HISTORICAL FRAGMENTS OF BEAUTY

Find out how artist Liam Hughes transforms bygones of yesterday into jewelry for today.

HEROaesthetic
Unique lampwork beads and special gemstones have often been the source of inspiration for fabulous beadwork. But it's nostalgic focals that really set a piece of jewelry apart from all the rest. Artist and historian Liam Hughes prides himself on turning historical (and even your personal) treasures into beloved jewelry to pass down through generations.

Liam’s work begins with damaged china from around the world. “It all begins with the hunt for broken dishes, which I am undertaking no matter where I go,” he says.

annestown
Liam collecting china on the beach near Annestown, County Waterford, Ireland.

He splits his time between his jewelry studio in Michigan and his guesthouse in Ireland, collecting plates, cups, saucers, and bowls from everywhere in between. Liam adds, “I can typically be found wandering around antiques shops or secondhand stores. But I’m also known to collect shipwrecked china that washes up on the beaches of Ireland.”

belleek

Pendant crafted from a piece of broken Irish Belleek.

Most of Liam’s antique pieces are recovered in Ireland because they’re easier to find there. He explains, “In the United States, people think anything that's been around more than 50 years is a long time; in Europe, they consider it just an old plate or cup unless it's several hundred years old.”

japanese

Pendant crafted from broken, hand-painted, Japanese, Nippon plate.

He began producing jewelry merely as an experiment, but it quickly grew into his passion. And when his efforts were well received, that’s when he says, “Liam Shard Jewelry was born.”

crane3

A finished shard with its originating plate. 

Liam creates every piece himself with assistance from his partner, Corey. He most popularly designs pins and pendants. He shares that, “Despite what people think, breaking the dishes takes a little more effort than dropping them on the floor.” He breaks most antique pieces with an old-fashioned glass scorer and a pair of running pliers. “I then use ‘nibbling’ pliers to shape the pieces into a desirable design,” he says. From there, he uses a lapidary grinder to further shape and thin the pieces out. 

carnivalglass

Pendant crafted from a shard of Midville Artglass Plate. Recovered in Wichita Kansas, and combined with fire-polished, metal-faceted, and sterling silver beads. 

Gorgeous metalwork encasing is really what makes Liam’s pieces shine. He casually mentions, “I employ a method developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.” The bezels are constructed in a molten state and then decorations are gradually added. After multiple cleaning-and-polishing sessions, Liam adds a pinback or jump ring. He says, “The end result is a strong piece that easily cleans up with soap and water (after all, it is an old dish) and a silver polishing cloth.” 

goldblack

This 24k gold-plated pin/pendant is crafted from a broken, early 1900s, Cambridge glass, English plate.

In 2018, Liam and Corey took to studying and employing the art of electroplating with 24k gold. Liam explains, “Electroplating requires special chemicals and equipment, but the result on my shard jewelry is well worth it!”

Goldplatedgrasshopper

Vintage glass, gold-plated grasshopper button.

He mentions that he’s branching out in another way, too – “I'm trying my hand at working with vintage, glass buttons now.” He has to be extra cautious when encasing the buttons because they crack more easily from the extreme heat. He notes, “I'm particularly fond of the one with the image of a grasshopper. It's a stunner.”

readthehistory

Liam’s display reminds customers to slow down and appreciate the history. 

The history of the china and buttons is just as important to Liam, “Using my library of reference material and the internet, I research the history of each item which I include with every finished piece of jewelry.” 

hephurn

A necklace crafted from a hand-painted Majolicaware plate that once belonged to Katharine Hepburn.

He even plays a special role in keeping family history alive through commissioned pieces. People from around the world send Liam dishes for one-of-a-kind orders to keep their family stories thriving. “Some of my favorite commission orders are: Grandpa’s broken ‘fudge plate,’ a bride’s china pattern, and a fragment that was found while digging a pet’s grave,” he says. 

peopleatshow1

Shoppers enjoying Liam’s fine work at the Celtic Christmas Boutique in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

Liam showcases his work at fine-art craft shows around the United States and even hosts private, in-home events. 

liamhalfdoor2

Artist Liam Hughes at his guesthouse in County Tipperary, Ireland.

Check out this video of some of Liam’s process here. To find out more information about his art and events, click here.

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