The Great Necklace Making Makeover: Updating Vintage Jewelry

Yep. I love vintage jewelry.

As a kid, my parents would take me and my sister antique hunting on weekends. We'd drive all over western New Jersey in search of antique radios, clocks, watches, and even antique needlework like crochet and knitting. My parents had quite a beautiful collection, and my sister and I grew up with an appreciation for the past.

Fast forward to 1995, and the first time my husband brought me up to Lake Placid, New York for a vacation during the February Winter Carnival in nearby Saranac Lake. As we walked along Lake Placid's Main Street, I wanted to go into every single antique store I saw — and there were a lot of them. It wasn't a deciding factor, but one of the great things about living near Lake Placid is that there are plenty of curio shops full of antiques, including vintage and antique beaded necklaces.

Once in a while, I score a fabulous find from one of these stores. Usually a strand of vintage glass beads made into a necklace that looks like it's about thirty seconds away from falling apart. That's when I start thinking that I need those beads for a new necklace making project!

Earlier this year, my dear friend sent me a huge box of vintage and antique jewelry that belonged to her stepfather's first wife. Her stepfather and his wife traveled all over the world while he was in the United States Army, and when they traveled, she collected beautiful jewelry from every corner of the world. After he passed away last year, the jewelry went to my friend, who thoughtfully sent me a huge box of it with some truly beautiful and unique vintage pieces.

One of the first pieces that caught my attention was this great beaded necklace, made with white glass tube beads, plastic rounds, and seed beads. A couple of the strands had broken, and instead of just restringing it, I decided to use it to make a brand-new beaded necklace with some vintage flair.

I loved the long, white tube beads in this necklace, and my first thought was that I wanted to turn this piece into something with a lot of fringe. I'd seen a whole lot of glass bead necklaces in my local Target store over the weekend, and I wanted to use these vintage beads to make a fashionable, modern necklace.

Using the plastic rounds and seed beads, I stitched a quick base using right-angle weave. Then I started stringing the fringe between units of right-angle weave, graduating the strands from one side to the other.

Finally, I found the perfect vintage button in my stash for the clasp, and there it was! Everything old is new again, or so they say, and that holds true even for my necklace making projects when I reuse vintage jewelry and vintage beads to create brand-new designs.

I'll bet if you took a look through your jewelry box, you'd find some great vintage jewelry that you can re-use in brand new necklace making projects! Maybe you've got some jewelry with a story behind it — did it belong to your mother, your grandmother, or a beloved aunt? Maybe it's a piece that you found on a weekend trip with your significant other. Whatever it is, you can incorporate a piece of the past into a new piece of beaded jewelry.

If you need some inspiration for making new jewelry out of old beads, you'll want to subscribe to Jewelry Stringing Magazine. Each issue is packed with fabulous beaded necklace designs that you can use as inspiration for using your favorite vintage beads and jewelry-making supplies! Plus you'll get helpful techniques and tutorials, and all the news on the latest and greatest beads and jewelry making tools.

Have you ever taken a piece of vintage jewelry and turned it into something new? If you have before and after photos, post them in the Reader Photo Gallery to inspire us!

Bead Happy,


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Jennifer VanBenschoten

About Jennifer VanBenschoten

Born in New Jersey in 1974, I escaped to the Adirondacks for the first time in 1995, making it my permanent home in 2000.  I have been interested in beads, buttons and making jewelry as long as I can remember.  It's probably my mother's fault - she was a fiber artist and crochet historian, and whenever she ordered supplies from one mail order source, she would order a huge bag of assorted buttons and beads for me and my sister!    

8 thoughts on “The Great Necklace Making Makeover: Updating Vintage Jewelry

  1. Jen, my parents used to drag me around to antique stores all the time, too. They had a house full of wonderful antiques, and now I have a real appreciation for them too. And I love vintage beads! Great post! :)

  2. I would just like to comment on how much I enjoy Jen VanBenschoten’s posts. There is always something interesting and I really like her writing style. I hope she stays in the job for a long time!