My shard jewelry finds its roots in the folk art known as Pique Assiette, French for “stolen from the plate.” The art form was first recognized in Africa where family-specific pottery vessels were used to mark graves. Later, the Victorians placed broken china on jars and vases to make memory jugs. Today, broken china continues to be recycled into tabletops, picture frames and a variety of other items…all forms of Pique Assiette.
Liam Hughes – Artist/Designer
I began producing shard (chard) jewelry as an experiment to recycle damaged antique china in 2002. My efforts were well-received and Liam Shard Jewelry as born. Over the years I have mastered my craft and have expanded my collection to include pins, pendants, bracelets, drawer pulls, and wine stoppers, yet still manage to create each piece myself. I showcase my work at select craft shows, private home showings, and in my online store.
I was born in the town of Ishpeming in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (home of the Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, and the U.S. Hall of Fame). I studied art history and music at the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Belmont, California, and later received my Bachelor in Arts from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Today I split my time between my jewelry studio in Michigan, my guesthouse in Ireland (www.knockahopple.com), and fine art and craft shows around the United States.
I also co-host the Irish Fireside Podcast & Blog at www.IrishFireside.com and have recorded a CD of Jazz and American Standards.
The Steps in Creating My Shard Jewelry
The Hunt for Materials
I spend many hours looking for just the right pieces of china for my jewelry. Some of my sources are closely guarded secrets, but for the most part, I search antique stores, rummage sales, resale shops, the occasional dumpster, riverbeds (yes, riverbeds) and anywhere else someone might try unloading damaged china.
The next step is assessing the name, age and value of each plate, dish, and saucer. Often naming the piece is as easy as flipping over the plate and reading the markings; other times I am left linking it to other known sources or leaving it “unknown.” When it comes to age, most china can be estimated to a specific decade and every effort is made to be as accurate as possible. If an antique plate still has value despite its damage, I do not turn it into jewelry. I will either resell the plate “as is” or add it to my ever-growing collection of “only slightly damaged” dishes.
I use a variety of methods for breaking china. Although they are terribly inefficient, my favorites include the drop technique and the hammer technique. Both allow the plate to break as it pleases and sticks to the folk art nature of the craft. For more precise breaking, I score the china using a glass cutter and hope for the best. I then use a pair of nibblers to “nibble” away any excess china and use a water grinder to smooth out the edges.
For the metalwork, I have chosen a copper foil method that was perfected by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The lead-free silver alloy I use provides a rustic brilliance to the piece that pays homage to the history of the piece as well as its contemporary second life as jewelry. The metal may generate a mild patina over time, yet that patina can be easily removed using a standard polishing cloth.
Cleaning & Polishing
Once I get a piece just the way I like, it must then be cleaned and polished to remove impurities and assure a lasting shine.
Carding & Labeling
The job is not complete until each piece is carded for display and labeled. I include as much information as possible, so its new owner can appreciate the history as well as the beauty of the piece.