Compass Rose Design Jewelry

Celebrating the Post Office

In a world of instantaneous modern correspondence, I think we've forgotten the value of the post. These lines of communication - kept open by letter carriers on foot, horse and later train, plane and automobile - were started in colonial America as far back as 1692. The original logo shows a letter carrier on horseback, doubtless delivering something of vital importance!


The US Mail traces it's roots back to the Second Continental Congress with Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin. The first postage stamps, which was not introduced until 1847 featured Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.


The invention of parcel post brought a world of goods and services to rural America, making way for the mail order business. In 1914, after 4 year old Charlotte May Pierstorff was mailed from her parents to her grandparents in Idaho, mailing of persons was prohibited. While the train fare was the equivalent of a day's pay, the postal rate for a 49 pound parcel was 53 cents. The box was labeled as a baby chick, though the wee girl just rode with the box in the mail car and was delivered by hand to her grandparents home by letter carrier Leonard Mochel. You can read more about her story in the 1997 children's book, Mailing May. Please note, the photo below is NOT of May and Mr. Mochel, but isn't it perfect!
I love our postman. We send and receive packages all the time - usually tiny ones. Our post man is a big part of my life. His name is Jerry. My desk faces the street over the front garden and I see the comings and goings of the neighborhood. I noticed when he was gone. First, for a few days, then it stretched into weeks. Johnny and I have become attuned to the hum of the post man's jeep coming down the street. Weeks passed. Then one day, Johnny called me to let me know he'd spotted Jerry coming down the street. I grabbed the baby and ran out to the street and basically flung myself into his arms. Turns out he'd been terribly ill and hospitalized for a month. I joked with Jerry that I needed him to tell me when he retired. "Retire?" he exclaimed, "I've got 17 years left until my 50 year pin and I want to see your kid graduate high school."  These types of community connections can make the world feel like an intimate and knowable place. 
Check out designs made with historic vintage post office buttons:
Cuff Links:
Tie Clip:
vintage post office button tie clip
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Written by L.C. Van Houten — April 10, 2016

The Wunderkammer

Have you heard of a Wunderkammer? A Cabinet of Curiosities? These delightful and quirky collections have their roots in the 17th century. In 1611, an English naturalist and head gardener to the 1st Earl of Salisbury, John Tradescant, was sent to the low countries to collect fruit tree specimens. In 1618, he travelled to the Nikolo-Korelsky Monestary in Arctic Russia, and to the Algiers and the Levant in the 1620s, returning to the Low Countries - this time on behalf of the Duke of Bukingham. He passed through Paris, went to the Île de Ré off the coast of France. Upon his return to England, we has hired as the Keeper of his Majesty's Gardens, Vines and Silkworms at the queens palace in Surrey in 1630.  

On all of his excursions, Tradescant collected natural specimens and curiosities of all sorts, which he housed in an "Ark" in London. He also accumulated objects from the new world through his friend John Smith, explorer and leader of the Virginia Colony. His collection of strange artifacts became the first museum open to the public in England, known was the Musaeum Tradescantianum, and the archetype for the Cabinet of Curiosities. Another famous collection, that of Danish physician and antiquary, Ole Worm, is shown below. 

Another great collector was John Bargrave, who traveled between 1646 and 1660 throughout the European continent - mostly in France, Rome and Naples. collecting oddities and knick knacks. Here is a fantastic illustration from his travel diary. He was later made a canon of Canterbury, and his collection is now on display at the Canterbury Cathedral. There's a fantastic explorable cabinet where you can see his preserved chameleon and a monk's finger!

Part of what is so interesting about this historical moment when obscure collections blossomed throughout Europe - is that these encyclopedic collections of natural and ethnographic objects where still in the process of being categorized and understood as scientific exploration and definition blossomed in Renaissance Europe. Cabinets of curiosities, also known as wonder-rooms, Wunderkammers, kunstkabinett, included objects from natural history, archaeology, religious relics, geology, ethnography and antiques. Collectors particularly loved objects that defied categorization like Dodo birds - birds that didn't fly - or curious medical objects created by new fields of scientific study and classification. Below is the 18th century, Domenico Remps,' Art chamber closet.


The main ingredients of the perfect collection where those which would showcase (literally) the collector's education and learning. Collectors sought to have objects in the following categories: naturalia (products of the natural world), arteficialia (the products of man), scientifica (instruments and objects of the sciences, such as astrolabes, clocks, automatons, and scientific instruments), exotica (collected from distant lands and cultures) and antiquities. Below is Jan Breughels, Sense of Sight, one of his Five Senses paintings, situated in a Cabinet of Curiosities.

