Did you know that I’ve been upcycling since I started my business over fifteen years ago?
Back then, I would have referred to it as customization, or making alterations, but the underlying goal is still the same – reusing old materials and creating something new!
The process has stayed the same over the years, and I’d love to tell you all about a recent project for Annika, a sustainable fashion designer here in Berlin. Let’s take a look!
Updating a Colorful Favorite
Annika was such a fun person to work with. We’ve worked together in the past, and I’ve always loved her energy. I could tell that she loved the color orange from little hints here and there, and it turns out that she has ever since she was little. Growing up, her bedroom even had an orange wall!
The color makes her smile, and I tend to agree. Orange is a vibrant shade that combines the energy of red and joy of yellow, and coral is one of my favorite shades in that color family.
It’s no surprise then, that she was happy to inherit this vibrant three strand coral necklace from her aunt.
The only problem? It never quite fit.
The length wasn’t suitable, and she didn’t love how all the strands were all the same length. She originally had been planning on making the changes herself – she is a talented sustainable fashion designer, after all! She had even started testing different lengths on her own, which ended up being really helpful for me. Given the current worldwide pandemic, it meant I didn’t have to plan time for in-person fittings to get correct measurements – it was already done!
For many years, this bright necklace kept a well worn spot in her jewelry box, so I was thrilled when she decided to bring me the project. After a video consult, we got to talking about what she wanted. I ran through a couple of ideas, and we agreed that the style was lovely and simple, and just needed a couple tweaks.
I made a plan to shorten the necklace for more of a choker length, and have each strand be slightly graduated. This would make the finished piece lay flat above the collar bone which brings a little more balance to the look.
At the Workbench: Making a New Coral Necklace
The first thing I do after receiving an upcycling project is to take stock of what the materials are, so there is as much consistency and longevity in the finished piece as possible.
In this case, I had a coral necklace with solid 8K (33.3% gold) details. As I would be shortening each strand, I was lucky to have all the coral I needed for the project and didn’t have to source anything. These beads in in particular are especially tiny, and reminded me more of seed beads. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite this small on my buying trips! I decided to keep all the original 8K gold components, and bring in a few 14K gold fill components to finish the end of each strand.
I was excited to get to work on the project, in large part because I very rarely work with coral. Currently, there’s only one pair of coral earrings available in the online shop. These days I only tend to use coral on custom orders and I haven’t purchased this type of coral in at least several years.
The Complexities of Coral
The highest quality coral that mother nature has to offer is certainly beautiful, but it’s not an easy gem to acquire. The most stunning coral specimens range from deep reds to barely there pinks, and take years to develop in their natural habitats such as the Mediterannean Sea, coastal regions in Hawaii, Portugal, Japan and Taiwan. It’s a natural, organic material that grows very slowly and is a vital part of eco-systems that are already in peril. Collecting coral disrupts the delicate balance of the reefs – and given that it takes so long to replenish, I’ve opted not to purchase new stock.
It’s part of why this was such a memorable project for me. Working with vintage materials is always fun, but it’s even more compelling when the more rare gems make their way to my workbench.
Working with these natural beauties gives an appreciation of where they come from and reminds me how incredible our world truly is. I was over the moon to have the opportunity to remake this piece into a new heirloom and create something that Annika would love to wear for years to come.