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Upcycling, recycling, reworking

Posted on by Eleanor Swinhoe

Last year I seemed to become the “Divorce Ring” go-to jeweller!  Didn’t know it even existed?  No, nor did I.  But not all wedding and engagement rings maintain that sentimental “love you forever” meaning, especially when a couple separates.  Many women don’t want to carry on wearing those rings in the same way – they need to be re-fashioned into a “this is the start of my new life” ring or another piece of jewellery altogether.  Lots of people inherit old-fashioned pieces of jewellery that they love, but it just isn’t their style, so why not get it revamped?

My first upcycled piece was a very personal one to me.  My dear father died at a crazy young age.  I ended up making my mother a new ring with 2 types of metal wrapped together to signify the two of them, and their initials pierced out on the inside – she loved it and decided that it was all she wanted to wear on her ring finger.  A while later, she asked me if I would like her engagement, wedding, and eternity rings to use in other pieces.  I was a bit taken aback – surely they had huge sentimental meaning – but she insisted that she wanted me to have them and didn’t want them left in the back of a drawer.  I ended up cutting the gold shank off the engagement ring and using the classic solitaire diamond setting as a gorgeous pendant on a gold chain for my mum – she hasn’t taken that off since either.  I made myself a ring with all the remaining gold and the diamonds and emeralds from the eternity ring – it was the kind of primitive, medieval style that I favour and the only extra bit I added was a gorgeous ruby.  I think of my dad every time that I wear it.

Sometimes I am asked to retrieve the stones from settings and then use them in completely new metal.  There might not be enough metal for me to be able to melt down and re-use – if there are only small amounts I might melt it down into tiny balls and use them as additional detail on the new piece.  Cutting stones out of old jewellery is not a fun job, so don’t expect that it will be a cheap way to get new jewellery – it is actually pretty stressful, especially if the tiny stones are flush set in hard white gold or platinum.  I break out in a cold sweat worrying that a diamond is going to ping out and fly across the studio (this hasn’t happened yet I hasten to add – the stones have usually become so grimy through wear that they are pretty well stuck into the metal!).

 Gold and garnets recycled from an unwanted brooch

Gold and garnets recycled from an unwanted brooch

 9ct gold and silver with garnets

9ct gold and silver with garnets

 Silver and rose gold with diamonds, emeralds, peridot and tourmaline

Silver and rose gold with diamonds, emeralds, peridot and tourmaline

 18ct gold around silver with sapphire and diamonds

18ct gold around silver with sapphire and diamonds

If there is a good amount of metal to melt down (and hallmarking is important here – you need to know exactly what you are working with), I melt it into a nugget and then spend a considerable amount of time and energy hammering it out, re-annealing it, and putting it through my roller to give me something to work with.  It might also require the addition of some metal grain to increase the volume.  Because my work tends to be chunky and bold, the re-fashioned gold and silver may form a layer over new metal.

A lovely piece that I made recently included 2 narrow rings of 9ct gold that didn’t have a lot of value, but they had belonged to my client’s late grandmother – she wanted something made from them so that she’d always be reminded of her.  My client liked my Juno rings, and I struggled for a while wondering what to do with the small amount of metal.  I decided to hammer and texture the bands and then solder them together to form one ring – it was then topped with a carved silver bezel containing a blue topaz.  She was thrilled with the result – one of my Juno rings plus the added meaning offered by her grandmother’s jewellery.

Another client had never particularly liked the setting of her engagement ring – it was one of those awkward situations of having to admit to her husband after 10 years that she’d really rather have it re-styled.  The diamond was an absolutely stunning princess cut stone – very valuable.  She liked the style of my jewellery, but I don’t do any traditional claw-set pieces – mine is all pretty contemporary.  I warned her that her diamond would not get the same amount of light shining through it once set in a carved rub-over setting.  She decided that she would rather have the contemporary style and have something that she really would enjoy to wear.  Luckily she was thrilled to bits with her new ring and I breathed a sigh of relief!!