From start to finish, Jennifer George’s jewelry, is entirely made from 'up-cycled gems.' She repurposes pieces of vintage jewelry, bric-a- brac, odds and ends—delighting in the amazing variety and abundance of, “beautiful, peculiar, ‘weird wonderful’ stuff that was made all those years ago.” She is an alchemist, creating new lives and new meaning for every piece of old jewelry that she recycles.
“Costume jewelry was serious business a long time ago, not that it isn’t today, but they took it more seriously. They spent more time—the way they sourced the materials, the way they designed the pieces. It was all based on very expensive real [fine] jewelry of that moment and not so much on the trend driven cycle that we see today. And so when you cross decades and pair things that shouldn’t really be mixed, they take on a new look and they create something that you haven’t seen before, or at least, when I do it, I think its definitely something you’ve never seen before.”
She admits that it can be a long process to source so many different pieces from decades of commercial jewelry production: “You have to have a connection with things that you choose, a magnetic pull to that one piece of treasure buried in a huge tray of abandoned jewelry, older vintage pieces were so beautifully made—they just don’t make things like that any more.”
Unlike today, early plastic was considered a precious material. George: “The plastics of yesteryear were very novel, embodying the ‘Modern’ era. Plastic was a valuable commodity. Bakelite, Celluloid, Galaith and later on Lucite, ultimately lead to the industrial plastics that we use today, which clog our waterways and contaminate the world’s oceans and ecosystems. Hopefully doubling down on efforts to reduce single-use plastic and finding new ways to use old unrecyclable plastics in new and inventive ways can make a small dent in a massive global issue."
George’s work seeks to reach a decontextualized balance of a wide variety of materials, sourced from different decades and countries all over the world. “My jewelry looks as if all the pieces came together organically, as if they simply washed ashore as one,” she explains.
She uses bottle openers, old advertising pocket-knives and charms, harmonicas, “anything that feels right for the piece and surprises the eye.”
George points to a particularly alluring necklace as the perfect example of this process. “You have a David Anderson* Scandinavian Design enamel piece—typically people don’t take his work apart, as they have enormous resale value, paired with a unique brutalist copper and jadeite Mexican pendant—its very odd and unusual but looks so much better put together. It’s new again.”
She also does custom work when people ask her to put the disparate elements of the remains of their jewelry box into a piece. "I'm working with everything; from real pieces, gold with diamonds and sterling silver, or beloved pet’s dog tags or family military buttons, the lost earrings, grandmas venetian beads, the charm bracelet from high school.”
George has recently created five new one of-a-kind pieces to benefit Plastic Pollution Coalition. “I used the PPC “Refuse Plastic” Charm designed by Susan Rockefeller. I try to always include elements that refer to ocean fronts or beaches or polluted waterways to try and keep that motif front and center in the message.” At the same time, she hopes people look a little deeper and even find humor in each piece.
What’s next for George? “My dream is to do a collaboration with Chanel... just let me loose in the archives! Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Beatrice Adler-Bolton is an artist and painter who works with recycled industrial plastics in New York City