Black Ceramic Chain

Technology is wonderful. Especially when bright but otherwise bored people say ‘Hey, these zirconium ceramic ball bearings and whetstones are nearly as tough as sapphire. I bet we could make jewelry out of this stuff!’

Jewelry wonks are already familiar with Cubic Zirconium, the relatively cheap and readily available diamond-substitute gem, usually faceted and sold either clear or colored to mimic other gemstones.*

Zirconium powder can also be purified and melted with binding agents into a tough, hard, opaque ceramic (the aforementioned ball bearings). I’ve seen the jewelry results in pieces from David Yurman ($1500) or Jona ($5000).

Recently, Fire Mountain Gems got some black and white zirconium ceramic jewelry components in stock. When they had a deep sale on the 29x16mm and 13x10mm oval links, I bought. That yielded 12 of the big links and 2 of the smaller ones. For less than I’d pay for a good cheesesteak sandwich at my local deli.

Combined with matte-finished black #11 seed beads in ladder-stitched links, fire-polished Czech faceted ovals, and black nylon thread, the zirconium ceramic links made this minimal 20-inch necklace with toggle clasp. I like how the polished ceramic links have the black glitter of hematite, but much less weight. (It’s as light as a fiber art piece, honestly, with more weight from the glass.)

*About 30 years ago, when Cubic Zirconium gems (CZ) really came onto the hobbyist market, there was a mail order scam trade run by several ‘jewelers’ who would convince people they’d ‘won’ a free CZ faceted gem, for a minimal shipping fee. They even had soap opera celebrity spokespeople, which should have been an instant warning.

Sometime between 1985 and 1987 I got a mailing from one of the companies. (I’ve taken it off web links because the owner’s apparently just got out of prison on racketeering charges, with a side of witness tampering. Typical GOP businessman, alas.)

Back then if you accepted the stone and the ‘cash winning opportunity’, you’d get hounded to buy their other products. I had a pretty good idea what was really going on, so I said ‘Sure, Redacted Jewelry Company, send me my genuine fine diamond simulant!’

What I got was a pretty nice 1 carat white faceted stone for the shipping cost (not much), and a massive sales pitch for their crappy gold or silver plated jewelry settings. Because most people even then weren’t silversmiths, or knew that real silver and vermeil (gold plated silver) findings were easy to come by and easy to set with a few basic tools. Redacted Jewelry Company and I had some more go-arounds while I talked them out of a few more CZ gems (Hey, cheap CZ!) before they finally gave up on me.

What to take from this? I love technology, and I really like this necklace. Also, every new product or service has scam potential…but if you know what’s happening, you can have a hell of a lot of fun with the scammers.

 

Etsy Showcase: some twisted wires

 

This will be an elitist rant about metal wire.

First, soothe your eyes by looking at this piece:

wirework bracelet(Lisa Barth: ‘The Perfect Marriage’ bracelet, photo courtesy of Lisa Barth and Bead & Button Magazine. Link: http://www.firemountaingems.com/resources/gallery-of-designs/f761)

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about wirework jewelry. Sometimes known as wire-wrapping, wire-weaving, or tension wire weaving, this (mostly) cold-forming group of metal techniques is centered around the manipulation of metal wires without the use of hot-forging, soldering, or welding.

I say mostly cold-forming, because great jewelry artists know that techniques are merely tools. They can create lovely pieces through pure cold-forming…but judicious use of forging, annealing, and solder can take work into legendary levels.

Barth’s award-winning bracelet above combines gorgeous wire work with soldering fabrication (the fancy gallery-wire bezel around the central stone), and what appears to be precious-metal-clay or embossed silver plaques (the back plates behind stones and the clasp). Some of the other artists I’m going to link to use metal clay, fabrication, or hot-forging work to add components and shape to their wire creations.

Basic wirework is easy to learn and easier to do badly. Here’s where the ‘elitist’ part of the rant comes in.

I’d estimate that about 60% of the wire wrapped jewelry, masks, and other accessories I’ve seen in online venues (Etsy, DeviantArt, Facebook, Pinterest, Artfire, Amazon Handmade, etc.) are made badly, cheaply, with little skill, design, or understanding of the materials involved.

I’m not going to call out specific examples of these folks, many of whom are selling their work for very low prices to other people who don’t know better.

It would not be kind, and I don’t want to give them even negative advertising.

In many cases, the ‘artisans’ may never learn better. These are the folks who never anchor a wire loop with a spiral wire collar, so it won’t pry apart. Who use low-temp soft solder on their pieces, because they don’t know that 1) it can be poisonous and 2) it has a higher probability of failure. Who use dead soft wire and then wonder why the piece distorts so easily. These are basic hobbyists. I’m happy for their joy they take in their work, even while I shake my head at their results.

As with all my Etsy Showcase posts, I want to focus on some of the very best wire artists of today. I can’t get all of them, so if you get addicted, just follow a few of the many ‘Wirework’ Pinterest categories down the rabbithole, and prepare for hours in Wonderland.

A good starting point, as with the Barth bracelet above, are the yearly winners of the Bead & Button conference ‘Bead Dreams’ show, and the Fire Mountain Gems-sponsored jewelry competitions. In whatever technique you love, you can be sure that the winners and finalists really are some of the greatest artisans around.

From New Zealand: the magnificent fiber and wire jewelry artist and couturier Claire Prebble, whose stunning career was cut short by her early death from cancer late in 2015. Claire is famous for wearable art, clothing, masks, headpieces, and other artifacts that incorporate precious metal wire on a near-mythical scale. Her works live on in video and book format, and (for now) here at her website.

There’s a high-powered group of insanely talented wire jewelers working out of Russia and eastern Europe. All of them are amazing. Here are just a couple:

Vanini Design  And a direct link to one of her pieces.

Nastiva Jewelry  Anastasiya Ivanova is another fearless designer.

Out of Germany, JS Jewelry, a wire artist whose ear cuff and other wire designs got me back into the game.

From the United States, one of the reigning champions, Sarah Thompson.

You may notice a similarity between Sarah, Nastiva, and Vanini – they all use hot-work to create ball-formed, flat arcs, and other ‘fancy’ forms to their basic wire. They’re also wicked good at building large-scale wire forms, then filling them with thinner-gauge wire weaving.

Interested to learn this intricate craft? Pinterest and Craftsy are full of tutorials on how to do it well…even if you don’t want to introduce hot work into your pieces.

Jewelry design is another field that has become more inclusive due to mass-produced components and supplies, as well as the booming hobby industry. Fire Mountain Gems, Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, and Plazko.com are some of my favorite suppliers from sterling silver wires in several tempers (hardness levels) for wire jewelry.

I’m just getting back into wire work, and loving it. I have a long way to go, to get near the great artists I’ve listed above.

black silver ear cuff 2.0 blog