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Making a mixed media necklace from piano ivories


When my husband began restoring an old player piano, I became interested in all of the hundreds of pieces that needed to be cleaned, repaired, and replaced. The old ivory keys especially caught my attention, particularly when I thought about the elephants that were destroyed to create these beautiful objects. Why is it that so often beauty and destruction, delight and tragedy are so closely intertwined?

The only ivory that it is currently legal to use in the United States is old recycled ivory or ancient fossilized ivory. The keys dangling from Andante are authentic ~ antique ivory that has been reclaimed and recycled from pianos that were otherwise destined for the junk heap. I chose the name Andante, a musical term, to signify the stately (and perhaps melancholy?) pace of the elephants that became part of the heritage of the piano.

The main strand of the necklace is strung white bamboo coral, carnelian, and agate, all of which have an earthy glow that complements the patina of the ivory. The central portion is wired links of horn, another organic material that blends nicely into the color palette. The keys were drilled, and then attached to the horn links by means of sterling silver wire work, using only hand tools. A selection of stone beads and Bali sterling silver beads that are wired to the ivory keys create continuity with the rest of the necklace.

64 inches 20 gauge SS half-hard wire
SS french wire, headpins, crimps, crimp covers, chain, cones, hook, and beads (see below)

44 carnelian, 6 mm rondelles
17 white bamboo coral, 8 mm rondelles
11 agate, 10 mm rounds
11 white bamboo coral, 10 mm rondelles
17 sterling silver, 3 mm rounds
23 Bali sterling silver, 6 mm daisy spacers
4 sterling silver drops, 9 mm
8 Bali sterling silver beads, assorted

Misc materials:
22 recycled antique ivory piano keys
5 horn rings, 25 mm
16 inches SoftFlex beading wire

Standard tools:
Wire cutters, round nose pliers, chain nose pliers, small file

Figure 1

Figure 2
1. Wire 5 horn rings together with headpins. Insert the headpins from the center of the rings outward through a small white bamboo coral bead and a small carnelian bead (figure 1). Make wrapped loops to hook all of them together (figure 2).

Figure 3

2. Crimp a piece of beading wire to each end, using French wire bullion to cover the wires, and crimp cover to hide the crimps. String a pleasing pattern of white bamboo coral, carnelian, agate, and Bali sterling silver beads to complete the strand (figure 3).

Figure 4

Figure 5

3. Crimp the free end of the beading wire to a 3 inch piece of 20 gauge sterling silver wire, looped at the bottom (figure 4). Pass the wire through a cone and a few beads, and make a wrapped loop around a hook on one end and a chain on the other. Add a beaded dangle to the free end of the chain (figure 5).

4. Drill small holes through the ends of 11 piano key tails and 11 piano key heads.

Figure 6

5. Using 20 gauge sterling silver wire, make large looped hooks to attach the long tails to the horn rings (figure 6).

6. Use more 20 gauge sterling silver wire to attach the shorter heads to the tails. Add beads randomly and creatively, looping and spiraling some of the wires for more variety.

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Copyright 2006 Cyndi Lavin. Not to be reprinted, resold, or redistributed for profit. May be printed out for personal use or distributed electronically provided that entire file, including this notice, remains intact.


Anonymous said…
We have always cherished the little bits of ivory...same thoughts as yours. These treasures should not just go to the dump and be "for naught"...poor elephants. I love what you did with yours, ours were primarily used to repair musical instruments and inlaid furniture. Andante is a beautiful piece with superb colors. Donna
Cyndi L said…
Thank you so much Donna! I'm thrilled to hear that there are others who enjoy reusing and recycling such precious materials :-)
Love the piano ivories!!! How unique and innovative=:)
Betzie said…
Thanks for the tutorial Cyndi! A new list of supplies for me to collect!!! LOL I'm afraid I have to put that one on the burner, but I appreciate you taking the time to share.
Glad you made it home safe and sound. You have very caring and kind children.
Cyndi L said…
Thanks Betzie! You know the way to a mother's heart...compliment her children LOL!! Thank you :-)