Jewelry made from natural leaves will be as unique and beautiful as the leaves themselves. There are several options for preserving leaves, so you can use them to make necklaces, bracelets, earrings and more. The preservation technique you should use will depend on the look you want to create, and the kind of leaf you want to use.
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Types of Leaves
The type of leaf you want to make into jewelry will have an impact on which technique you choose. Tough leaves, like oak, eucalyptus, laurel, maple and magnolia are best when you want to emphasize the vein skeleton of the leaf. Some leaves will hold their shape and color better than others if you need to dry them out before preservation. It's best to experiment with a variety of different leaf types to see what works the best. If you are hoping for a realistic finish, pick leaves at the height of their color, whether that is summer green or warm fall colors. If you are intending to cover the leaf completely, look for undamaged, mature leaves.
There are a few different ways to dry leaves. The easiest method is to put the leaf between several layers of tissue and press it under a few heavy books. This can take a few weeks. You might also want to dry leaves using a flower press, which can be bought at a craft store. Leaves can also be dried in a food dehydrator. Some leaves will dry better than others and it's best to experiment ahead of time with drying the type of leaf you want to use. This is the cheapest, easiest way to preserve leaves, but they tend to lose their color and become too brittle to use in jewelry without further preservation.
Leaves can be preserved by picking them fresh and letting them sit in a glycerin preservative. This method can preserve leaves for years with their color and shape relatively intact, but the leaves may need to be coated in resin or wood hardener before they can be worn as jewelry. Glycerin can be expensive, but is usually available from craft stores or drug stores. Glycerin preservation can take a week or more, but is the best way to preserve the realistic colors and shapes of leaves.
Pure glycerin can be dangerous if it comes into contact with skin. It is not recommended that you use glycerin preserved leaves in jewelry without coating them with an additional barrier.
Leaves can be preserved and displayed in resin and this is an ideal method of protecting and displaying leaf skeletons. Resin can be used as a thick varnish-style coating, resulting in leaves which are still somewhat supple, but protected from the elements. It can also be poured directly into a mold, resulting in a clear shape with leaves embedded inside. Resin is expensive and takes some time to cure properly. There may also be a slight learning curve, especially when using it with molds. However, resin jewelry is lovely, very hard-wearing, and can display the leaf in a relatively natural state.
Leaves will need to be thoroughly dried or preserved with glycerin before being covered with resin, or they may start to rot inside the resin coating.
Gold leaf application can be used as an easy way of transforming real leaves into gilded leaves. Gold leaf (and other metallic leaf types) can be bought at most craft stores and will come with instructions on how to apply it. You will want to preserve the leaf by drying it or soaking it in glycerin first, then possibly use wood hardener or varnish to coat and seal the leaf, before adding the gold layer. The resulting piece will be fairly delicate and won't be able to withstand much friction. It will require some experimentation to determine which leaves will look best after this process.
Electroplating is a relatively simple process, but it can be dangerous and requires special equipment and materials. It is not recommended that it be done at home without extensive preparation and investment in safety equipment. Electroplating involves coating the leaf with graphite, before dipping it into a solution containing metal particles, which cling to the graphite and gradually stick to the leaf shape. This method results in a metal sculpture that preserves fine detail and it is used by many professional jewelers.
Making the Jewelry
Once your leaf or leaves are preserved, you can add findings to them with a strong jewelry adhesive. Another option is to put small, preserved leaves into a cabochon pendant base and coat it with resin or heavy varnish. Leaves preserved in resin or metal can be used as beads, or as a single focal point on a bracelet or necklace. Resin can also be poured into a loop shape to make a bangle. The options for using leaves in different types of jewelry are endless.