September 29, 2016

Jewelry With a Past

Creative keepsakes made from broken dishes.

In a thick binder filled with photos of Lois Miller’s work, every pitcher tells a story. As does every dinner plate, serving platter, cup and saucer that she transforms from a piece of china with sentimental value into wearable art.

“I could sit and tell you stories for an hour,” Lois says about the Vintage Keepsake Jewelry she and her husband Keith create in a pole barn studio at their southwest Michigan home in Edwardsburg.

One grandmother delivered to Lois the remains of a Belleek bowl and asked her to turn bits of the Irish serving dish into jewelry as gifts for all her grandchildren—including the youngster who accidentally shattered it. An especially moving custom order was from a Hurricane Katrina victim who found some of her wedding china in the rubble. Lois preserved it as jewelry that would help the woman recover from her tremendous loss.

Using a diamond grinder and diamond-blade bandsaw, Lois cuts sections of porcelain, pottery, bone china and other tableware into hearts, ovals and rectangular or free-form shapes. Then, with a soldering iron she frames each piece in a fine thread of silver and adds the findings to create pendants, earrings, bracelets, brooches, cuff links and key rings. Lois has been making jewelry for 16 years and a decade ago Keith, who worked for Whirlpool, joined her with his own line of antique silverware bracelets. He sometimes includes charms that Lois has made, and also turns silver knife handles into handsome writing utensils.

Besides making custom jewelry from family treasures, Lois scours the internet for interesting patterns and tableware, including English Flow Blue China. The cobalt blue-on-white pieces were popular in the 1800s and the dreamy designs make strikingly beautiful jewelry. For collectors who recognize the design, there’s a “Wow!” factor, Lois says. “It really stands out.” And, while using Flow Blue is one of her trademarks, the china pieces are increasingly difficult to find and, “Now they are out-of-this world expensive.”

Lois hunts for other unusual patterns on eBay, including horse images, which make in-demand pieces at an art show she participates in just prior to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. She is also known for making jewelry from calendar plates, and her stock of that specialty china currently spans about 20 years. A specific month framed in silver as a pendant or charm is a commemorative piece, she says, “Perfect for a wedding anniversary, birthday or other special date.”

Lois says she’s always been creative. “I have the kind of mind that is always thinking of things to do,” including quilting, sewing, decoupage, refinishing furniture, and making one-of-a-kind gifts for her grandchildren. But many years ago, when she first saw jewelry that incorporated china, “I was spellbound,” she says. “I thought it was the most beautiful thing.”

Soon she learned to craft the jewelry herself. In designing each piece she studies the china pattern, sketches possible interpretations, and decides on the look of the silver frame: A sleek silver outline is compatible with a modern design, but for more old-fashioned or flowery designs she adds a beaded, decorative trim.

Although Lois participates in occasional art fairs and shows, the main outlet for the couples’ work is their website at
VintageKeepsakeJewelry.com. Pendants are the most popular items, and her jewelry ranges in price from $20 to $70. Special orders (269-663-3061) vary, and usually take about two weeks.

It is the custom pieces and the stories behind them that Lois really treasures. As she transforms broken dishes into attractive accessories, she is also preserving history and memories “for all those people that ate off their china and everybody in the family that sat at the table.”

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  1. […] out my story, Jewelry with a Past, in Michigan Country Lines magazine. The online version doesn’t show photos of her work, but you can see those at the […]