Found Object Jewelry: Seeing Potential Components With New Eyes
12 January 2012
Author: Erin Prais-Hintz
There are many tempting trends that are happening in the jewelry designing world, but one of the most intriguing, with almost limitless possibilities, is creating jewelry from found objects. There is no end to the materials that can potentially be used in jewelry, and they can be found in some of the most unlikely places. In order to successfully create found object jewelry, it is helpful to open your eyes to the possibility of what lies in front of you.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
What is a found object?
Why, anything that you find, of course! But it is more than just picking up anything that you find on the sidewalk, it is having new eyes to see the possibilities. The key to found object jewelry is challenging what is thought of as appropriate for jewelry. When you stop thinking that only beads and pretty findings can be used to make necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, you open up a whole world of potential supplies that are sometimes right at your fingertips!
TIP: While it is tempting to gather your found objects and throw them all into a single piece, the most successful pieces are those that have one or two objects incorporated with traditional jewelry beads and components. Make those pieces stand apart as special. If you are unsure where to start, pick an object that you are drawn to or has sentimental value, and create a piece around it.
Where can you find ‘found objects’?
On the ground:
As a child I walked home from school and kept my head down, my eyes sweeping the road. I ended up bringing home pockets filled with “treasures.” I still do this on my walks and have found interesting colored feathers (disinfect with sanitizer before using), rusty hardware, snippets of paper and ephemera, and naturally oxidized metal shims. All of these have found their way into my jewelry at one time for unexpected results.
TIP: Use a urethane spray on metals to seal and protect if using in jewelry.
In the recycle bin:
One of my favorite things to use is old tins, the kind that held crackers and cookies at one time. Some have great color and designs. Rather than throwing these out after the holiday goodies are consumed, why not use sharp metal shears to cut shapes for pendants and links. You can use an eyelet to make a polished hole for connecting. Be sure to sand the edges of the tin smooth.
TIP: Experiment with texturizing found metal objects with hammers or painting and sealing the metal.
At the hardware store:
One of my favorite places to find inspiration! A walk through the aisles and peeks into the little drawers always yields some great finds. Some of my favorites: rubber “o” rings, washers in all shapes/sizes/metals, copper bushings for hammering cool textures, springs, “s” hooks, vinyl tubing and nuts – just to name a few!
TIP: Try using a bunch of one kind of hardware grouped together, like nuts, interspersed with pearls, glass and crystals. The hard and soft textures make for some cool industrial bling!
Grandma’s jewelry box:
There’s treasure in there! All those outdated chunky necklaces and clip-on earrings and funky pins have a lot to offer. Don’t be afraid to pull apart old, outdated jewelry – the style may not be “in,” but the individual pieces are still good.
TIP: Always, always check to see if a piece is signed (with some sort of identifying marking on the back) before cutting apart. Then research your find on the internet to see if you hit the jackpot or if you can repurpose that old jewelry without regret. You would feel sick to find out that you destroyed a vintage Miriam Haskell worth $100s, if not $1000s, of dollars!
Garage sales, flea markets, antique stores, thrift shops & consignment shops:
I am always on the lookout for bits and baubles that might be intriguing to use. How about using old men’s and women’s leather belts to create mod cuff bracelets embellished with crystals? Old games, particularly vintage, will have the most interesting game pieces that make great charms. I have purchased entire mason jars of buttons just to get my hands on one pretty one in the bottom.
TIP: Buttons make easy connectors because they have holes already and can be used as charms, but my favorite button magic is to make a seed bead loop to use a beautiful button for an unique clasp.
My most successful jewelry designs with found objects include buttons, broken or old jewelry, washers, springs, subway tokens, door hardware and, of course, my signature found object: skeleton keys.
In this piece I started with a skeleton key, a vintage brass button, and some ombre silk ribbon. I mixed the old with the new by pairing the golden Luscious Rose pendant, Engraved Coin Spacers and links taken from the etched chain from Jolee’s Jewels with these found objects from my stash. I also used bicone crystals in Golden Shadow, but other colors that would work well with this project would be crystal AB, smoked topaz, rosewater opal and black diamond.
Using found objects in your jewelry creations guarantees that they will be one of a kind. And it is a great way to save the planet by upcycling items that might otherwise end up in a landfill. There is nothing better than when someone sees a piece of jewelry made with a familiar found object and you witness their spark of recognition or that “aha” moment. To take an every day, common object, particularly ones that have lived a very useful and utilitarian life, and use it as a special component in a piece of jewelry is to elevate its status to art.