Riveting Ideas: Setting Vintage Buttons in Bezels with Rivets

I’ve been in love with buttons since I was a little girl. Both of my grandmothers sewed and quilted, so there was always a jar of buttons sitting around their houses. As I’ve gotten older and become so passionate about crafting and jewelry making, I’ve rediscovered the value and beauty of buttons as little works of art (especially the intricately carved mother-of-pearl ones), rather than just utilitarian fasteners. One of my favorite things in my house is a silver tray overflowing with antique carved mother-of-pearl buttons that sits on my living room table. The different patterns and tiny designs carved in them fascinate me.

I’ve made bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, and even Christmas tree ornaments out of buttons, and I’m always looking for new ways to use them in vintage-style jewelry, other than in bezels or strung on cord. So I was super excited when I found Helen Driggs’s tutorial for rivet-setting buttons while looking through some old Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine and newsletter archives, and I had to share! If you love buttons like I do (and who doesn’t?), I hope you’ll be as excited about this unique way to include them in your jewelry projects as I am!

(From the September 15, 2009, Flashcard newsletter, by Helen Driggs)

In the September 2009 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, Michael Boyd showed us a way of coping with the holes in stone beads by converting them into cabs for setting into jewelry pieces. (Okay, his point was to make use of broken beads or ones you’re bored with, but it also works for using beads you wish were available as cabs.) I thought this was a brilliant idea, and I have been looking at my stone beads with new appreciation. I’ve accumulated some very interesting material in beads over the years, and now I can cut some of them into pretty cool stones for my metalwork. I also have loads of vintage mother-of-pearl buttons I’d like to set in bezels for unusual, layered focal pieces or bracelet links. Buttons, of course, have holes in them. And, I’d rather not cut/abrade/saw or otherwise injure my vintage buttons to preserve their collectability.

To me, the button holes are an untapped design opportunity. I’ve seen buttons set in bezels with the holes showing, but I don’t like the idea of leaving them exposed like that for dirt, moisture, or other goo to get into. I like to fill those holes with rivets.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Fabricate a bezel for the button.
2. Mark the locations of the button holes on the backplate of the bezel and centerpunch them.
3. Choose wire or tubing for the rivets that will just pass through the button holes without forcing. You might need to draw down the wire to the correct size.
4. Gauge a corresponding drill bit, once you’ve chosen the wire.
5. Drill the divots on the backplate with the chosen drill bit.
6. Rivet the wires through the button. You can try balled wire ends with the torch, or just go ahead and make the rivet heads with a hammer before inserting them through the button, then the drilled hole, and finally out the back. Don’t torch your precious button, though.
7. Clean-finish the rivets on the back so they are flush. If your sheet is thick, you can countersink the drilled holes with a ball or setting bur, so the rivet wire expands out to fill it.
8. Burnish the bezel against the perimeter of the button. Voila!

I love the look of Helen’s results, and someday I want to try to tube-set small stones in the rivets, too.

Never underestimate what might be lingering in back issues of your favorite old magazines! Most jewelry-making magazines are evergreen, so the projects are just as fun now as they were when you first saw them. Stock up if you’re missing some issues of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist or any of our other great jewelry-making magazines (including Step by Step Wire Jewelry and more).

Are you in love with buttons too? Do you use them in your jewelry designs? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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