Photo Jewelry: How to Add Images to Your Designs, Part 1
When you incorporate photographs or other images into your work, you increase your chances of creating a signature look all your own. It can be as simple as gluing a miniature version of one of your photos to the back of a clear glass cabochon and setting it into a piece of jewelry. Or slipping a tiny image into a mold full of resin to create your own unique “gems” for photo jewelry like earrings and bracelets.
ABOVE: Nancy Reid Carr makes aluminum cuffs out of her photographs. She also sets images behind glass cabochons to create earrings, pendants and bracelets.
An image can be anything–a vintage tintype, a silhouette, colorful postage stamp, outline of an animal, print of a butterfly, piece of fancy patterned paper, drawing, or snapshot. To get started, it helps if you have a computer and a working knowledge of photo software. And keep your images simple. From there you can check the internet for photo jewelry tutorials, buy findings, shop Interweave for step-by-step projects, or pick up a hands-on class.
When I started making jewelry, I was crazy about images. But I didn’t know how to incorporate them into my silversmithing. The best I could do was saw out silhouettes of dancing figures, swans, and ferns, and then sweat solder them onto sheet silver. Eventually I stumbled across galvanic etching and was off and running, etching images of butterflies, spider webs, deer, phases of the moon, and other graphics onto sterling silver for cuffs, earrings, and other photo jewelry. The result? My work gained instant depth and sophistication.
In 2015, I also experimented with setting tiny photographic prints behind scratch-proof glass watch crystals. For me the key was to waterproof the setting, so moisture wouldn’t creep in and damage the photo paper. However, this was a short phase. I was happier with etching.
Photo Jewelry: Profile of an Artist
After art school, photographer Nancy Reid Carr spent several years figuring out how to print her delicately colored photographs onto aluminum. To expand her line and success at art shows, she eventually created her own photo jewelry like cuffs, rings, and pendants.
“A photograph adds a lot of color, because a lot of jewelry is just metal,” the Rhode Islander says. “You can get an endless color palette with photographs.”
A self-taught jeweler, Carr went through a lot of trial and error to develop her products. “It seems very simple, but it’s problematic. You have to preserve the image so it doesn’t age.”
Waterproofing also was key, especially earrings, to protect them from the occasional dunking. But she’s happy to give a couple hints on how to make photo jewelry. Carr uses a two-part epoxy for waterproofing. She edits her photos in Photoshop and prints them as tiny circles on metallic paper. “This gives the jewelry a soft glow,” she says.
Carr’s aluminum cuffs were more difficult to develop, and she has invested $5,000 in specialized equipment to make them. So, for the time being, she is keeping this process secret.
“The physical process is mechanical. The art form is in the imagery and the design. Anyone could do it if they took the time and made the investment,” she says.
I came across Carr’s work at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, and it seems as if no two pieces are alike.
“There isn’t a lot of jewelry with photographs on it, and that might be one of the reasons jewelry with imagery sells well,” she says. She also keeps her photo jewelry prices low: earrings start at $22 and cuffs can range up to $38. To see her work, go to NancyReidCarr.com.
Learn to Make Photo Jewelry
Interested in learning more about using glass cabochons or resin techniques to create photo jewelry? Here are some sources:
- Cynthia Thornton’s book Enchanted Adornments puts magical imagery to use in resin jewelry.
- Photo Jewelry Making FAQs
- In a 2015 project, I used durable glass watch crystals to protect a photo in a round, cabochon setting.
Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more way to make photo jewelry using resin, enameling, and etching techniques.