Save the Pieces: Make a Pottery Shard Brooch (or Pendant) from Beloved Broken China

Many people have fond memories that are connected to a piece of pottery or china–maybe a special grandmother's china, perhaps a piece of pottery found while exploring a beach or forest on a family vacation–that might've gotten broken through the years. Or maybe you're a flea market shopper like me who can't leave behind a pretty but cracked dish or teacup. This project by Julie Jerman-Melka is an ideal way to upcycle the broken shards into a meaningful brooch (or pendant). 

 
Photo by Jim Lawson.
Project photos by Julie Jerman-Melka.

Pottery Shard Brooch
A nostalgic keepsake from a broken dinner plate
By Julie Jerman-Melka 

I enjoy the challenge of working with found objects and incorporating them into a wearable piece of jewelry. If you're like me, you probably have fond memories of enjoying a special dinner with family or friends, using the "good" china, or maybe enjoying a cup of afternoon tea from vintage tea cups. Inevitably, a piece of china or one of the prized teacups accidentally breaks, and it's painful to just throw the shards into the trash. In this simple project, I'll show you how to recycle the broken shards and make a simple brooch, perhaps reminding you of one of those special times with friends and family.

Instead of using a commercial finding for this piece, I decided to make my own pin back. It's easy to execute and gives the piece a simple, handcrafted elegance with an extra personal touch.

Materials

pottery shard
22-gauge sterling sheet: 2" x 1-1/2"
22-gauge brass sheet: 2" x 1-1/4"
6" of 5mm 28-gauge sterling bezel wire
6" of 20-gauge round sterling wire
4" of 18-gauge round nickel wire
7mm half-drilled button pearl
flex shaft, #65 drill bit
soldering setup: torch, solder pick, Solderite pad
hard and medium silver solder
pickle pot with pickle, copper tongs
rolling mill *
texture paper to roller print *
330 epoxy
liver of sulfur, ammonia
cross-locking tweezers
metal shears, wire cutters
flat-nose pliers
jeweler's saw frame and blades
beeswax or Bur Life
bench pin
6" half-round file
needle files
2-1/2" bent steel burnisher
safety glasses, dust mask
Sharpie marker
buffing machine, 4" muslin buff
Fabulustre or buffing compound *

Steps

 

1.       Select pottery shard. The shard I've chosen is 3/4" x 1-1/4", so all of my measurements are based on using a piece of pottery about this size. (Editor's note: Modify the project measurements to accommodate your piece of pottery/china with approximately the same proportion back plate, etc.)

2.       Cut a 1-1/4" x 1" piece of 22ga sterling sheet. Anneal and pickle. Rinse in water and dry completely. Cut a piece of 22ga brass sheet slightly larger than the silver sheet. Do not anneal.

3.       Cut a piece of rice paper to 1-1/2" x1-1/4". Sandwich rice paper between silver and brass sheet and pass through the rolling mill under pressure to roller print. Your silver sheet will distort and elongate with this process.

4.       Form a bezel around the pottery shard using flat-nose pliers. Solder the bezel together using hard solder. Pickle bezel until clean. File any excess solder on seam. Rub bezel on sandpaper to clean bottom edge.

5.       Place shard on rollerprinted silver sheet. Trace outside edge of shard with Sharpie pen to create an interesting shape for your brooch, slightly larger than the shard. Saw along Sharpie line and then fine-sand the edges.

6.       Place bezel on sheet making sure there are no gaps between them. Solder bezel to roller printed sheet using chips of medium solder. If there is a gap, rub bezel on sandpaper again to true up edge before soldering bezel to sheet.

7.       Decide where you want the pearl. Center punch a divot in metal and drill a hole using #65 drill bit. Insert a 1/2" length of 20ga round wire through hole, extending it 1/8" out of back of brooch. Solder wire from back of brooch with medium solder. Cut, file, and sand excess wire until flush with back. This is also a good time to stamp the back of the piece with a sterling stamp and your personal maker's stamp if you have one.

8.       Use 4" of 20ga round nickel wire for pin mechanism. Bend wire in half and solder ends to back of brooch with medium solder. Pickle and sand any excess solder. Make sure you locate the mechanism above the central axis so the pin will sit properly when worn.

9.       Snip wire for catch at 3/16" and bend over.

10.   Curl wire for pin stem with round nose pliers twice to create tension for mechanism. End of pin should extend slightly beyond catch. Snip end if too long, then file, sand, and polish.

11.   Set shard in bezel and check height: bezel should just barely extend above shard. File bezel down if too high. Push walls of bezel over shard using bent steel burnisher. I use a triangle file to file the bezel corners. This creates a V shape, so the metal will not fold over itself during setting.

12.   Polish brooch on buffing machine to desired polish. Clean off buffing compound using weak solution of sudsy ammonia mixed with water and a soft toothbrush. Rinse piece under warm water and dry with soft cloth. Dissolve a pea size piece of liver of sulfur in a cup of warm water.

13.   Dip brooch in solution and rinse in cold water. Repeat until you achieve desired patina color, then let air dry. Polish lightly to bring contrast to piece.

14.   Adjust the height of the stem for the pearl by cutting and filing until the pearl sits flush with the silver sheet. Mix equal parts of 330 epoxy on a small piece of paper with a toothpick. Put a small amount of epoxy on the stem for the pearl and place the pearl on the stem. Allow epoxy to dry.

This project was originally published in the May 2009 Lapidary Journal jewelry Artist magazine (as well as in our free silversmithing eBook). Get challenging and inspiring metalsmithing and other jewelry-making projects like this one, alone with features about tool, new supplies, gemstones, and more, delivered to your home (or inbox) when you subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

About the designer: Julie Jerman-Melka earned her M.F.A. from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she lives and works. Her work can be seen in galleries throughout the United States. She also teaches part time at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming. You can see more of her work at www.flyinganvildesigns.com.

* Supply notes:
If you don't have a rolling mill, you can purchase embossed metal sheets from Metalliferous: www.metalliferous.com, 888-944-0909, or David H. Fell: www.dhfco.com, 800-822-1996.
I prefer using Fabulustre buffing compound because it gives me a lustrous finish and I don't need to prefinish. It contains a cutting and a polishing compound in one bar.
Texture paper is handmade paper and can be found at art supply stores. Look for paper that contains elements embedded in the paper, which will give your piece a more interesting texture.

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