|Tammy Jones is the
editor of Jewelry Making Daily.
Search for Steampunk on Etsy and you'll find almost 70,000 results . . . and 6.5 million on Google. To help put this cool trend in perspective, searches for "silver jewelry" net a little over 2,800 results on Etsy and 6,440,000 on Google—or 60,000 less than Steampunk.
What is Steampunk, anyway?
Steampunk gets its name from a time or "world" where 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.
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, an estate sale—even washed up on the beach—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 or collage-style jewelry. Steampunk jewelry features more (or even mostly) metal—soldered, riveted, stacked, bolted, or otherwise linked together. It's also a blend of opposites: rusty and polished, heavy metal with delicate filigree, mechanical gears and flowers.
Steampunk Jewelry Style
I've made a few pieces of jewelry that technically qualify as Steampunk, because they were made with watch parts, old skeleton keys, and other bits of metal ephemera never intended (but beautifully suited) for jewelry making. I think I'm on the outer edge of Steampunk style—perhaps Steampunk light? My Steampunk jewelry, while made with the proper components, is simpler than most Steampunk jewelry I see. I usually feature one elaborate watch part or other focal piece in my designs, and I don't usually layer multiple pieces, which is a distinctive feature of most Steampunk jewelry. One of the greatest things about collage or mixed-media jewelry styles like Steampunk is that there aren't many hard-and-fast-rules; it can be many things to many people.
Someone who does have Steampunk jewelry all figured out is Jean Campbell, who describes Steampunk as "Jane Austen meets Mad Max." She seems to have most jewelry techniques mastered, so it's not surprising that she could figure out how to combine several of them to create Steampunk-style jewelry . . . and a DVD of the same name. She shares the jewelry-making techniques (like cold connections, resin, wirework, and drilling basics) that you need to combine metal components when making Steampunk jewelry, so you can learn with her and be inspired watching her make romantic and edgy Steampunk-style jewelry projects. 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.
There are probably as many ideas about what Steampunk jewelry is as there are watch parts to make it with on Etsy. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the trend in our comments below. Have you tried it? Post photos of your Steampunk jewelry in our forums!