Eco-friendly jewelry and accessories made from “diamonds of the sea”, computer wire and an unlikely kitchen utensil
In a world where everything is increasingly sustainable and disturbing, those who make original accessories from scrap are doing a favor to both the planet and our wardrobes, says Claire Jackson.
Diamonds are forever, but so are many other, less obviously valuable things. The permanence of most materials means that after breaks and faded fashions, discarded items are likely to spend the rest of their long lives in landfills. For most of us, this is a place as remote as the lands of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree, but the reality of waste management means that even well-organized sites have a huge environmental impact. The longer we can keep our assets in circulation, the better.
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is not a new concept, but as our understanding of its importance grows, manufacturers are increasingly focusing their efforts on reusing existing elements into exciting new parts. There is an abundance of jewelry and accessories that have lived past lives; some obvious, others obscure. A forage on the shore or a dig at a charity shop can set the imagination free. In this brave new world, vintage buttons are a girl’s best friend.
Beach diamonds are forever
Coastal Silver’s boutique cabinets sparkle. The light catches the pendants and the earrings; they glow blue and green. From afar, the centerpieces might be sapphires and emeralds, but up close they appear polished rather than cut. The “jewels” are sea glass, old fragments of trash that have been tossed about by the waves for many years before being harvested by goldsmiths such as Andrea and John Warnock, their children Emily and Jack, and Flossy , the Parson Russell terrier.
The Warnocks finds are presented in a variety of ways, ranging from simple envelopes to animal shapes. “If you can draw it, we will,” confirms Ms Warnock. Coastal Silver, which opened in 2016, offers a wide range of jewelry, but its specialty is sea glass, or “beach diamonds.”
Like diamonds, sea glass is graded and there is a hierarchy of rarity. Olive greens and soft blues are rare, lemon and jade are rare, while red, turquoise and multicolored pieces are classified as ultra rare. Most of Coastal Silver’s treasures come from Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire, where the company is based, but the family sources glass from all over the UK.
Among cornflower blue and translucent white are flashes of yellow, red and strange rainbow stones. These are the ultimate rarities, collected from Seaham, Co Durham and nearby Sunderland, former sites of several Victorian and Edwardian bottle and glass factories. Until 1921 Seaham was home to the Londonderry Bottleworks, the largest glass bottle factory in Britain.
Sea glass enthusiasts travel from all over the world in hopes of securing its unusual historical glass. Mr and Mrs Warnock are regular visitors and have collected some wonderful gems. “We also collect Codd marbles,” Mrs. Warnock said, showing me a jar full of royal blue orbs. “These were originally used as bottle caps to keep soft drinks from going flat.”
There’s a romance to sea glass and it’s a popular choice for wooing couples looking for an ethical alternative to traditional diamonds. “We make at least one engagement ring every fortnight,” Ms Warnock advises. “We get a lot of people who have a set of glass they found on their honeymoon and they use 100% recycled British silver so the whole piece of jewelery is made from existing materials .”
Coastal Silver ( www.coastalsilver.co.uk)
One of the most unusual items in my jewelry box is a silver bracelet that ends in a wavy, toothed curlicue. It’s an inevitable conversation starter, with observers noticing the unorthodox fixed shape and once utilitarian look – the bracelet was once an unloved fork, destined for the trash can, which, with some imaginative bending, has found new life .
Manufacturers such as Simon Thomas, who launched Simon Says Fork Out, turn all sorts of unloved cutlery, not just forks, into a range of accessories. “I use unwanted odds and ends,” says Thomas. “I buy a lot on eBay, everything that goes through the post makes noise! The designs vary from feathered forks, where the item’s original appearance is subtly preserved, to fish knife-shaped bracelets where the source material is almost unrecognizable.
The idea of wearing something resembling the product of an enthusiastic lunch with Uri Geller might seem rather futuristic. However, the reuse of cutlery into jewelery is an Edwardian tradition that originated with servants “redistributing the wealth” gained from workplaces. The practice these days stems from not wanting to waste resources, as well as making beautiful bespoke pieces that have a story. Tiny 18th century salt spoons twisted into rings are far more meaningful than a “ready to use” equivalent.
“Jewellery is often very sentimental,” says Thomas. “I once made a set of bracelets for a family from cutlery inherited from their grandmother. It’s nice to do something that will be treasured for a long time.
Simon says of the fork ( www.fork-out.co.uk)
A shell of his old self
Few accessories have a stronger history than the brass poppies produced by TMB Art Metal to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The limited run – 19,240 in total, one for each soldier killed on July 1, 1916 – was commissioned by the Royal British Legion (RBL) and used materials such as shells recovered from the battlefield. The Every Man Remembered collection sold out in 2016, but pins pop up fairly regularly on eBay. However, the RBL is currently selling a WWII Armed Forces Commemorative Lapel Pin, made from three historic salvaged and original metals used by the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
Shells are not the only military hardware to feature in the accessories. Family business Goofy Goat Gifts makes accessories from a variety of items, including balls. A pair of innocuous-looking cufflinks feature the British .303 rifle cartridge used by British troops in both World Wars and a Colt .45 – used in the iconic American revolver – makes an attractive pendant. Elsewhere in the quirky range you’ll find vintage watch parts, coins and typewriter keys.
by Disney Pixar Wall-E imagine a deserted land in the year 2805, inhabited only by the eponymous robot that was left behind to tidy up dumped waste, while humans live aboard a luxury ocean liner. The majority of waste is technology-related, reflecting the situation we face today: in the UK, around two million tonnes of outdated electrical goods are thrown away every year.
Artist Alison Bailey Smith has found an inventive way to upcycle a key element: her delicately woven headwear is crafted from TV yarn. The copper color pops on a beautifully crafted flowerpot hat and her “swirls and curls” hair clip incorporates stainless steel mesh and textiles. There’s a vibrant splash of a familiar purple on another clasp – chocolate wrappers are used to reinforce the palette. Ms. Bailey Smith’s work is on display in the National Museums of Scotland Collection and is available to purchase through Etsy.
Alison Bailey Smith (www.abscraft.com)
As shiny as a button
In any old ironan episode of the 1970 television series Steptoe and son, Harold receives an unusual pair of cufflinks from suave antique dealer Timothy Stanhope. Inspired by what Mr. Stanhope perceives as Harold’s keen interest in Florentine art, the bespoke cufflinks feature “Italian Renaissance buttons”. While watching the British sitcom in 2021, Alan Barnett wondered if he could do something similar. “I pinned buttons and they sold out right away. It was a light bulb moment,” he reveals.
Mr. Barnett has since experimented with old watch straps and second-hand jewelry to create stylish lapel ornaments and other menswear accessories. His fledgling business Victique Cufflinks is also taking orders – Mr Barnett recently made an Albert chain for a groom. However, men’s accessories need not be reserved for special occasions. “I love cufflinks and I would like them to be worn more often,” admits the designer. ‘They look great with a sharp suit and more casual outfits, for both men and women. My son wore a pair with a crew neck sweater and Prada trainers and he said he had never gotten so much attention! Most Victique cufflinks feature traditional chain mechanisms on the ubiquitous modern T-bar.
Mr Barnett scours eBay for potential parts to reuse. Using pliers and rings, he dissects his found curiosities, from vintage tassels to Edwardian enamel, and reconstructs them into functional pieces. Vintage porcelain knobs are fit for a king or, in fact, Steptoe.
Victique cufflinks (www.victiquecufflinks.co.uk)