Puzzling A Beautiful Jewelry Design

We have a flexible annual schedule when it comes to designing our yearly jewelry lines. Typically, we start designing after Christmas by appraising what our customers loved or didn't the year before. Then we get to work searching the globe for antique buttons and vintage glass.

We've been designing jewelry for over three decades and, through the years, have come to adopt a unique methodology. Most jewelry and fashion designers start by assessing new trends like this year's palette of popular colors. Then they outline their ideas and procure the elements, like gems or stones, that they need to execute their vision.
How We Puzzle Together Our Jewelry Designs - Buttonology Blog

We do the opposite. We start with the pieces. We like to say that we assemble our jewelry like a jigsaw puzzle and that the parts are the secret sauce to the timeless originality of our designs.

We didn't intentionally set out to buck trends. When Susan Davis started Grandmother's Buttons three decades ago, she sought out pretty antique and vintage buttons and then transformed them into earrings and pendants. She learned to design jewelry by trial and error and when she tried to be trendy. Still, without fail, every time she tried planning new links according to fashion trends, she wasn't successful.

Susan's fledgling business only found its stride when she realized that the antique and vintage components demanded a different approach. Susan says, "It's not that we are impervious to the dictates of fashion, it's just that our designs, in their essence, must honor the colors, and styles, and women of the past."
So for us, everything starts with the button hunt. Every year Susan scours the forgotten corners of this earth for antique buttons and vintage glass. She climbs into grimy abandoned lofts and bargains with flea market vendors.
Susan spends hours in dusty warehouses, sorting through long-forgotten attics and rummaging through thrift store shelves. Like all good fisherfolk, Susan has her favorite honey holes. She knows that specific deadstock warehouses and flea markets are more likely to unearth the best treasures. 
How We Puzzle Together Our Jewelry Designs - Buttonology Blog
Button hunting is Susan's superpower. She's been at it for three decades. She's endlessly passionate, tireless, and talented when it comes to finding beautiful antique buttons and vintage glass. Still, when looking for buttons, Susan remains a kid in a candy store with every unique find sparking a ridiculous amount of joy.

The jewelry pieces Susan covets most often come in colors and styles that were trendy between 1880 and 1960. So, we are more likely to resurrect bygone trends than to feature the Pantone color of the year.

We often feature colors like jade green, lapis blue, and brownish-red carnelian because these were in vogue with the art deco styles of the 1930s. We also often showcase soft colors like opalescent pink, pale green, and sky blue because these colors are the most common among the hand-pressed moonstone buttons and cabochons manufactured in Germany and Japan in the 1950s. Most of our designs also have at least one unique century-old brass, steel, or pewter antique button.

Once found, we assemble the antique buttons, vintage glass, and other unique elements on trays, sorted by color groups in complementary combinations. We lay the trays out on a large table in our design studio to inspire new ideas.

Then we determine what settings will fit best and begin searching for stampings and castings that suit the pieces we're working with. Inevitably we have one gorgeous glass cameo or opal in a bizarre size that no pre-made setting fits. So we'll have a setting custom manufactured.

How We Puzzle Together Our Jewelry Designs - Buttonology Blog

Over the years, Susan has hired several talented women to help her design and handcraft our jewelry. One of them, Corda Walker, has worked at Grandmother's Buttons for over twenty-five years. Corda and Susan work in tandem, pitching design ideas back and forth, adding tweaks until it is just right.

Corda and Susan are the primary designers, but everyone working in the studio contributes. Our designs really are family affair!

Read more about antique and vintage buttons and glass, their history and our collection on our Buttonology Blog.