As a long time jewelry designer (you did know I do this as well as paint?), I am always looking for unique and meaningful materials to include in my designs. I scour the world for stones, pearls, beads, charms and other interesting elements that will work towards making my creations unique as well as beautiful and wearable. My designs have sold through major retailers such as SAK's Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom's, and boutiques across the USA.
Jade Partridge Necklace
When I started playing the game of Mah Jongg, so I would know the game my grandmother played and be able to use her vintage set, I discovered a world of spectacular vintage sets made from a variety of materials. The tiles in these vintage sets carry individually carved designs that can be spectacular in design and detail. Not only did I embrace the game, I started to collect vintage sets which are like gems.
Vintage French Ivory Mah Jongg Set in Pillow Box.
Also discovered were incomplete sets, some which have no chance of ever being made whole, will never be used to play the game, and will be put away somewhere, never to be seen again. I see this as a tragedy. Now don't get me wrong, some of these incomplete sets can be made whole with research, digging around, and connections with other collectors, however there are some sets that have NO chance of becoming playable.
Bakelite Flower Tiles that had lost their backs, had been separated from the rest of the set, and would never be playable.
It seemed to me, and still does, the incomplete gems that do not have a chance to become whole can be re-purposed and enjoyed in another way. For me, parts of these sets become wearable art...jewelry. The tiles, betting sticks, and coins are fascinating additions to some of my designs and fun to wear, especially when playing the game.
Mah Jongg Bone Betting Sticks worked into a necklace design.
I see it as a way to honor the creator of the tiles, to keep the beauty of the tiles in circulation, to bring awareness to the game and the pieces.
Red-backed Bakelite Mah Jongg Tile Collar
When I obtain miscellaneous Mah Jongg pieces I confirm they are unusable for the game, and I always retain a few of the pieces, adding them to my orphanage, just in case someone else has a similar set that needs just a few pieces to become whole again. This happened just recently. A well known collector of vintage sets put out a call for red-backed bakelite tiles in a specific size. I had purchased a partial, like set from another collector who had tried, in vain, to make the set playable. Too many tiles were needed, not just four to eight. Some of the tiles were worked into jewelry pieces (like the dramatic collar necklace shown above) and many went into my orphanage. When the call for these tiles went out I was able to help by supplying the needed tiles.
Bakelite Mah Jongg Tiles
Using these miscellaneous, vintage Mah Jongg tiles, I create unique, beautifully wearable Mah Jongg jewelry that is a delight to many. I honor the original creator of the tiles by wearing them as an ornament, keeping them in circulation, re-purposing these gems.
Current display of Mah Jongg Inspired Jewelry by Pamela Hunt Lee
at Village Interiors, Incline Village, Nevada
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