Jewelry Maker’s PSA: Split Rings

 

Sooner or later, nearly every jewelry maker runs across this problem: how to join loops or links with a sturdy, practical, design-compatible connector.

Closed jump rings are difficult to design around. Open jump rings may pull apart at the worst possible time. Wire-wrapped jump rings and connectors can be strong and beautiful, but time-consuming to make and calibrate.

For durable, beautiful, precise, and secure connections in your jewelry designs, invest in split rings.

split2

Shaped like tiny round key rings, jewelry split rings are half-hard tempered metal wire coiled into stacked, double rings.

How do you use them?

The round or triangular wire ends can be gently pried apart to fit inside a closed jump ring, chain link, pendant or charm bail, or crimped beading wire loop.

If you have strong thumbnails and you are not doing many connections, you can wedge your thumbnail between the split wires, and open them just enough to slip your loop, link, charm, etc onto the ring. (Hint: don’t do this if you are aiming to use several dozen or more split rings in a short time-span. Your thumbnails will thank you!)

You can also use specific tools called split ring pliers, split ring tweezers, or even a narrow, flat piece of metal like a small flathead screwdriver. Push your to-be-attached object all the way around the ring, until it can slide freely over both of the split wires.

The split ring re-closes once the new loop has been threaded completely around the double coil. Tension holds the ring together much more securely than a standard open jump ring (even the ‘Twist-Lock’ style), while the split ring design allows you to change out pendants or dangles with relative ease.

Split rings come in a variety of sizes from delicate (I’ve seen 4-5mm) to ginormous (real key-ring size 30mm across!), so you’ll usually be able to find one to complement your design and metal color.

Many beginning jewelry makers avoid split rings because of the slightly higher price (good manufacturing does cost), but professional designers know these tiny marvels are time and cost-savers in the long run. Try some today, and take your jewelry designs to the next level.

Where I buy mine.

On Amazon, get them in many different sizes (sterling silver or 14Kt gold filled) at BeadHobby.

Orange Carnelian Necklace

Because sometimes, simple is good.orange carnelian necklace blog

Materials: Champagne SoftFlex heavy duty beading wire, sterling silver lobster clasp, heavy jump ring, crimp tubes, crimp covers, and wire guards from Plazko.com. Orange carnelian nugget beads from the Tucson Rock & Gem Show 2016.

Length: 18″

I do have an ulterior motive for making this piece, which you’ll see in a later blog post (yes, it is part of an eventual outfit). But this necklace is casual enough for everyday wear with jeans and paint-covered T-shirt.

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

 

 

Silver Ear Cuffs, revisited

(And a bonus Craft Credo rant!)

I had forgotten how much fun wire wrapping can be. After a clunky start, I’m picking up on skills I left dormant a decade or more ago. Ear cuffs (aka ear jackets, ear couplings, etc) are a fun but ambitious way to jump back into this technique.

Black silver ear cuff 1.2 blog1) Here’s a slightly reworked version of the first set of blackened silver ear cuffs.

The coil over the top of the ear was too loose, resulting in too many pressure points for comfort. I ran another coil parallel to the first to fill in some of those gaps, and used the excess on either end to make some spiral finials.

Silver wire, ballpins, quality tags, and chain from Plazko.com. Gems largely from Tucson Rock & Gem Show vendors and The Bead Garden of Sedona. These still have issues, so I probably won’t sell them.

Height: 4.75″ Width (outer) 1.5″ (inner) 1.1″ Materials: sterling silver, aquamarine, smokey quartz. Weight: .8oz

black silver ear cuff 2.0 blog2) Here’s the second set of blackened silver ear cuffs.

Note the tighter spiral wrapping over the upper curve, and the more-controlled shapes of the lower hoops. Instead of using manufactured chain, I wire-wrapped chain links from 20 gauge round silver wire, carved crystal quartz (rock crystal), and garnet beads. Why? One, I’m cheap and nobody had premade lengths of similar chain, in the right gauge, for anything near what I can afford. Two, the chain design mirrors the tight spiral of the ear hook.

Gemstones from The Bead Garden of Sedona.* Silver wire, quality tags, and ballpins from Plazko.com. These ear cuffs are extremely wearable, and I’ll likely put them up for sale online in the near future.

Height: 5.5″ Width (outer) 1.25″ (inner) 1.1″ Materials: sterling silver, garnet, crystal quartz. Weight: 1.2oz

Both pieces oxidized with Win-Ox patina solution from Lonnie’s Inc.

*Other gemstone suppliers may include Bead WorldBeads Galore, and innumerable thrift store discoveries. I’ve been at this long enough that I may have forgotten where I got some of the beadstash, over the years. I’m lucky I remember what I have.

Note: there’s definitely going to be another Etsy Showcase blog post soon. It might be fun to contrast the very basic examples of wire wrapping with some of the truly sublime pieces out there. (I have a very high mountain to climb, just looking at the latter.)

