From cast-off material, unique jewelry

Lori Perkins of mARTini Jewels in Portland designs and creates jewelry using recycled silver.

Jennifer Atkins Lisa of Quench Metalworks in Belfast combines recycled precious metals, cast off items and old jewelry to fashion new pieces.

Both women are passionate about their work and about the materials used to create their unique pieces.

“Upcycling is elevating the item to a finer purpose than originally designed,” said Lisa. “There’s a satisfaction that comes with elegantly upcycling once cast-off items.”

Lisa is the owner, designer and jeweler behind Quench Metalworks. She was born and raised in China, Maine, attended the Rhode Island School of Design and earned a bachelor’s degree in jewelry and metals in 1994. She has been working as a metalsmith for 20 years.

After inheriting her grandmother’s three old, wooden button boxes full to the brim with all sorts of buttons, Lisa began working them into her jewelry.

“I played around setting a few mother of pearl buttons in rings. I continued to expand my collections to include more buttons, vintage watch crystals, antique linens, rusted washers, and, most recently, antique doll parts,” said Lisa.

“I love being a metalsmith, being the alchemist and designer at the same time,” said Lisa. “Working with reclaimed items in my jewelry adds an element of surprise.”

Perkins, who grew up in Rhode Island, moved to Maine 28 years ago. She was a radiation therapist treating cancer patients when she began creating jewelry, about five years ago. It didn’t take long for it to develop into a passion for her.

“The abundance of mediums and techniques keeps it interesting,” said Perkins, who, although she’s taken a class at Maine College of Art in metalsmithing, remains mostly self-taught. “There’s always a new design rolling around in my head just waiting to emerge.”

Upcycling and recycling materials is an important aspect of the work Lisa and Perkins do. Lisa recycles her own sterling and 18k gold scraps to make sheet and wire stock. When she does need to purchase stock, she works with refineries that sell certified recycled metal.

For Perkins, using recycled metals is the right thing to do for the planet.

“mARTini Jewels tag line is, ‘Socially responsible jewelry for the ecologically conscious soul,’” said Perkins. “Most people aren’t aware that to mine precious metals, holes up to a mile wide are dug, literally displacing tons of rock, using deadly chemicals that affect plants, animals and humans, only to gain a few grams of precious metal. While there may be a few mines out there that are more environmentally friendly than others, the only way to have no negative impact on the earth is to buy and use recycled materials.”

Perkins purchases sterling from Hoover and Strong, a U.S. refinery that has been in business for about 100 years. The company takes unwanted jewelry, old sterling dinnerware, silver from electronics and scrap and puts it through a refining process. She is pleased to do business with them.

“(The company) is U.S. based, fair labor, fair trade, totally committed to the environment. Zero waste water emission and the air that leaves their refinery is actually cleaner than the air that goes in because they scrub it with industrial scrubbers,” said Perkins. “I think people are more aware of the effect we humans have had on the planet since the Industrial Revolution.”

Lisa agrees.

“I believe that sustainability in my field is to produce jewelry with the least impact on earth as possible,” she said. “In our modern throwaway society, any form of recycling/repurposing/upcycling should be applauded. The less our planet is mined and cluttered with trash, the better we will all be in the end.”

Perkins said her customers appreciate that she utilizes sustainable components in her jewelry.

“The fact that I use recycled materials resonates with my clients,” said Perkins. “It’s the same high quality as virgin silver, and people want to feel their choices are making an impact in the green movement. I don’t know people view my use of recycled sterling as ‘cool’ or ‘stylish,’ though I like to think my creations are, but more of an appreciation that they have a choice that reflects their own personal values.”

Lisa finds that consumers are more informed than they were 20 years ago and are often demanding sustainable products.

“To keep their businesses viable, companies will need to provide products that consumers will want to purchase and feel good about purchasing,” she said.

But sustainable materials and practices do impact the cost of the items both women create. Lisa said her clients are willing to accept that.

“Honestly, there is an increased cost when producing sustainable products. There are also increased labor expenses when dealing with items produced at the small business level like my own business,” said Lisa. “But with that increased labor charge, customers can rest assured that the item has been produced with minimal impact on the planet’s natural resources. And when is it not cool to accessorize in eco-friendly products?”

Perkins thinks sustainability is here to stay

“How can it not be? How do you put a price on sustainability? What’s the trade-off, an unlivable environment? I’m happy that people get it,” said Perkins.

This cluster of pendants was handcrafted from sterling silver by Jennifer Lisa of Quench Metalworks.  Reclaimed components include buttons, a tiny doll leg and vintage watch crystals.   These tiny arm pendants from Quench are a mix of sterling and fine silver.  The antique doll arms are pin riveted to the sleeves so they wiggle just a bit.  Jennifer Atkins Lisa, the owner/designer/jeweler behind Quench Metalworks, was born and raised in Maine.  Designed by Lori Perkins, these bracelets in process are made from 20-gauge strips of silver. Each is cut and stamped individually. Courtesy photo Lori Perkins of mARTini Jewels in Portland has been creating jewelry from recycled materials for the past five years.   

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