What is upcycled jewelry

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Wendall August Bracelet
Combining unexpected elements is at the core of upcycling
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In upcycled jewelry, what it started as is not as exciting as where it ends up

Okay, so what is upcycled jewelry really. You may have heard the term bandied about. Upcycling is all the rage in home decor, in clothing and yes, in fashion accessories. So what is it? 

In this case, it's jewelry in familiar forms like necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings. But when you look closely, it might not be made of what you think of as jewelry elements. 

Discovering upcycled jewelry 

Welcome to the world of upcycled jewelry!

You see a girl wearing what at first glance looks like ordinary jewelry. Now look closer. There, amid the beads and the rhinestones on a necklace, there's a piece of a small furniture hinge. Instead of sterling silver spacers, old weathered copper nuts serve the same purpose, and provide color and texture. The pendant combines a small glass vial filled with tiny nails, aged industrial fasteners and a piece of old lace. 

On the charm bracelet that girl is wearing, amid a few of the expected gold or silver charms you spot a metal washer, an old diary key and a hotel key tag. On her earrings where you would usually see a bead or dangle, there is a free-form wire shape fashioned by copper wire wrapped around a bit of old silver. 

What's the upcycling all about? 

For decades, we've talked about recycling. Recyling old bottles into new ones. Processing old newspaper into new print paper or boxes. Recycling is about using post waste materials instead of new raw materials to make new versions of the same thing. 

But what about all those things that don't lend themselves to be remade in the same basic form? 

Upcycling is the next logical step. It's taking bits and pieces that would ordinarily end up in the landfill...or an overfilled junk drawer...and turning them into things that are both functional and unexpectedly attractive. 

So with clothing, simple t-shirts and jeans are being upcycled with lace or silk from old wedding gowns or cocktail dressed. Furniture is upcycled with unexpected choices in materials for finishes, knobs or upholstry. The "new" elements used are transformed from trash into a part of a usable chair or dresser. Even non-furniture thing like game boards, commercial signs and machine parts are turned into tables, chairs and bookshelves. 

The upcycling trend in jewelry

It's not clear where the upcycling style started, but jewelry has been a popular choice from the start. Crafters and found-object artists scoured flea markets and garage sales for small pieces of metal, wood, plastic, fabric or glass that could replace the expected gems and fine metals associated with traditional jewelry. 

The rules for what is upcycled jewelry are fluid. Some people build on old, tired costume jewelry pieces, others start from a disgarded bit of household or factory material. Some reuse old beads and gems, while others stay completely with non-traditional elements. 

The counter culture goes mainstream

What started as a counterpoint to expensive jewelry findings quickly became a choice of jewelry makers, too. Shoppers who liked the look of upcycled combinations but didn't have the skills or the time to create their own upcycled pieces were thrilled to be able to find and wear the look without having to do the hard work of searching out bits and pieces. 

While many artists and crafters still delight in transforming industrial and household "junk" into works of jewelry art, most of today's upcycled jewelry is created by professional jewelers and jewelry designers. 

The upcycling movement shows no sign of waning. Recent editions of top fashion magazines have featured upcycled purses, jackets, jewelry and even shoes. Home decor websites are filled with "junk to treasure" tutorials, and thrift store clothing is being reworked into entirely new looks. 

With upcycling, being green has gone glam! 

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