The crochet-naissance? DIY-focused influencers providing you with fashion hacks to turn your T-shirt into a Vivienne Westwood-inspired corset? You don’t need to look further than your IG feed to decipher craft mania has reached dizzying heights this year. Now, upcycled jewellery - an early Etsy signature - is making a comeback. But instead of your auntie turning Nespresso pods into necklace pendants, it’s emerging designers transforming found objects and antiques into one-of-a-kind pieces of fine jewellery.
“It was never a plan to work with found objects, it's just something that came about through following my interests,” says Emily Frances Barrett, an East London-based jeweller who uses everything from cigarette butts to pressed flowers in her sterling silver jewels. For SS20, she also collaborated with fashion designer David Koma, who featured her resin-set butterfly wing brooches and earrings as part of his collection.
Currently one of the artists in residence at Lee McQueen’s foundation Sarabande, Emily’s unique approach comes down to treating these everyday things the same way she treats precious metals and stones. “I’ll always view materials as possibilities,” she adds, explaining how most of them are sourced whenever she finds herself in nature. “City parks, country walks, the sea, the river… I also collect materials when I cycle around London – there are lots of shiny things on the road which I can’t resist stopping for.”
The charm of found object jewellery lies within the layering of stories behind the trinkets that are reused. Discovering those memories are some of the biggest selling points. Understanding that appetite for made-to-treasure pieces is New Yorker Sydney Ziems, who runs her own label Serendipitous Project, alongside using her e-comm site as a reselling platform for vintage costume jewellery she’s collected over the years (from designers such as Alexander McQueen, Oscar de la Renta and Caroline Herrera).
When it comes to her own designs, SP incorporates vintage elements like semi-precious stones, pearls and glass beads, fusing the old and the new to create one-of-a-kind wearable objects with a contemporary twist. “I think people are really receptive to the idea that the objects are pre-loved; they appreciate the fact that we are being environmentally conscious,” she says. “I saw a lot of vintage jewellery that I felt would have a hard time finding a new home, because it looked a little too antiquated.”
Cult French label Marine Serre (whose crescent moon bodysuit went viral recently, thanks to Beyoncé’s seal of approval) and Chopova Lowena are part of a growing wave of emerging creatives that focus their booming businesses on existing materials. A story that started with upcycled garments has now spilled into the jewellery department as both brands continue to grow their offering, with pieces made out of vintage charms, shells and broken watches, sourced in Paris and London flea markets, through vintage resellers or eBay and Etsy trawls.
“We use a lot of keyrings, medals and miscellaneous charms which we find through various auction sites. I just found this amazing lot of acrylic USA state souvenir keyrings which will be used for next season,” tells Emma Chopova.
“Their jewellery collections paired perfectly with their ready-to-wear collections and helped to tell the story of the pieces,” says Tanika Wisdom, jewellery buyer of MATCHESFASHION, a retailer that has been at the forefront of featuring unique objects despite their ephemeral nature that opposes the historically “more is more” experience of online shopping.
Taking things one step further are fine jewellery brands such as Jacquie Aiche, Shay and La Californienne that have been repurposing (and blinging out) vintage Rolex watches into covetable jewels. “The challenges are that although nearly perfect, they are reconditioned so not brand new, Tanika explains. “But this doesn’t deter from the charm of the piece. We have a great personal shopping team who take the customer through every stage of purchasing and will let them know of any imperfections in order to manage expectations.”
Increasingly, the idea of using what’s already out there isn’t just merely a passing trend, but a goalpost for the whole industry. “Going forwards, recycling and reusing materials is something we have to do across the board as a matter of survival,” says Emily. “I’m sure it will become the norm within jewellery also.”
Whether you’re in the market for a statement piece or just searching for inspiration for what to do with that ball of old keychains sitting in your cupboard, these heirlooms in the making represent the past, present and future of jewellery design. Upcycling is a girl’s new best friend.