working with E-6000 you have to lay your items flat so they won’t slide until the glue dries. It is thick and can be peeled off your fingers and, if you have gotten it spotted on your jewelry, it will peel off there too. Use tweezers to grip and gently pull.

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E-6000 glue

That said, you will need a small kit of tools to make your jewelry. Any craft supply house, such as Michaels, will have small tweezers, grips and pliers to work with. If you explain what you are trying to accomplish, a staff member will guide you to the right tools to purchase.

Look at the photos of my friend Cheryl’s jewelry, my ‘Time In The Garden’ pieces, and dog tag charm bracelet, and think about what you could make!  If you are an artist, crafter or want something fun for a project for friends and family, making repurposed jewelry offers a chance to be creative and give new life to old things!

Barbara Barth, CEO of Life

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