Upcycling Jewelry – Giving Old Jewelry a Makeover

Jewelry Up-cycling is not something I thought I would do much, let alone come to love. I’m not very interested in transforming random jewelry from flea market finds to flattering finery. But I am a lover of customization–making special items to delight my clients–and I’m a practical girl, so I love re-using anything that isn’t working. Hence, my recent love of recycling, or up-cycling a client’s old keepsakes into new and useful jewelry. Simply making something new out of something old, might not excite my clients, but with their direction and input, I can help turn a drawer-bound relic into something that can and actually will be worn.

Good quality to begin with makes pieces much¬†easier to work with. It isn’t mandatory, but it helps a great deal. Good jewelry tends to last. Costume jewelry tends to bend, fall apart, peel, flake and break. The crystals of paste often scratch and fade or discolor, cheap settings lose their stones, and the metal used often contains nickel, zinc and copper, which are hard to clean and often impossible to repair in a way that will stay structurally sound. But if your aunt’s brooch or your grandmother’s hatpin or your great uncle’s cufflinks were silver, or gold, or had nice real stones or pearls in them, chances are, I can work with that. I can even make a magnetic clasp out of Tahitian coral beads, to blend in with your necklace.

Red Choral Jewelry

I cut apart and restrung (very heavy-duty coated beading wire and some soldered silver components) a client’s favorite tennis-style bracelet with big honking colored gemstones. It had been broken multiple times because the design was just not sturdy, and every repair had been unsuccessful. In the end, I could have taken out the stone and reset them, but I found a way to keep the design without losing its functional integrity.


I turned one orpaned pink sapphire earring from a client’s auntie into a ring. That was a quick and easy reset, popped into a nice little ring mounting that I ordered. Just think about what you could do with all those one-of-a-pair earrings stuffed away in a drawer.

I remade a pair of sterling cufflinks into earrings for my sister-in-law. They were the cufflinks her husband had worn in their wedding, and since he is not exactly a fashion plate, they’d just been sitting in a drawer for 20 years. Now she has a sweet little pair of drop earrings that I put a brushed finish on, and she can think of her wedding day when she wears them. Not all of us want to be reminded of the past, it is true! So a more radical solution might be called for:¬† adding new stones to something, unstringing and restringing, dropping a piece from a chain, turning a pendant into a focal piece in a ring setting, or cutting a necklace up and reassembling it as earrings or a bracelet.

Updating old jewelry is also a total gas for me. My neighbor brought me her mother’s sterling silver earrings that were clip-ons. Un-soldering and re-soldering does not work with metal alloys, but with silver, it was easy to put posts on them, and polish them up into lovely silver posts she can wear. It’s nice, I think, to have a piece with you that holds good memories, and when complimented on it, you always feel good saying they belonged to a beloved family member. It’s like wearing your own very special history. And let’s face it, feeling and looking good are the reasons we wear jewelry in the first place.

I also enjoy making custom pieces to go with something a client already has. I made three lovely pearl strands, each perfectly nestled above the others, for a client to wear with some gorgeous chunky slip-on sterling pieces that were part of her collection. Then, I tailored one older turquoise necklace to match a newer one so thy could be worn together and made earrings to match.

The coolest thing I ever upcycled was a solid sterling piece of a cuff (the thing weighed about 2 pounds) with two very beautiful old turquoises set into it. One has slipped out of the setting, and the thing was jagged where it had broken. A good friend found it in a parking lot–I kid you not–and gave it to me. I could have refined that huge hunk of silver (prices were fairly high at the time) and reused the stones. But when I got a commission to make some killer cowboy jewelry for a fancy event, I cut the piece down, set an unfaceted polished garnet into the empty setting, and made a three-strand suite of pearls, garnets and turquoises. I got a big hug from the client, so I think it must have worked!

So go and excavate your jewelry boxes. Open the top dresser drawer and peer into those little boxes that have been closed for years. Get out those specimens of out-dated, unloved and unworn jewelry and let’s make them over. Take out those rungs that are too small, bracelets that are too tight, earrings that are too heavy and do something fun with them. You’ll be amazed at the satisfaction a little upcycling can bring.