Jul 4, 2011

Restoring Vintage Jewelry : Art Deco Earrings

Some jewelry hasn't led the best life.  Some jewelry has lived a little too much.  Take these earrings, for example...
Yuck! Vintage 1930s-40s Earrings with yellowed and gunky rhinestones and pearls...

I love restoring pieces that have fallen victim to the relentlessness of time.  Sometimes I imagine I'm a museum restoration artist who is cleaning and restoring a famous work of art.  Or a paleontologist carefully unearthing a tidbit of bone with a toothbrush.  I'll be honest, the work I'm about to show you is kind of tedious so you may also want to employ your own methods and imagination to get through it. 

So let's get to work... 
You will need:
A good supply of rhinestones in different sizes (I uses MrStones.com, but there are other sellers of rhinestones as well)
Exacto knife or pin or tool with a sharp point
Acetone (nail polish remover)
Multiple sizes of faux pearls (also available on MrStones.com)
GS-Hypo Cement 

First step is to have all your tools and supplies handy.  Protect your work surface with paper towels or a bead mat.  Acetone will kill the surface of your coffee or kitchen table and probably some brain cells.  So consider working in a ventilated area.

Remove faux pearls
Start by removing the faux pearls.  Occasionally, you can set these aside for re-use.  But as you can see, these are gross and need to be replaced.  You can use a needle or exact-o to pop them out of their settings. Be really careful not to damage the metal setting.  Some base metals are soft and can get dinged up easily.  You also don't want to damage the metal plating.

Use a Q-tip soaked in acetone to clean the setting and remove old rhinestones
This part takes some very gentle elbow grease.  As you can see, this setting is pretty gunky.  Use a q-tip soaked in acetone to start scrubbing away at the stones and settings.  Remove the old glue from the pearl cups.  The acetone will start to remove the old glue, gunk and eventually the rhinestones will come loose.  Use  the exact-o or pin to gently lift the stones away from the settings.  Again, being careful not to mess up the metal.  I go through lots of q-tips in this process.  I have also found acetone is awesome at removing light or gunky verdigris from settings!!  So scrub away. 

Earring is clean!  I had to remove the clips to clean the gunk off the backs!
So now the setting is completely cleaned.  Stones all removed (don't throw these away just yet.)
I removed the clips to really clean the backs of the earrings with a Q-tip and acetone. Gunk be gone!!!

Using a micrometer to find the accurate size of rhinestones needed
I hope you didn't toss those stones yet.  I use my digital micrometer to measure the old stones.  So for these earrings I need 1.7mm and 1.5mm clear rhinestones.  You can also use a micrometer to gauge the pearls as well.  I just eyeballed it.  I'm just that good.

***TIP: I do a lot of art deco pieces with tiny clear pave set stones.  So I always have LOTS of these sized stones on hand: 1.0mm, 1.2mm, 1.4mm, 1.5mm 1.7mm, 2.0mm, 2.2mm, 2.5mm.  These seem to be the most used sizes for Art Deco era pieces.

Tiny rhinestones in various sizes 
After determining the size and quantity you need for the piece, it's time to start gluing them in.  This tests patience and small motor skills. I use tweezers with a rounded tip to pick up the small stones and set them in place.  One trick is to try and pick up the stones with the faceted sparkly side up.  This makes it easier to position without having it flip upside down in the tiny setting.  GS Hypo Cement has a micro tip applicator so do your best to aim for the little rhinestone cups in the setting and minimize getting glue all over the metal!

I couldn't glue and take a picture at the same time. Guess I'm not that good.

Cleaned. All new stones. Already look much better!
Now I just need to replace the pearls.  I have some new ones in the correct size and color on hand. I use the GS Hypo Cement for this task as well.  Make sure they are firmly seated in the cups. 

Fully restored and ready to wear!
Clean and sparkly on the backs!

The before and after...


  1. Thanks for the tips... :-)

  2. I thought I was good at restoring, but you sure are an expert!

  3. You are an expert at this! Thanks for showing the details.

  4. WOW! What a difference and what a fabulous job! You can't tell and these beauties have gained many more years of life. I've never used a digital micrometer...what a great tool. Thanks for the tips!

  5. I bow to anyone who can get those tiniest of rhinestones in place.

  6. Lexi,
    What an amazing job, and such wonderful tips. These beauties deserve to be saved, and you did an absolutely beautiful job.

  7. lexi, i am in awe! great post!!!!

  8. Just genius Lexi! Thanks for sharing your skills with us!

  9. Thanks for the wonderful tips!!

    I Love Making Tutus

  10. Wow! You did a beautiful job. This is perfect because I just bought some vintage earrings with missing rhinestones.

  11. Thanks for all the feedback guys! I have more DIY articles to come on restoring vintage pieces, including rhinestone chains and brooch pin backs :)