Lori Rosenberger is an antique hunter. Along with other avid collectors, she rifles through the shelves and tables of antique shops and flea markets looking for precious china plates, cups and saucers.
But Rosenberger won't be using her purchases on the family dinner table.
"I look for things that are broken, chipped or glued," she said. "I want china too cracked to eat off of."
Since August 2006 when Rosenberger started her business, Cracked Up Jewelry, the Clearwater mom of two teenage sons has been smashing up already damaged china and converting the fragments to bracelets, pendants, earrings and hair ornaments, all encircled by lead-free solder rims resembling sterling silver.
"I like the history of antiques," said Rosenberger, who researches what she finds. "Some of my pieces date back to the 18th century."
Using small antique windows, the artist's husband, Joe Rosenberger, created display boxes to hold the jewelry items, many in the floral patterns commonly found on china a century or more ago. He accompanies his wife to shows most weekends and even several times a year to Georgia.
The unusual jewelry business evolved unexpectedly, Lori Rosenberger said.
She had been collecting favorite patterns of old china for more than 20 years when she decided to turn some of the broken pieces into jewelry for herself. Friends suggested she try selling it.
Rosenberger liked the idea and a flurry of work soon began in her garage and a small bedroom upstairs. She developed a website, www.crackedupjewelry.com, to sell the items online. She then joined the ranks of many others already on the art show circuit, setting up a booth at most Florida shows.
Individual items vary in price, depending on the age and type of china as well as the intricacy of the design. A cuff bracelet made of floral vintage china costs $65; a butterfly pendant is $125. Earrings and rings start at around $32.
Rosenberger recently expanded her line. Cuff bracelets fashioned from segments of old belts are adorned with oval or round fragments of antique china. She makes whimsical chandeliers for kitchens and dining rooms as well, using old tea cups to hold light bulbs in fixtures. Chandeliers run about $150.
In the upstairs workroom are the tools of her unusual trade: stacks of damaged china, a small saw, strips of copper foil, lead-free solder and writing implements. Rosenberger sketches a design onto the china, cuts it out with the saw and smooths the edges. Next she applies the strips of copper foil around the rim of the item. She then melts the solder, applies it to the foil, and a piece of jewelry is made.
Cracked china is not hard to come by. Rosenberger has acquired a store of it from viewers of her website as well as from visitors to the weekend shows.
"People call or write from all over the country," she said. "They send me their broken china and I make jewelry for them."
Making keepsakes from family heirlooms has become a great source of joy to Rosenberger. At the recent Dunedin Art Harvest, a woman approached her in tears. She had just broken her late mother's china, which she was carrying in the trunk of her car, in a minor accident. Rosenberger came to the rescue.
"I got some sample pieces from her to look at and think about," Rosenberger said. She immediately envisioned a curved necklace from the rim of one blue and white plate.
"I love being able to turn someone's broken keepsake into a piece they can treasure," she said. "Helping someone keep their treasured china in a different form is one of my greatest joys."