Old beads, and sometimes new, need to be washed before handling to remove dust, residue and chemical.  Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap is a great gentle wash.  What do you use?
Old beads, and sometimes new, need to be washed before handling to remove dust, residue and chemical. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap is a great gentle wash. What do you use?

The excitement of creation doesn’t just come from the new.  Creating with old beads is a huge thrill and can fuel the fires of imagining inspiring designs.

Personally, there is just something so thrilling about an old short hank of pre-war seed beads.  Here are these museum quality antiques, generations older than myself, never been used.  They come from a time before wars, before plastics, and computerized industrialization.  In my nostalgia I imagine this as a more peaceful time, can practically feel those peaceful energies emitting from the beads.  It’s almost like they are calling out to be used.  I know some would argue they belong in a museum, but to me that would be a waste of supply.  They were created for an artful purpose, to be beauty.  Being a part of that process is so uplifting and rewarding.

Not all vintage beads are in pristine un-used glory.  Many can be found in already made older pieces.  I often encounter broken pieces of nostalgia that people just give me over because they know I make jewelry, and to them it’s useless.  In these cases, an artist needs to weigh the options in any older piece : Fix, re-make or pass on.

If it’s a beauty or indicative of a unique time in history I will repair the piece as musch to the original as possible (and usually try to give it back to the person who handed it off to me in the first place).  Sometimes the ‘broken’ aspects of an item are minor, and things can be easily cleaned up and repaired.

Sometimes a piece uses very lovely beads and components, but is just not pratical for wearing.  When this is the case I salvage the beads and re-make them into something new.  Now adays this is referred to as “up-cycling” or “re-purposing”.

Lastly, there are those cases when things just need to be tossed to the re-sale store.  I say that because I am not a fan of throwing things out, and you never know my ‘trash’ could be another’s treasure.  Things are ‘trash’ to me if :

  1.  The beads are damaged too heavily to be of use (chips along stringing line, cheap metal tarnish, paint coming off, etc)
  2. Damage from perfume/lotion.  Some things are just too ‘smelly’ for my tastes.  This is always an issue with repair work for me.  I wash everything in Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (liquid and mint are my faves) before I even touch it.  Some of those perfumes are toxic, people, and the sensitive will easily break out when encountering them,
  3. Cheap material.  If the piece is a natural gemstone It will always be re-used.  It has value.  But plastic beads, eh, I don’t care what era they are from, to me this is junk and only holds ‘sentimental’ value.  Think about it, when you don plastic you’re wearing ‘oil’ products.  ICK!  I feel the same way about created crystals (yes that includes the ever popular Swarvoski).  That is made with lead people.  So gross in SO many ways.   Enameled beads and jewelry are not that much better, as they are mixed with adhesives, but at least there is a bit of artistry in that. If you want to make or give a wearable keepsake, choose glass, or natural stone jewelry.

I suppose my best advice for working with old jewelry pieces and components is, “know what you are working with”, know what you are buying.  Know the materials, the style, and the history (if possible).  They say knowledge is power, and to me it’s also inspiration.