Breaking dishes, on purpose! (Part 1)

Some of the first jewelry I made and sold was “broken china” jewelry, where I would cut up pieces of vintage china, grind them smooth and then set them in sterling silver. At one point I was wholesaling to a few stores, and did pretty well with it. Then silver went through the roof, and I stopped making it.

Now silver is (somewhat) reasonable again, and at the last show I sold my last two pieces. Time to make some more!

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Most of my stuff comes from yard sale and flea market finds, and occasionally eBay. One of my customers recently ordered a bracelet and a couple of pendants, and she sent me the plates. Generally speaking, bread/salad plates work the best, and the best china is the old transferware from the 30s and 40s. Porcelain china is Right Out – it’s hard as hell to cut, and chips badly.

I have little metal shape templates, and I use a fine point Sharpie to mark spots for earrings, pendants and bracelet pieces. I like to think that one of the things that sets me apart from other artists who do broken china is that I am choosy in my marking – some people just cut up the china willy-nilly and don’t pay attention to the pattern. Downside of being picky is that I won’t get as many pieces per plate, but I’d rather have fewer, well-compositioned pieces.

So in the picture above, you see the markings for some pieces I hope to get.

I say “hope”, because the china does not always cooperate:

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The pendant pieces on this saucer kept breaking the wrong way EVERY DAMN TIME. I ended up ditching all of these because I want to at least offer earrings and pendants in a pattern, and I was only able to successfully cut two pair of earrings.

How do I cut the china, you ask? (If you didn’t ask I’m going to pretend that you did.) I use a pair of tile nippers, the kind you get at the hardware store. Years of practice has taught me which side to use when, and to only mark a few pieces until I get the plate broken into several large pieces. Then it’s mark and nip, mark and nip, curse when it breaks the wrong way, re-mark in a different shape, and so on.


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This is about seven hours’ worth of work, between all the marking and cutting. You can see that I’m able to get pretty darn close to the Sharpie line; I’ve learned that the closer I can nip, the less grinding I have to do later. The blue pieces were from a bread plate and a small dish, the chintz came from a dinner plate, and the red was from a bowl and a bread plate. The green to the far right came from my customer, and was a bread plate. I like to work in batch mode like this, it is more productive and lets me spread the cost of my labor over many pieces.

So, now these are cut, but before I can do the silverwork I need to grind them smooth and to final size. But that will be for the next post, because boy, my hand is sore!


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