Steampunk Jewelry: What It Is and How You Can Make It
Search for Steampunk on Etsy and you’ll find over 180,000 results . . . and 40 million on Google. A year and a half ago, it was only 70,000 on Etsy and 6.5 million on Google. Wow. Needless to say, Steampunk is not going away anytime soon, and to put this cool trend in perspective, searches for “silver jewelry” netted a little over 22,000 results on Etsy (about a tenth as much as Steampunk) and 28 million on Google (about 75% as much as Steampunk). If you don’t know how to make Steampunk jewelry, you need to know!
What is Steampunk, Anyway?
Steampunk gets its name from a time or “world” in which steam power was used, typically the Victorian era and the 1800s. It was a romantic time full of arts and beauty but also full of discovery and new technology, like the invention of steam power. The Steampunk movement aims to combine those two feelings. Though it seems like a hot new idea, the term was actually coined in the 1980s and the work that led to the creation of the term (books, movies, even art) is even older—from the 1960s and ’70s. A large part of the trend’s popularity comes from science-fiction writing that was set in the steam age of Victorian England.
|Inspired by Jean’s list, I dug through my stash of found objects and found these Steampunk-esque pieces–watch parts, skeleton keys, optical lenses, crystals, hinges, and so on.|
Simply put, Steampunk is industrial and mechanical “stuff” with an elaborate and romantic—albeit incongruous—Victorian twist. Good examples seen on Wikipedia include “coal-powered flying boats, ornate submarines, and Victorian dialogue.” Like I said, incongruous! But interesting.
So Steampunk Jewelry Is . . .
What could be more Victorian than beautiful, elaborate jewelry? And what seems (at least at first thought) more incongruous with jewelry than nuts and bolts, watch parts, gears and tiny machinery bits, wire springs, metal stampings, and the like? Wait . . . Wire springs and metal stamping? That’s starting to sound a lot like jewelry, isn’t it? You bet.
How many times do you see something at an antiques store, a yard sale, or an estate sale and think, “Oh, that’s pretty, I can make jewelry out of that!”? Then you’d probably enjoy making Steampunk jewelry. It’s an ideal jewelry style for those of us who love collecting all those little pieces, being a very close cousin to mixed-media jewelry. Steampunk jewelry features more (mostly) metal—soldered, riveted, stacked, bolted, wired, or otherwise connected. It’s also a blend of opposites and contrasts: rusty and sparkly, heavy mechanical-looking metal gears and bolts with delicate filigree and flowers. Jewelry made with watch parts, old skeleton keys, and other bits of metal ephemera never intended (but beautifully suited) for jewelry making is definitely Steampunk.
Jean Campbell has Steampunk style all figured out and describes it as “Jane Austen meets Mad Max.” Such elegance and romance, paired with such . . . nonelegant nonromance! No wonder, then, that there are probably as many ideas about what Steampunk jewelry is as there are watch parts to make it with on Etsy. In the excerpt below from a post on our sister site, Beading Daily, Jean shares more about the definition of Steampunk style and the components that come together to make Steampunk jewelry.
Elements of Steampunk-Style Jewelry
by Jean Campbell
Maybe your closet is filled with bustles, top hats, and mourning wear. Or perhaps your style is more about dark eye-liner, black dred extensions, and a leather holster for your ray gun. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re like me: Not very fashion conscious, but a big lover of jewelry that tells a story or carries a sentiment. In any of these cases, Steampunk-style jewelry might just be your next big thing.
Steampunk jewelry brings to life the fictional characters of this science-fiction genre based in Victorian England. Rather than nuclear-generated power, the Industrial Revolution-era mad scientists and time-travelers that populate these novels run on steam power. This world is filled with brass fittings, steel gizmos, coiled thingamabobs, and glowing orbs. Humming in the background is a rich taste of everything Victorian: Jet and other rich stones, cameos, silk and taffeta, and charms.
With this wildly imaginative genre as your playground, it’s easy to make your own Steampunk-inspired jewelry. Here are a few appropriate Steampunk-style materials for you to choose from:
- Metal findings and chain: Most jewelry-makers I know have these in abundance in their studios. These materials make a nod to the Industrial Revolution, where common Victorians were all of a sudden able to buy metal that was stamped, pressed, and rolled into chains or cut into delicate filigrees. Choose brass and copper for your Steampunk-style jewelry.
- Charms and cameos: Queen Victoria was crazy for charms and a mad collector of cameos, so they show up a lot in Steampunk-style jewelry. Incorporate motifs like flowers, leaves, birds, insects, dragons, snakes, scarabs, sphinx, and religious symbols to be truly Steampunk.
- Glass: Using any type of glass in your Steampunk-style jewelry evokes the Machine Age, which was rich with etched, faceted, and molded glass. It was the first time in history that common folk could afford such luxuries. To get the look, use glass beads, glass domes, and mirrors.
- Stones: When you think about it, England during the Victorian era was a super power and had trade routes worldwide. This boosted their trading with Asia, and so materials like amethyst, opal, turquoise, freshwater pearls, agate, onyx, coral, carnelian, amber, jade, garnet, ruby, jet, sapphire, peridot, jasper, and diamonds were more plentiful in England than ever before.
- Bits of sentiment: Lockets carrying hair from a loved one or a small painted portrait were popular during the Victorian era. It’s easy to incorporate these bits of sentiment by using photographs or other remembrances.
- Found objects: The most fun part of making Steampunk-style jewelry is working with found objects! This brings in the time-traveling, mad-scientist vibe I mentioned earlier. Choose small metallic watch parts, skeleton keys, machine parts, war medals, metal game pieces, and the like.
Learn more about Steampunk-style jewelry and get in-depth Steampunk jewelry-making tutorials using all these materials in Jean’s Steampunk DVD Making Steampunk-Style Jewelry with Jean Campbell, also available as an instant download. In it, Jean shares techniques (like cold connections, resin, wirework, and drilling basics) that you can use to combine metal components to make Steampunk jewelry. She also shares valuable tips, like the importance of using the right tools when working with all of those found metal objects so you don’t ruin your jewelry-making tools, most of which were designed for softer metals and/or more delicate work.