In these recessionary times, we’ve noticed less expensive jewelry appearing under the Christmas tree. But maybe the best substitutes for gemstones are the credit cards once used to buy them.

One of our favorite holiday presents this year was a bracelet made out of, yes, expired credit and gift cards. Edith Meriwether Designs uses small discs, punched out of old cards, to create its “Redeeming Charms” bracelets, earrings and key chains. Our new bracelet includes logos from Target, Lowe’s, MasterCard and Citi – not to mention some vestiges of small print about expiration dates and phone numbers to report lost or stolen cards.

Edie Ashman, Edith Meriwether’s Richmond, Va.-based designer and owner, has been making jewelry out of credit and gift cards for about five years, and selling them through trade shows and on her web site. She said in an interview Monday that she makes about $20,000 a year on the card-based baubles, which she sells for between $15 and $38 each.

Ashman’s primary sources for raw materials are expired gift cards from friends and even some retailers. “That’s the recycling end of it, people save their old cards for me now,” she said. “This time of year, after the holidays, is a big time. … I do have a few retail outlets that will save old gift cards for me, but a lot of them, because of the fraud issues, are afraid” of giving them away to be re-used.

Ashman said she hasn’t noticed much difference in demand for her card-based jewelry over the past year. But industry-wide cutbacks in credit – and the resulting consumer backlash against card companies - have brought others into her relatively niche industry.

“In the current economy, using credit cards to rack up high-interest debt is the world’s dumbest idea. The time has come to throw that credit card away - or to give it a whole new life as something else,” began a May post on the Scavenging blog, which taught readers how to make their own credit card bracelets. “Pretty much useless for their original intended purpose, credit cards are like the vanished currency of a long-lost civilization. And just as humans have always adorned themselves with shiny accessories made of old coins, the time has come to do the same with credit cards.”

A June post on Scavenging offered slightly more tongue-in-cheek suggestions for “ten practical uses for your credit cards,” including picture frame, golf putter and light-switch cover. And then there were what Scavenging called “the original alternate” uses for credit cards – burglary tool and cocaine cutter. We’ll stick to our bracelet, thanks!