Perhaps what is most wonderful, is that these collections are necessarily precious or expensive - they are full of sentiment and history. Curiosities collected on journeys that invoke memories of travel, experiences of the far away smells and tastes of different lands. They are a rather magical expression of human inquisitiveness and our ability to take pleasure in small things and celebrate the stories they tell. 

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Check out our some of our artifacts and keepsakes necklaces:

the Antiquity Collection

Vintage Medals/ Charms


Written by L.C. Van Houten — March 30, 2016

San Francisco Worlds Fair - 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition

The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and served as a showcase for San Francisco's recovery from the 1906 earthquake and its emergence as a global city. The fair was built on a 635 acre stretch of land that we now know as the Marina.

The Palace of Fine Arts, past home of the Exploratorium, is the only remaining building complex. 

On display at the fair was the first steam engine purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Tower of Jewels was covered with 100,000 cut glass gems known as novagems, lit by spotlights at night with stunning effect.

We've collected several souvenir medallions and watch fobs from the PPIE - including this 1915 keepsake welcoming the world to San Francisco.

1915 pan pacific exposition vintage medal necklace


See our entire Worlds Fair Collection 

Written by L.C. Van Houten — June 06, 2015

Valentine's Day Sale

Need something for your Valentine? Save 15% on your order through 2/5 with code: SWEETHEART

 We have a beautiful selection of scarlet red Czech glass button necklaces in the Valentines Day Collection

vintage czech glass button necklace in scarlet red

Your guy will love our typewriter XO cuff links - made with genuine vintage typewriter keys.

Valentines Day vintage XO typewriter cuff links


Written by L.C. Van Houten — January 24, 2015

Holiday Sale!

Save 20% in our online shop through Tuesday 12/1 with code: SHOPSMALL

Written by L.C. Van Houten — November 30, 2015

Reviving History through Wearable Art

Cultivating future Makers at the Maker Faire with DIY Wearable Art!

We're now in our fourth year of doing Maker Faire! We've set up shop at the Maker Faire Central,  East Bay Mini Maker Fair and San Diego Maker Faire. The Maker Faire (project of MAKE Magazine) is continuing to grow and capture some of our favorite cultural trends - especially supporting curiosity in young makers. You'll find hardcore Silicon Valley scientists and engineers, burning man folks, lego aficionados, renaissance fair and cos play fans in full attire, educators and and their kids. Everyone is making things. Taking things apart. Problem-solving. Cooperating. Innovating. Reinventing. 

Our specialty is engaging with history and making by transforming daily artifacts into wearable art. Johnny and I always bring our history-laden jewelry and a BUNCH of maker kits to encourage the next generation of makers. Both Johnny and I started making and disassembling as young people and encouraging kids to MAKE things has become increasingly significant to us. We did not expect to become full time-makers. Both Johnny and I have had an inquiry of "is it ok to be a maker?" Our parents hoped we would have jobs where we wore suits, and we have ended up running a small business recycling tiny antique objects into jewelry. We use our hands and our brains to do soldering and marketing and have found ways to work hard and have a balanced life. As we've realized that the answer is an emphatic YES, we want to encourage young people to cultivate their own skills. You never know where your skills will lead you!

For the last two years, we've added a free hands-on activity:
DIY Historical paper necklaces!

We have a treasure trove of old paper, French encyclopedias, vintage maps, antique photos, and colors and patterns of all sorts. Everyone selects and punches their paper, makes a collage, and sets it in a pendant under a glass magnifying lens in a free silver pendant. It's been a HUGE hit!


As always, the Steampunk Supplies kits are inspiring lots of projects! Our favorite was a father-son steampunk costume. They had been working on it as a collaboration for two years and were ecstatic to find the last pieces they needed before their Halloween debut. 

We love watching what people make as different imaginations and ideas result in a myriad of cool projects made from upcycled objects. 

Several weeks after the East Bay Maker Faire, we sent a collection of watches and buttons and historical tidbits to Johnny's sister and her first grade class. They were studying "The Past" so we sent some basic daily objects from the Victorian era that would help them understand how technology and daily life change.

Apparently, it was very popular. We realized that encouraging young people to have the confidence to make, to see things in a different way, and to engage with history - is important. Understanding the past is important as well. 

Thank you Maker Faire community!

