Handmade Jewelry Using Old Keys: Unlock Statement Style

handmade keys on an exhibition

Handmade Jewelry Using Old Keys: Unlock Statement Style


Antique keys contain a treasure trove of creative inspiration for making meaningful statement jewelry. With some clever repurposing, vintage keys, locks, and hardware transform into romantic pendants, edgy cuffs, and conversation-starting bib necklaces.

This guide covers innovative ways to give salvaged keys renewed purpose through handmade jewelry. Learn techniques like patinating, embellishing, framing, and showcasing old keyholes and teeth in unique wearable designs. Discover project ideas using skeleton keys, padlocks, and ornate antique keys for one-of-a-kind styles.

Benefits of Using Old Keys for Jewelry Making

Vintage keys offer many creative advantages:

  • Provide affordable inspiration salvaged from antiques, thrifts, and auctions
  • Allow very unique steampunk, industrial, Victorian, and gothic styles
  • Offer intricate details, patinas, and markings hard to replicate
  • Result in sentimental jewelry when incorporating family heirloom keys
  • Enable endless combinations mixing with chains, cameos, crystals, and watches
  • Make ideal substrates for added metalworking, enameling, and embellishing
  • Provide durable jewelry able to stand up to daily wear
  • Supply specialty shapes not found among common jewelry findings

Helpful Tools for Working with Old Keys

Useful tools for cutting, embedding, and enhancing keys:

  • Jeweler’s saw – Cuts notches, holes, and custom shapes into keys
  • Pin vise – Holds small drill bits, burrs, and saws steady
  • Dapping block – Gently domes flat key heads without marking
  • Riveting hammer – Joins stacked keys and washers when used with rivet backing plates
  • Disc cutter – Cleanly cuts key bow decor into smaller shapes
  • Ring clamp – Holds keys securely while smoothing edges with files
  • Needle files – Fit into small spaces to refine and smooth cut key teeth
  • Liver of sulfur – Creates beautiful darkened antique patinas on keys
  • Jewelry glue – Secures key elements together and onto backings durably

Must-Have Old Keys and Locks for Making Jewelry

Look for these desirable antique hardware pieces:

  • Skeleton keys – Iconic antique style with beautiful ornate bows
  • Victorian keys – Elaborately decorative heads and long serrated shafts
  • Ornate keys – Intricate patterns, filigrees, and molded details
  • Rusted old keys – Naturally developed aged patina over decades
  • Padlocks – Recognizable symbolic shape rendered in metal
  • Keyhole escutcheons – Circular decorative metal back plates behind keyholes
  • Keyhole surrounds – Ornate door plaques with spaces for keys, great for framing
  • Key blanks – Uncut blank keys take stamping and embellishing well
  • Key collections – Groups with visual cohesion like old cut skeleton keys

Techniques for Transforming Old Keys into Jewelry

Follow these methods for turning keys into wearable art:

  • Use patina solutions like liver of sulfur to accentuate engraved markings
  • Carefully cut keys into segments using a jeweler’s saw then rearrange parts
  • Remove key teeth with cutting pliers to create clean linear edges
  • Soften sharp key bits by filing into rounded curves for wear comfort
  • Embed intact small keys into resin pendants, charms, and focal beads
  • Frame key bows and keyholes using embellished bezels, filigree, and crystals
  • Oxidize and polish keys for two-tone antiqued effects
  • Etch and engrave blank key heads with designs, dates, names, etc.
  • Preserve key art by coating with clear enamel spray to prevent further tarnishing

Inspiring Jewelry Design Ideas Using Vintage Keys

Discover creative ways to give salvaged keys renewed life through jewelry:

  • Steampunk style necklaces featuring mini framed keys displayed along heavy chains
  • Key bow cufflinks elegantly framing ornate antique key ends behind glass crystals
  • Necklaces created from various whole skeleton keys joined together with hand etched name plaques
  • Earrings formed from engraved key blanks linked together into designs using jump rings
  • Rings with round key bows meticulously cut down into filigree frames surrounding photos
  • Key pendant necklaces wire wrapping elaborate bows onto hammered bronze discs
  • Charm bracelets with tiny brass skeleton keys and watch gears linked as charms
  • Dark patinated gate key and lock pendants symbolizing unlocking mysteries, secrets, or adventures
  • Whimsical chandelier earrings with little skeleton keys dangling from posts like charms
  • DIY engraved “key to my heart” pendants with key bows cut from family heirloom keys

Professional Jewelry Design Tips for Working With Old Keys

Apply these techniques for sophisticated repurposed key designs:

  • Hunt flea markets, antiques shops, garage sales, auctions, and Etsy for unique antique keys with lots of ornate filigree and patina
  • Arrange collections of all different sized keys together to create cohesive asymmetry
  • Photograph antique keys styled on wood and metal backgrounds evoking vintage trunks, doors, and key chests
  • Develop a signature look such as cutout filigree key silhouettes or framing keyholes in crystal
  • Combine ornate feminine keys with edgy industrial elements like bike chains, iron filings, and watch gears
  • Name pieces descriptively to aid online product search targeting terms like “antique skeleton key jewelry”
  • Create his/hers matching sets using padlocks and skeleton keys cut from the same vintage key set
  • Upcycle keys from defunct vintage suitcases, jewelry boxes, diaries, or trunks for added sentimental meaning


With some metalworking skill and vision, salvaged antique keys gain renewed purpose as remarkable wearable art treasures. Complex bows, teeth, and locking mechanisms become focal elements symbolic of unveiling secrets, mysteries, and new chapters.

Discover beauty in forgotten places ripe for upcycling. See castaway keys as future pendants and cuffs rather than unusable trash. Let your inner jeweler tinker by disassembling, modifying, and framing complicated antique locks and latches into one-of-a-kind art jewelry.

Give overlooked old skeleton keys and locks new life through handmade jewelry crafting. Make the obsolete relevant again by opening doors to alternative possibilities only limited by imagination.

%d bloggers like this: