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Beauty In the Breakdown: One Jewelry Designer's Unique Inspiration

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Every business starts with a seed of inspiration. Jewelry designer, Cathy Schiff, shares the inspiration behind hers. Her jewelry line, Vintage by Cathy, takes old antiques and gives them new life.

Art can imitate life. For me, my company, Vintage by Cathy, does just that. As a full-time therapist, I help people with their problems. It is tremendously satisfying and meaningful. I help people find a way to put the pieces of their life back together. Like every good therapist, I teach my clients to look at the past. I do this so they can learn from the broken parts and see them in a new positive light. In some ways, this parallels what I do with my art. I take the broken pieces of an antique, look at its past history and rearrange it into something beautiful and new.

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I dropped my grandmother's favorite china teacup, one she had lovingly left to me. For a few minutes, I thought I could pick up the pieces and glue it all back together.

My childhood memories of her beautiful table flashed through my mind. Her southern charm as a hostess, her elegant taste, her attention to detail and the happiness she had sharing it all with her family. When I realized I could not restore the teacup shards to their original shape, I was initially heartbroken. Then inspiration struck. I smashed what remained of the broken cup into even more pieces. This was the start of giving the teacup a new life. I reassembled the fragments and sealed them into the shell of a belt buckle. This was the first beautiful piece that launched my company, Vintage by Cathy.

I love to travel and spend hours scouring estate sales and antique markets for unique treasures. I look for everything from costume jewelry to vintage pocket watches. I imagine the journey of each piece, the story it could tell, and how I will bring it back to life. I am true to each piece by restoring missing stones and parts with ones from the same era. I decide whether it will become a necklace, bracelet, buckle or earring based on the piece's shape, size and history. Each piece should be true to its period, yet contemporary. I research the history behind every find, often uncovering something special about its original owner. This confluence of history is included with each hand-made piece, tying together the individual elements in a re-birth for another generation to enjoy.

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I am often asked why I use antique and vintage pieces instead of new materials. The answer is simple: As a child, my fondest memories were playing dress-up with my Grandmother's jewelry. I believed she and my Grandfather were the most glamorous people in the world. I spent hours watching old movies of the elaborate parties they threw. Think Sabrina meets The Great Gatsby. I loved the fashion and sophistication of those parties.

As I grew older, I spent hours asking my Grandmother to recount every moment of those times. I wanted to know everything from what was served to what people wore. I especially wanted details on her shoes, dresses and jewelry. I asked her endless questions about what was happening at that time in history. I was curious about history's influence on fashion. In college I was an American History major. I taught history at a high school before I went to graduate school. I have always been creative. I've taken endless art classes. I have always been a true lover of fashion. When I think about it now, I suppose Vintage by Cathy has always a part of me; it just needed to evolve.

My passion to create and to recreate has inspired many people to select a cherished jewelry box, entrust it to me, and challenge me to give the heirloom a new life. For example, if you have inherited your great grandfather's watch that is no longer working, or have only one earring from your favorite grandmother, I will transform them into wearable art that you will cherish.

Vintage by Cathy is about keeping history alive. It means taking the broken and imperfect pieces and making them beautiful again so that they can be passed from one generation to the next.

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