Written by L.C. Van Houten — February 13, 2016

Custom Project 31 - Shoe Buckle, Bracelet, Broken Watch, Key

We finished up some custom work for one of our regular customers that was one of my favorite projects so far! This project was a classic case of transforming things languishing in a drawer into wearable, usable heirloom designs to be worn and enjoyed!


The customer wanted to add the watch to the bracelet and to come out with a few pieces to share with her daughter. I found a similar watch with crystal embellishment and added the extra bracelet gemstone as an accent to make a complete set. For the shoe buckle, I added two matching vintage watch bands and the effect is stunning.

The key was a simple celebration of U of M - an old key kept for years transformed into something wearable. Industrial but elegant.

So happy with the results!!

Do you have a family treasure you'd like to make wearable?

Contact us about custom projects!

or Shop Now!

Written by L.C. Van Houten — May 04, 2015

Summer Limeade with mint

This is my favorite summer refresher to make with my nephews. Nothing beats fresh cool citrus with a touch of mint! While waiting for more of the lemons to ripen in the backyard, I used limes and it was delightful! Also goes well with sparkling water and can easily be made into a cocktail!

Summer Lemonade or Limeade with Mint
(makes about six servings)

5 lemons or limes, juiced
4 - 5 tablespoons sugar  
2 cups mint leaves, densely packed
1 quart (4 cups) water
A few extra lime slices and mint leaves, for garnish
1.     Put all ingredients, except for the water, in a pitcher or large Mason jar.
2.     Muddle the sugar, mint and lime juice together until the mint leaves have been reduced by half and the sugar has blended well with the lime juice.
3.     Add the water.
4.     Taste, and adjust ingredients as needed, adding more lime or more sugar or more water to taste.
5.     Let the mixture cool in the fridge for at least an hour.
6.     Strain the mint leaves out.
7.     Pour into glasses of ice and enjoy!

Written by L.C. Van Houten — May 01, 2013

DIY Vintage Watch Photo Locket Bracelets

Learn how to make vintage photo locket bracelets with old wrist watches and your favorite antique photos. I love old photos - they offer passage to a past world and a view into a moment frozen in time. Look at the small details - the shoes, the hands, the detailing on the dresses for clues into the daily lives of the sitter.  Making a vintage photo locket bracelet takes just a few materials is a wonderful way to make a memorable keepsake or a vintage fashion accessory.


But here's the thing. I'm not using these photos in my bracelet project - they're too historical and valuable and I just can't bring myself cut them up! There is also a practical reason, that cutting the photo to fit the watch case is not always an exact science, and it would be rather tragic to cut the photo and not be able to use it. It's also really special to use photos of family members for remembrance - I made one with my grandmothers engagement photo that I was able to resize from an 8x10 to a keepsake bracelet. 

Simple solution: use printouts! Simply scan and print the photos you want to use. 300 dpi works well and I do mine in the original color to preserve the sepia, rather than using straight black and white. You also have the advantage of adjusting size with a basic photo editor. Measure the watch case and make sure your photos are the right size - with the central image usually about .75-1 wide and tall. 

Before cutting, I trace the watch case as a guide then cut the shape slightly inside the line. Just prior to inserting the photo, I add a dab or tacky glue or glue stick to help the photo stay put. Then gently insert the photo - it's ok if the edges of the paper bend a tiny bit on the way in. Use your fingernail or a clean pencil eraser to press the edges flat and then snap the case closed. 


Written by L.C. Van Houten — February 16, 2015

Custom Project 29 - Upcycling Mom's broken watches

We were recently approached by one of our regular customers who had a plastic sandwich bag full of broken jewelry from her mother, including several lovely but broken watches and some other pieces. Her mother was still alive and she was looking to make custom projects for three generations in the family, grandmother, herself and her college-aged daughter. 


She remembered her mom wearing these timepieces, but none of them worked. We added two more movements to make a lovely watch bracelet, still one of my favorite designs.

One of the watches (not shown above) had lovely crystal inlay design. Even though some of the crystals were missing, it was full of sentiment. I added a coordinating Victorian button to make an eye-catching bracelet. She loved it!

The last piece in the set started as a fairly worn watch, not even of particularly high quality, but a family keepsake. We transformed this from a broken watch with a torn leather band, into an elegant gold and navy blue crystal set for her daughter.

The final product with matching earrings. 

Do you have a family treasure you'd like to make wearable?

Contact us about custom projects!

or Shop Now!

Written by L.C. Van Houten — January 28, 2015