|Vintage Mother-of-Pearl Filigree Button with Silver Scroll Chain, $35|
As odd as it may sound, my love affair with jewelry making began with, of all things, buttons. At an art show where I was exhibiting, I met a woman who was showing her collection of vintage buttons. I was immediately taken with them--the amount of detail that went into these tiny little pieces of glass and metal still never fails to amaze me. There was a time when buttons did a lot more than just keep our blouses closed. They were often practical adornments (perfume buttons, for example, which were layered with fabrics to absorb perfume). They acted as heirlooms, as storytellers, and of course as fashionable adornments, much the way we wear jewelry nowadays.
My first jewelry making adventures began with button necklaces; my initial thought upon seeing a vintage button was that it would make a great pendant (the jewelry aspect was almost an afterthought). I learned some of the basics of jewelry making, beading, wire wrapping and other techniques for the sole purpose of incorporating those little beauties into pieces of jewelry.
I sold many of the button necklaces and bracelets on eBay at a time when only collectors were interested in them. The types of buttons that were considered collectible were Victorian picture buttons, and glass buttons were routinely overlooked as common and non-collectible. I remember my first purchase on eBay, a gorgeous lot of ten different black glass buttons with gold trim. I placed my bid thinking that over the ensuing week I would have to duke it out with some other button lover. I was stunned to win the auction with a winning bid of $0.99 with no other bidders. Glass buttons were quite literally a dime a dozen back then.
That was over a decade ago. Czech glass buttons are now sold for anywhere from $3 to $12, depending on size, complexity and age. Button jewelry has become common enough that you can often find button jewelry mass marketed, in department stores and fashion boutiques.
|Black & Gold Glass Button Bracelet, SOLD|
As a result of the "Walmartization" of button jewelry, as with every fashion trend, much of it has become cliche. Not all of it is handmade these days; many of the buttons are not true vintage buttons but reproductions or outright fakes, often made of plastic or plasticized metal as opposed to the brass, glass and cut steels that enchanted me all those years ago. Luckily there are still those who seem to find the vintage button as fascinating as I do, and button jewelry is still being made by people who appreciate the sense of history and beauty contained within these little treasures.
|Art Nouveau Flame, Antique Edwardian Floral Buttons on Sterling, $28|
One of my favourite shops on Etsy is Allie's Adornments, whose style of button jewelry is similar to mine. She keeps her pieces simple and stylish, and the buttons she chooses are some of the most beautiful of the Victorian era.
|Victorian Enamel Flower Button Sterling Locket Necklace on Silver Chain, $44|
Visiting her shop will give you a fantastic tour of the best in Victorian buttons. Every one of them possesses the exquisite detail of the buttons from this era. She mounts them on silver bases or lockets, and sometimes adds beads or other components. More often than not she allows the buttons to stand on their own, allowing the detail in the buttons to shine through.
|Victorian Antique Blue & Gold Floral Button Silver Bracelet, $42|
These buttons are so fantastic, many of them tinted brass (which allows for the blue and golden colours in the bracelet above) with three-dimensional detail. I've seen many button pieces which feature similar fabulous buttons but weighed down with what I like to refer to as Too Much Stuff. It's always upsetting to me to see the most exquisite beads or buttons grouped together in clusters, such as charm bracelets, to the point that the detail and the beauty simply get lost in the too-muchness of the piece. That is one of the things that attracts me to this jewelry, and all jewelry--the most spectacular elements of the piece, in this case the buttons, get the spotlight they so richly deserve.
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|Sweet Nostalgia Necklace: Vintage Button on Oxidized Sterling Silver with Pink Amethyst, Spinel & Ruby, $51|
One of the positive aspects of the popularisation of button jewelry is when people find new and inventive ways to feature them. One of my Facebook favourites this week was this necklace (above) from twochickstoo. In addition to the clever utilization of the holes in the button (something I always avoided in buttons, always preferring to use buttons with back shanks), this lovely necklace embodies one of my favourite aspects of vintage jewelry. I always love to see the combination of some of the more contemporary trends like gemstones (in this case, pink amethyst, spinel and ruby, which are some of the favourites of jewelry artists right now) and sterling silver bezels with vintage buttons. Once again, the combination here of two or three elements--the white button, the small cluster of stones, the sterling bezel--create a kind of complexity in simplicity; again, less is more.
|Lillian Earrings - Sterling Silver & Vintage Button with Blue Topaz, SOLD|
Most of the items for sale currently in this shop are pieces with contemporary gemstones set in sterling (the shop is worth a visit for them alone). If you get a moment, peruse the items in the "sold" section, where she has a few more button items. I hope to see a lot more buttons from her because I really like what she does with them.
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|Antique Cut Steel Button Earrings with Cobalt Beads, $29|
Wired Vintage is another shop that does lovely things with vintage buttons. She too often mounts them on silver filigrees and brass components to create pendants and earrings, again allowing the buttons to make their own statements, using the detail in the components to compliment them rather than overwhelm or detract from them.
|Everything's Coming Up Roses Antique Cut Steel Button Bracelet, $29|
I especially like the way she uses them in bracelets--different than the multi-button bracelet style, featuring a single button as a centrepiece, including one of the most beautiful etched black glass buttons I've ever seen:
|Antique Silver Etched Black Glass Button Bracelet with Teal Swarovski, $34|
One of the things I learned when selling my button jewelry on eBay was that collectors prefer the buttons intact (i.e., the shanks still on them rather than cut or shaved off). I never had much luck being able to mount the buttons without removing the shanks, but she makes a point of leaving the shank on so as to preserve the collectible value of the buttons. I'd actually be interested in finding out how she works around them when mounting them in settings and bezels, because that is a point that is quite important to button collectors, and I'd like to find out how to do it in my own pieces.
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|Lily Drop Vintage Glass Button Locket, $24|
Envisage probably illustrates the less-is-more aesthetic better than any other. She uses very few components in her pieces, but she matches them so well that the pieces take on a complexity borne of perfection in detail.
|Sunflower Day Locket, $30|
Her photos don't do the pieces justice, unfortunately, a problem I've certainly grappled with and am still trying to perfect. I just love the way she matches the one or two elements within the piece. She manages to feature the buttons prominently without detracting from the detail, even as she embellishes them with beads and brass components. Most of them are mounted on lockets, lending them an extra sense of history.
I've moved away from the vintage recently, opting instead to try my hand at some of the more contemporary designs with gemstones and modern precious metal components. But my first love will always be vintage style, especially buttons. I've made a few moulds of some of my favourite buttons in my collection (I prefer the glass and smaller metals to the picture buttons), and when I crack open that package of PMC, I suspect that those moulds will see some use rather quickly.
I still have the very first button I ever purchased, from that woman at the art show. It sits among my collection, a black glass button with a floral detail in silver paint. As much as I love it, and as beautiful as it would be in a necklace, I can't see ever selling it; it holds a special place in my heart, and in my collection. Proving, I suppose, that some collectibles truly are priceless.
Until next time,