Trash-to-Treasure Jewelry: Make Art Jewelry With Me Using Gifts from the Sea

Beachcombing has always been one of my favorite pastimes. Through years of family vacations and girls' weekend trips, my mother and I have visited dozens of beaches on the east and gulf coasts–including nearly every beach from the Outer Banks of North Carolina down to the Florida–and throughout all of my travels, I've been to at least one beach in every continental state that has one–except for New Jersey.

We love to walk on the beach like we're in a big surfside Easter-egg hunt, finding pretty (or peculiar) little bits and pieces of shells, coral, sea creatures, or even true trash that has been ocean-worn into a thing of beauty, such as sea glass, driftwood, and gnarled old metal pieces, many of which we keep.


The result, as you can imagine, is that I have bags and bags of seashells and other gifts from the sea. I've collected this stuff for years, long before I had a career in crafts or jewelry making. I chose pieces knowing that I'd do something with them, someday.

Nudged by last week's episode of Project Accessory (where contestants had to make jewelry out of junk scavenged from an old storage warehouse) and our Project Accessory-inspired Make-Along, I turned to those bags this week with a trash-to-treasure jewelry-making mission in mind.

I had already collected some found objects from my craft junk box that I thought might lend themselves to jewelry making. I gathered a few shiny metal blobs of melted industrial solder that I'd collected from my grandmother's yard years ago, left behind by a recent repairman, along with a broken multi-strand clasp that I like too much to throw away, a hand-written tag from an old skeleton key that I've always been inexplicably attached to, a beaded satin butterfly removed from a pair of party shoes, the handle from an old fork, a pile of broken aquamarine gemstone beads, some old watch faces, and a gnarly piece of driftwood.


I still haven't figured out how to use my broken aquamarine gemstone beads, but for this particular jewelry-making project, their color led my thoughts to the ocean . . . and that of course led me to my bags of shells. I found one holey piece of shell that was dark inside and sun-bleached white on the outside, giving it a very fun but still natural-looking polka-dot design. I love polka dots, so I dug into some other bags of shells, finding more similar white and gray pieces. I ended up with nearly ten such pieces.

With the Project Runway and Project Accessory "edit, edit, edit" mantra in mind, I've decided to save the other things I'd collected for another project and focus on my polka-dotted shells. They're so intricate and detailed by themselves, I didn't want anything to compete with them, so I just needed to think about how to connect them, what to use for the base of the necklace, and most importantly, to bling or not to bling! In my opinion, there aren't many pieces of jewelry that can't be made better with the addition of a little crystal or pretty sparkling faceted gemstones. Ha!

For the base of the necklace, I have a shiny but dark gunmetal-colored vintage chain taken from a piece of costume jewelry somewhere, years ago, that I think will be a perfect contrast for these white pieces and coordinate with the dark holes in the shell. I can't decide whether to make jump rings out of some dark metal wire or white craft wire, which sort of disappear between them. I also have a bag full of base metal jump rings of all sizes and gauges that I might use alternately. Which option do you like best?



I have a large stash of found and purchased chandelier crystals that I could add to the necklace, either between the shell pieces or on the ends between the shell and the chain. Should I use small crystals, dangling crystals, or both? All the same size and shape or all different?

I've also considered wiring crystals or gems randomly on the shell pieces, or putting gem-topped head pins in them, what do you think of that? Would you use clear crystals or just a single bright red gem, for a little unexpected punch of color among all these neutrals? I love that idea, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.


For dozens of tips and techniques (such as using resin, fibers, and more) to help you use found objects (from the sea and everywhere else) in your mixed-media and trash-to -treasure jewelry, check out our Handcrafted Jewelry special issue, available in print and in digital format on Zinio!

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Tammy Jones

About Tammy Jones

I'm the editor of Jewelry Making Daily. I also have my own handmade jewelry business on Etsy, Southern Baubelles. I love working with metal clay, found objects, silver, copper, brass, enamel, resin, and genuine gemstones. I also enjoy knitting, paper crafts like card making and scrapbooking, cooking, traveling, the seashore, and snow!

10 thoughts on “Trash-to-Treasure Jewelry: Make Art Jewelry With Me Using Gifts from the Sea

  1. I think your necklace is stunning. What a great idea.

    If I were going to add a little sparkle, of course I’d prefer gemstones to “crystals” (which are glass), but for my taste, I wouldn’t put either in: I think they’d be too distracting. But I might replace one shell with a piece of black jade or maybe lava rock. The lava has that same holey texture.

    I remember a pin that June Culp Zeitner made — she was Lapidary Journal’s beloved Special Assistant Editor for many, many years — that was a cast seashell, in gold, and she’d added a small opal cabochon on top to look like a drop of water. It was really beautiful.

  2. I like the necklace without the extra embellishments. The natural stones are stunning on their own and they do not need any distracting elements. Edit,bedit, edit

  3. The fork handle will make a stunning bracelet . Bend it to fit around the wrist with enough gap for the wrist to slide out edgeways as there is no stretch . Embellish by wrapping a wire full of colorful beads around the stem.

  4. I also have a fabulous stash of almost fossilised shells and coral branches, from when we lived in the West Indies and Morocco. I have made these into bracelets, with the addition of silver wire loops for attaching the different segments – plus freshwater pearls and beads of silver, turquiose and blue chalcedony.
    Wants a photo ?

  5. First off, how could you miss the Jersey beaches? You have to get down to Cape May and hunt for the Cape may diamonds, an unusual type of quartz that washes up on the beach where the Delaware River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Great place to find treasures.
    I think I like just the small crystal circles strung between the shell pieces the best. That gives it some bling, yet the piece will still be conservative enough to wear everyday at work for most people.
    Now my question is how do you plan to make holes in the shells so that you can attach everything? I seem to recall reading that you should drill shells under water because the dust is toxic. Do I remember correctly?
    Can’t wait to see what you do next.

  6. I don’t think you need the hanging crystals. Editing is hard to do, but in the long run, better. A small pop of ocean-ish contrasting color will also give the necklace dimension. Happy beading everyone!

  7. If you can come up with the parts (more shells) why not try several you may start a new line of jewelry that people would be happy to shell out money for.

  8. I like your idea of adding the bright red to give it some ‘pop’ facter. you could also go with aquas in keeping with the sea aproach.
    have often added clear SC’s to pieces if done weather it was in wood, bone .antler just to give it that zing to help set it off.

  9. I’m not a bling person, especially with such beautiful organic pieces. I do, however, love the idea of a special center stone or found object. What about a half-shell, or small sand dollar? Or a beautiful blue piece of sea glass?

    Also, glad to hear someone is following Project Accessory. It’s a refreshing addition to the Project Runway series.