Steampunk is an imaginary alternate-reality, inspired by the Victorian Era and/or Wild West, though sometimes taking elements from Edwardian, WWI and other historical periods. There are related classifications such as deiselpunk, clockpunk, circuspunk, steamfunk, gaslight or gaslamp.
First applied to a sub-genre of fiction in the 1980s, steampunk now encompasses fashion, housewares, music, computer modifications, movies and a mashup of fiction genres including sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, horror and supernatural. The term may be retroactively applied to earlier works, such as the Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the 1960s TV show The Wild, Wild West, or H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
The “steam” in the term denotes an earlier stage of human innovation and technology. The “punk” is for the spirit of rebellion — whether it’s fictional characters rebelling against a tyrannical overlord, or real-life individuals rebelling against the boring, mass-produced clothing and merchandise of modern life.
For additional information, see the “Steampunk” wikipedia entry.
MY STEAMPUNK JEWELRY
I have a lifetime of jewelry-making experience and a lifelong love of Art Nouveau and the Victorian, Edwardian and Wild West periods. I spent much of my youth reading Michael Moorcock, grandfather of steampunk, or hanging out on the Main Street of Disneyland with its penny arcade, and at Calico Ghost Town in the Mojave Desert. By the age of 10, I’d built my own fortune teller and mechanical horse race contraptions out of cardboard, creating gears from toilet paper tubes. I love the movies Time Machine (1960), Something Wicked This Way Comes, Time After Time and Return to Oz.
I’ve been designing Victorian-inspired, Art Nouveau and found art jewelry for over a decade. But I didn’t hear the term “steampunk” until 2007. Sitting with a friend in an Irish pub, under a portrait of W.B. Yeats, we discussed my interest in what I called the “brass-and-copper, psuedo-Victorian, mechanistic, retro-sci-fi motifs.” I lamented that all my life I’d searched for some word to describe it. My friend said, “I know the word. It’s steampunk.”
At that time, a Google search of “steampunk jewelry” turned up Datamancer‘s work and not much else. I found nothing on Etsy. I’m not claiming to be the first person to make and sell “steampunk” jewelry. But I had to be one of the firsts to sell it online, based on my Internet searches at the time, the incredible response I received from buyers and potential buyers who demanded more, and the many makers who emailed me questions about how I created the jewelry and where I found the parts.
Jean Campbell eventually invited me to work on her book Steampunk Style Jewelry in 2008 (released in December 2009 with my projects on pages 50, 90 and 96). I’m also featured in 1000 Steampunk Creations. And now there’s a huge community of steampunk artists.
Lately, however, I’ve started calling my pieces “Neo-Victorian” or using other terms, because the word “steampunk” has taken on a life of it’s own. I love steampunk, but I am, and have always been, more interested in the art, history and literature of the actual Victorian, Civil War, Industrial Era, Art Nouveau, Belle Epoque and Wild West periods, rather than modern anime and the recent trend of fiction, costuming, music and lifestyle accessories.
I also create what I call “spacepunk” jewelry, inspired by science fiction such as Joss Whedon’s Firefly, “screampunk” jewelry with macabre elements, and “circuspunk” jewelry with carnival themes. Sometimes, I’m not sure where one style ends and another begins. My work is infused with both modern and vintage motifs, nature and machine, history and future.
HOW THEY ARE MADE
Each piece is an individual, serendipitous work of art. I am not making them from ceramic or art clay. I am assembling actual watch parts, ephemera, found objects, new and old broken jewelry, into wearable adornment. I am not a watchmaker, and I do not make working watches or mini-machines (as much as I wish I could), though some of my pieces do have movable parts. See pics of my studio here.
Here’s a tutorial I made for a really easy steampunk ring project. My original designs take a lot longer to make, and incorporate several more antique and found items, but this gives you a little idea of what it’s like when I make jewelry.
Some watch faces and hands were painted with radium in the early 1900’s, to make them glow in the dark. According to a thread I found at the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, another on eBay, and an Australian government website, the radium is not a problem so long as it’s not ingested. The Radium Girls, who suffered radiation poisoning while painting watches in the early 1900s, handled thousands of watch parts, licked their brushes to keep them in shape, and painted their teeth, nails and faces with radium paint, for fun.
In my Steampunk pieces, I rarely use watch faces or hands, and when I do, they are often coated with resin, which would keep the paint from flaking off and being accidentally ingested. Most of the time, I use gears, bridges and other internal parts, combined with new materials, and these parts have no known association with radioactivity. I have never noticed any of my materials glowing in the dark.
I do want to make it clear that, regardless of my precautions, I have no way to 100% guarantee the condition of any vintage, recycled or found parts, in regards to radioactivity, or to lead, nickel, aluminum or any other content. Steampunk, found art and jewelry items that contain vintage or recycled parts will be clearly described as such, in the item description.
THE CARE AND KEEPING OF YOUR STEAMPUNK JEWELRY
While my steampunk creations are meant to be worn, keep in mind that they are also individual works of art and should be handled with care. Some pieces have gears and parts which might be sharp and pointy, might catch on clothing, or might break off. I try to make them as solid as possible, but just like any jewelry, it’s best not to wear it while working, sleeping, exercising, showering, swimming, or other similar activities.