Art by Lital Mendel Art by Lital Mendel Jewelry and art created by paper. (Photo: Lital Mendel)

Forget gold and silver – how about paper jewelry?

Necklaces, rings and bracelets made from paper are unusual – and biodegradable – fashion statements.

Paper jewelry can seem like an oxymoron to anyone who is used to the idea of jewelry as heirlooms made to last a lifetime – or longer. But paper can be an interesting and beautiful way to accessorize precisely because it is so different from heavier materials like gold or silver. 

Its most obvious point of difference is weight: paper is extremely light compared to the metals that typical jewelry is made from. That means paper-jewelry artists can make larger, more complex, more detailed pieces that would be too heavy to wear if they were made from metals. And, huge bonus for artists looking to experiment: the raw materials for paper jewelry are easy to come by, inexpensive and biodegradable. If the jewelry artist messes up a paper piece, he or she can easily recycle it and start over with little fuss or mess.

Art by Lital MendelMaking flowers out of paper can be very versatile. (Photo: Lital Mendel)

Paper is also an extremely adaptable material. Israeli jewelry designer Lital Mendel explains her love of working with paper: "I like ... how approachable, versatile, varied and easy to manipulate paper is. You can bend it, cut it, fold it, print on it, crumple it and many more techniques."

And all that manipulation is much easier to do with paper than with metals. "As a raw material, it comes in many forms, shapes, textures and colors. I love the idea of taking an almost 1-dimensional material and turning it into a 3-dimensional object," said Mendel. 

Many paper-jewelry designs are based in the Japanese art of paper folding known as origami. In a lovely combination of form and function, folds can lend both style and strength to paper, helping it to hold its shape over time. Overall, "paper jewelry is stronger than it looks," said Mendel. 

Though moisture is always a concern with this type of accessory, if you want it keep it in good shape, you just need to take precautions. Don't wear it in the shower or the pool, and maybe tuck it away if there's a downpour. 

Art by Lital MendelPaper jewelry is stronger than it looks. (Photo: Lital Mendel) 

At the end of the day, embracing paper's ephemerality is part of the process of enjoying it. "Part of my fascination with paper is how temporary it is and the connotations it evokes. I experiment with the fragility of the paper by sometimes burning it, squashing it, ripping it, etc. For me, paper is a material that is bound to eventually perish," said Mendel.

If you want to experiment with making your own paper jewelry, you don't really need much in the way of materials. "There is a use for almost every kind of paper and there is not one particular type of paper fit for making jewelry. It depends on the concept and the appearance. The type of paper affects the objects' layering, transparency, texture and many other properties," Mendel said.

So look around your house and you'll probably find brightly colored tissue paper, thicker card stock from postcards or business cards, printed paper (it could be fun to play with words on a piece of jewelry), newsprint, and much more. You can find step-by-step tutorial videos, like the one below, online. Get inspired by browsing sites from Martha Stewart to Better Homes and Gardens – then unleash your inner artist and enjoy creating your own whimsical accessories.

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