Transforming inherited jewelry

In doing research for posts on inherited clutter, I discovered an artist who takes old costume jewelry that people never wear, modernizes and reworks it, and creates stylish, fashionable, new pieces of jewelry. Since outdated, costume jewelry is the majority of what I inherited when my maternal grandmother passed away, I find this process brilliant.

I wanted to learn more, so I contacted Sara Bradstreet, the artist I discovered who most deeply captivated my attention, for an interview. Thank you, Sara, for talking with me. (The necklace pictured on the right is a brooch she transformed.)

Unclutterer: What inspired you to become an artist who brings new life to old jewelry?

Sara: I wanted to create art with little waste and satisfy my desire to sniff out the diamond in the rough. With jewelry, there is little waste. I use most elements of the piece. Sometimes, I will buy a not-so-attractive necklace just for the clasp, or a bag of buttons for the few rhinestone buttons at the bottom — even things as random as old silverware find their way into my collection. I find much beauty and integrity in old things and hate to see beautiful gems in a dumpster.

Unclutterer: What types of pieces are best for this type of transformation?

Sara: There is a lot of room for variety here. Sometimes the most random pieces, when re-oriented with others, make the most interesting. I look for pieces that, with a little manipulation and solder, can turn from a brooch into a pendant or cuff link into a clasp. I like to use only quality silver and gold–I’m not into green necks–and use my sense of touch to bend and scratch and, oddly enough, I will even smell it to see if it is metal or simply painted plastic. I am not afraid to alter a collector’s item and am often feared by collectors.

Unclutterer: What should people consider before having their older jewelry reinvented?

Sara: Well, the jewelry won’t be the same anymore. The good news is that it will be out of your jewelry box, or that random box under your bed, and hopefully, around your neck. I hesitate to use pieces that have extreme sentimental value and like clients to be somewhat detached from the brooch being simply a brooch, but an element of something larger that will be worn again. When creating custom pieces for clients, I like to have a variety of pieces, multiple chains, found objects, etc. I may not use all of the different elements, but the more I have to chose from, the merrier.

Unclutterer: Some of our readers might be distraught with the idea of repurposing their grandmother’s brooch. What would you say to people with such hesitations?

Sara: I believe that what I do helps people to remember and, in ways, celebrate those who have passed away.

I agree with Sara that wearing and getting use from your jewelry is much more worthwhile than hoarding it in a box where it doesn’t see daylight. Also, if you decide that you aren’t interested in reinventing your old jewelry, but are still looking for ways for it to cease being clutter in your home, consider donating your pieces to artists like Sara.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

5 Comments for “Transforming inherited jewelry”

  1. posted by Andamom on

    Hmmm — I’d say that it really depends on your intentions. Some pieces can be modified without losing their value while others can be significantly devalued by alteration. I’d say that if you intend to ever sell the piece, it is part of a collection, or you have a sense that it may be worth something –have it appraised by an expert. Find out from the expert what types of alterations are acceptable in the market, who has expertise in making the change, etc. Even some costume jewelry has a value (ex. art deco pieces from the 1920s or 30s).

    Of course, if you just want to enjoy the piece — and don’t have any intention of selling, make changes… But, have it done professionally –or learn how to do it yourself.

  2. posted by barbara on

    Most of my inherited jewelry is not namebrand or worth a lot of money. I for one would love to see some of my mom’s things combined into a smashing necklace that wouldn’t only look great but would make me remember………

  3. posted by barbara on

    I did not see ANYTHING on her website that looked like inherited pieces made into new piece. Saw no brooches made into necklace etc………. is this an old post? has her style change? thnx.

  4. posted by barbara on

    YES it IS an old post..2007

  5. posted by angie on

    I already sent an email to Erin, but did not receive any response. It is disheartening that such a great site coming down to merely reposting 10 years old posts without even checking information for relevancy and without any real updates.

Comments are closed.