Paper jewelry

When you think of a piece of jewelry, you automatically think of gold, silver, coral, pearls, precious stones. Or maybe, in more common and daily situations, something that resembles these noble materials may come to mind. But have you ever thought of… paper?

Luisa Canovi

Something that lasts through time, something patiently manufactured through complex procedures by expert artisans, something that can be passed on as a sort of heirloom from one generation to the next: these are the usual thoughts associated with a piece of jewelry. Something precious and immutable in time are the features of a wedding ring, for example, or a king’s crown.

But the history of jewelry is very wide-ranging, and often men and women have built decorative emblems to embellish and decorate their bodies using what was readily available: leaves, pieces of bark and wood, seashells, pieces of rope, animal skins, rocks, stones, seeds, berries and, in more recent times, so-called poor metals, resins, plastic, recycled materials and even paper.

OF ALL MATERIALS, BOTH OLD AND NEW, PAPER IS SEEMINGLY THE STRANGEST WITH WHICH TO MAKE JEWELS. How can a fragile piece of paper turn into something strong and lasting that can be worn without breaking, that does not get dirty and is not ruined by water… in short, a veritable jewel?

Well, someone has tried to do this with surprising techniques and results.

QUILLED NECKLACES BY ANGELA SIMONE. Using the so-called quilling technique that consists in rolling small strips of paper to form cylinders or cones, Angela, a graphic artist, makes refined and light-weight necklaces that can be worn during the day and also for special evening occasions.

This technique is very simple and relatively quick, and allows to make paper pearls that are very different one from the other in aesthetic aspect, shape and color, spurring unlimited ideas for the creation of necklaces. To make the paper cylinder compact, a transparent vinyl glue is used that penetrates into the paper, gluing the spirals together, thus giving continuity to the piece of jewelry. Once the glue is dry, the paper roll is firm and impermeable. By working with thin onionskin paper or rice paper, very small compact pearls are obtained that are as resistant as stones. Using hand-made papers with the fibers exposed, the resulting pearls will seem silk-imbedded. With decorated or marbleized papers, the effect will be antique and charming; with corrugated cardboard, large, rough, strong and extremely light-weight pearls will result; with recycled papers, original necklaces in their contrast of materials and colors. The pearls thus obtained are ready to be set in any order preferred. To make these pearls, the paper is wound around a small stick so that inside each pearl a hole is left to facilitate the passage of a string; silk, cotton and wool strings or thin ropes keep the pearls together, forming one-of-a-kind necklaces. Often, other elements that go well with the type of paper used are also added: glass, ceramic and wooden pearls, and the chain closures can be metal plates or plates made in coated and decorated cardboard.


To the paper necklaces made with rolled pearls of paper, Rita – a paper arts lover – often combines the technique of papier-mâché to obtain other pearls or medallions and particular finishing décors. Papier-mâché involves the use of recycled and low-quality paper (newspaper, for example), which is left to macerate in lukewarm water and mashed into a paste. Some glue is added (flour or wallpaper glue) and the result is a paste that can be molded as easily as clay. The mixture is poured into moulds created especially for the purpose, or parts of children’s toys or kitchen utensils can be used (sand moulds or cookie cutters) and left to dry. A rough mould is the result, and it can be finished by delicately sculpturing it to obtain different effects and unique pieces even though they all come from the same mould. Coloring is done by applying colored pieces of hand-made paper which have been ripped and glued on the base mould. Ripping the pieces of paper allows them to remain in filaments and to better adhere together so that their points of junction are not visible and natural nuances can be obtained. The papier-mâché jewel is incredibly light-weight and solid at the same time, thus allowing to produce rather large objects while maintaining elegance and wearability.

