The term ‘steampunk’ was coined in 1987 by K.W. Jeter author of Morlock night, and was used to describe a genre of fantasy and exploratory fiction. This style is also heavily influenced by Victorian and Edwardian eras, a time of increased prosperity and creativity, as well as elaborate fashions. Long coats, top hats, bustles and frilly umbrellas were the fashion of the day coupled with ornate pocket watches, pendants and cameo brooches. Steampunk style has grown to incorporate such influences alongside the harder ‘mad max’ style futuristic industrial elements to create a unique look.
Designing and making steampunk style jewellery need not involve a lot of metal smiting expertise, but some basic jewellery making techniques are helpful to master to achieve the right look. Among these is getting to grips with wire work, specifically coiling, creating spirals and wrapping as these can be key looks involved in the style. Look out for coiling and spiralling gizmos as these can make these tasks much easier and quicker if you are looking to produce a number of items.
There are a number of different materials appropriate for making steampunk jewellery, and many are rooted in the ethos and background of the style. Chain is one of the key elements that you will find time and time again. During the Industrial Revolution the middle classes were able to afford pinchbeck (a golden copper/zinc alloy) and steel that was stamped, pressed and rolled into chains, hence the use of such items in steampunk jewellery.
Charms are also quite heavily used and were popularised by Queen Victoria. However much of the charms on offer today consist of watch parts, and found object, the latter of which can be cheap to obtain. However watch parts can more difficult to source, but take a look on Etsy for sellers with vintage watch movements and cogs. These items tend to be largely from US sellers, but look out for bulk buys as these can mean you get a better deal.
Glass can also be an affordable embellishment to add to your piece. The machine age saw a marked increase in the manufacture of glass and today you can easily pick up glass cabochons, beads or mirrors to adorn your jewellery. You can even make your own with the help of a glass fusing kit.
Cameos are another popular element, especially if you want to do something a little more along the lines of Victorian Gothic jewellery. These were very popular during the Victorian era and the wealthy collected shell or lava cameos while on vacation in Italy.
If you would like to incorporate gemstones and want to stay true to the era choose from; amethyst, opal, turquoise, agate, onyx, carnelian, amber, jade, garnet, ruby, jet, sapphire, peridot, and jasper as these were becoming increasingly available in the mid 19th Century as ships began to bring back gem stones to England as a result of the trade boost with Asia during this period.
The colours used in steampunk style jewellery are also important, and are kept muted and somewhat drab. This is due to the fact that there were no synthetic dyes around in the first half of the 19th Century. You many also want to consider this if you wish to make more Victorian Gothic /mourning style inspired pieces as a lady in mourning would only be allowed to wear black, gray shades or purple and occasionally burgundy or ruby. Combining lace chokers with chain detail can also add to the this look and create a very Gothic feel.