Beadwork Projects Inspired by Vintage Jewelry Pieces

My Victorian Infinity Necklace was inspired by an antique seed pearl necklace.

I can remember how much I loved trying on my mother's and my grandmother's jewelry when I was a little girl. (I think most little girls love to do that, right?) But my fascination with vintage and antique jewelry continued once I got older. While I certainly fell victim to more than one crazy fashion jewelry trend (rubber bracelets, anyone?), I always found that I loved to shop for and wear vintage and antique jewelry. My parents would take us to a weekly antique market on Sunday afternoons where we would walk around and look at all sorts of items – glass, clothing, books and housewares. But it was the cases of jewelry that always caught my attention!

Fast forward to 2004 when I was just starting to get serious about beadweaving, and I came across a photo in a book of a Victorian necklace that had tiny seed pearls wired to a series of components. That image stuck in my head until I sat down and figured out how to recreate it with seed beads. It was the first time I had ever designed an original piece of beadwork, and it landed in the February/March 2005 issue of Beadwork magazine as the Victorian Infinity Necklace!

Since then, I've found that vintage and antique jewelry pieces are a great source of inspiration for me. I am constantly looking through eBay auction listings, online vintage jewelry sellers, online auction catalogs from the big auction houses, and my own collection of vintage jewelry books for ideas and inspiration. Here are a few of my favorite designs that all came from vintage jewelry pieces:

The idea for my Royal Duchess cuff bracelet and earrings came from a picture of a similar bracelet in an online auction catalog. The original piece was from the late 1800s and was actually made from freshwater pearls, gold findings and sapphires. Dark sapphire Swarovski crystal bicones and Swarovski crystal pearls worked just as well, and were much easier on my budget.
Tallulah's Pearls came from a picture of a knotted pearl necklace that I found in the online catalog of a vintage jewelry seller. The original necklace also had a series of drops that ended with large amber crystals, but I didn't like the way it hung when I tried to recreate them. Since I really didn't want to spend lots of time knotting silk, I decided to stitch this up using size 15o seed beads and freshwater pearls. Much easier!
I designed my Peyote Sunburst necklace during one of the sleepless nights I spent with insomnia while I was pregnant with my son. The original piece was a 1940s vintage enamel flower bib necklace that I found while searching on eBay through the vintage jewelry listings. I knew I had to recreate it somehow – and the next morning, I discovered the Swarovski crystal pearls on my beading table that worked perfectly as the centerpieces for each flower! The original had several rows of flowers, but the single strand of flowers was much easier to wear. 

If you love vintage-looking beadwork projects, you'll want to check out the Best of Beadwork: Modern Vintage eBook. It features 12 gorgeous vintage-inspired beading projects from your favorite designers. And if you can't get enough beading designs by Laura McCabe, you'll definitely want to take a look at the Best of Beadwork: 8 Projects by Designer of the Year Laura McCabe with even more vintage inspired beadwork designs! Because both of these are digital downloads, you get instant access to your content and can start beading right away!

Do you have a favorite source for inspired vintage jewelry designs? Maybe it's a favorite book or magazine, a website or another online source? Leave a comment on the blog and tell us where you look for inspiration to make vintage-style beaded jewelry designs!

Bead Happy,


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