COLORED PAPIER-MÂCHÉ PIECES BY PIERA NOCENTINI. Papier-mâché also in the layering technique is used in the jewels of Piera Nocentini, expert in paper art. If in regular papier-mâché the paper is left to macerate and reduced to a paste in order to be modeled, in the layering technique strips of paper are glued onto a cardboard core or around a piece of wire that has been shaped into the desired form. Newspaper or more prized paper can be used.

In the first case, the finishing is done through the use of brushed-on tempera colors; in the second it is the paper itself, with its natural fibers showing, that decorates the object. Papier-mâché, in every way similar to moldable sculpture techniques, allows to produce any object, from animal shapes to abstract forms. In particular, it is appropriate for creating imaginary elements and strange creatures where the bright colors highlight every small detail.

To strengthen and protect the jewels created, an ecological water-based paint is used. With these techniques, even bigger jewels can be made, while still keeping them light-weight and easy to wear.

THE CREATIONS OF CATERINA CREPAX. Even more light-weight are the creations by Caterina, architect and paper artist, who invents strange and charming jewels that seem to come from the world of fairy-tales. Using the most diverse types of paper, from recycled to ultra-refined types and oriental papers, Caterina makes precious bracelets, necklaces and other pieces of jewelry using tiny leaves or small seashells, spirals, hearts, tufts, small squares and thousands of small shapes that become important pieces of jewelry - the stuff dreams are made of.

THE “TWISTART” PAPER THREAD BY TIINA ARRANKOSKI. From Finland comes a special paper in the form of a tightly wound thread, colored and very resistant: the twistart paper thread. Tiina, a very creative paper artist, works with this thread to make flowers, decorative objects, weavings, carpets and even pieces of jewelry. Among the many techniques used to work with paper threads is the knots technique that allows to braid and knot many threads together to form thin ropes or highly resistant and compact strips. Simply making several knots on one single thread results in something that resembles a floral arborescence or a coral. The aesthetic aspect of the jewels made using the paper thread evokes spring freshness, summer fun but also the delicate winter frost. Despite their refined and fragile aspect, paper thread jewels are incredibly sturdy and resistant. Not even contact with water will effect their shape or the brightness of their colors.


From Japan comes the technique of origami, the folding of paper to obtain different shapes. From the USA, information technologist by profession, Mark makes origami jewels by folding colored pieces of paper into the forms that he prefers: animals like fish, birds, insects, dragons, or masks, stars, geometric shapes. The origami models are built starting from a piece of paper, usually in the form of a square, and then folding it several times until the original form turns into the desired shape. Lots of shapes exist in Japanese tradition, but many more are created by new masters in this field, and Mark draws from these modern artists to create his new jewels.

The chosen shape is accurately folded using the most appropriate paper, often combining it with a light piece of aluminum paper that strengthens it and allows easier molding of the final shape. When the folding is finished, the resulting figure must be made stiff and impermeable. In origami, different from the techniques of quilling or papier-mâché, glue is not used, so some type of final finishing is necessary. Instead of using simple glue that would certainly make the origami more sturdy but would make the color less luminous, a glass-like paint is used to vetrify the work. The origami is immersed in this paint and left to dry. The resulting piece looks as if covered by a thin layer of transparent gloss that makes it strong and smooth to the touch.

MICRO-ORIGAMI BY WANDA BATTAGLIA. Different origami jewels are those by Wanda Battaglia, who alternates between her work as a nurse and her activity as creator of jewelry, choosing very small geometric shapes or flowers for her creations. Tiny pieces of origami paper are transformed into microscopic roses, stars and toy windmills to create necklaces, earrings and pins.

In this case, very thin paper is used, often metallized or luminescent or with color nuances. Once the object is finished, no vetrifying treatment is applied because their very small size makes the pieces strong and compact without the use of glues or varnishes. What is needed are small instruments to aid the work of the hands, surgeon’s pliers, needles and the like to get into the folds of the paper where the hands cannot reach.

Paper jewels in the most unique shapes and using the most different techniques having just one thing in common: the use of paper. •

Login or Register to publish a comment