***

And now, a rant.

Today’s bit of the jewelry Craft Credo: whenever possible, make your own findings. Customize manufactured findings, chain, etc. with your own touches. I could buy very basic sterling silver ear jackets online for $2.5 to $5.00 each, from a few Etsy stores, and add my dangles.

But I’m picky. Most of those have un-anchored open wire loops that can pull apart. Often, the maker may not know the critical need to file and smooth-burnish every snipped wire end, to reduce cuts and snags. (One difference between hobby jewelers and those of us who sweated and scorched our way through bench jewelry training.)

Like these gold-tone wires, which are good, but not great:

For between $12 to $20 depending on gauge (thickness) I can buy 16 to 30 feet of sterling silver wire from my favorite suppliers, and have plenty of material to play with.

This way if I need a sturdy ear jacket with a certain kind of wrapping, I know it’s mine with a little planning and effort. If I want drapes of strong garnet, crystal, and silver wire-wrapped chain, I can make them myself, to my exact needs.

In nearly any creative field, hobbyists are limited to pre-made items or collections in kits. Artisans can jump right into altering products or making what they need from basic components. (Yes, I know how to smelt silver ore and make my own wire. In two historically accurate ways. I have no real need or time to do so.)

What stops many hobbyists, other than cost? Fear of failure.

Pffft. The first set of ear cuffs above are failures, by my standards. I can’t sell them because I’d be worried about them hurting someone. If the right forewarned victim comes along and offers to wear test them for a decade or so, I’m probably going to say ‘Go for it’. The near-certainty of failure did not stop me from making the damn things.

Because I learned while I was making them. Same with other art forms, trades, skills, and writing (especially writing!)

Fall in love with the process and the journey, and ‘failure’ becomes just another valuable step.

Blackened Silver Ear Cuffs

Nearly any fantasy writer knows someone who cosplays the Lord of the Rings* movies. It may actually be a rule of fandom, I’m not sure. The jewelry, props, and costumes were that damned good. I draw the line at some of the ‘elf ear’ pointy earcuffs, because I’ve only seen a few that were magnificent.

But regular ol’ ear cuffs? Gimme.
Black silver ear cuffs for blogThese were an experiment this weekend, inspired by some examples I found online. I’m still playing with the exact shape to bend these, to fit my ears, but I’ll get there. They’re really clumsy compared to the ones I’m going to show you on the next Etsy Showcase, fair warning.

Dimensions: 5.25″H x 1.8″W

Materials: .925 sterling silver round wire, .925 sterling silver ballpins, smokey quartz, aquamarine, .925 sterling silver Italian-style quality tag. Aquamarines from a Tucson Rock & Gem Show vendor. Smokey quartz from Beads Galore. Silver wire, ballpins, and tags from Plazko.com.

Finish: oxidized with Win-Ox, then satin stripped with 900-grit wet/dry sandpaper. I’ll probably give them shinier highlights with some oxide buffing.

Time to make: 2.5 hours (ish)

Final cost: to be determined. I rarely sell prototypes, but I have been known to give them away to deserving victims test wearers.

*The new cosplay drug of choice being Game of Thrones, which is a whole other post.

 

Carnelian Collar

I’ve always loved the red-orange tones of carnelian: 1) Grew up in northern New Mexico. 2) A kidlet obsession with ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

While designing the worldbuilding for the Lonhra Sequence, I somehow got fixated on the idea that the Dana homeworld’s vegetation was primarily red to purple (I blame Barrayar for that, probably). So of course, the stones and gems associated with Dana settlers on Lonhra would be red and purple: red jade, marbles, granites, ruby, amethyst, spinel, garnet, jasper, and carnelian.

I found a gorgeous carnelian bangle bracelet at the Tucson Rock & Gem Show last February. For $10, it was a bargain. And then I made the mistake of starting to source other carnelian components. Because of course I need another necklace.

This happened:

Carnelian collar for blog

From one local bead store, 8 carnelian fan-shaped sets of 13 top-drilled beads. From a great shop in NC, the big 50mm axe-head bead in deep red carnelian. From my personal stash gathered over years: carnelian accent beads, and two big carnelian arrow points with a clean Deco design. Sterling silver findings from Plazko.com include extender chain, crimps, crimp covers, wire guards, a bunch of 3mm closed jump rings, and a big swivel lobster-claw clasp.

The jump rings provide just a whisper of silver between the carnelian stick beads, and make for easier movement and less drag. I may have to remake this piece to add details to the chain and loosen up the beads, but I’m 90% there with a piece I love.

I like the subtle militancy of the axe and arrow points. Especially considering that the Dana on Lonhra have adopted a superficially peaceful reputation, to downplay their role in an almost planet-busting war.

Worldbuilding, meet jewelry.

Phoenix Comicon begins today!

I may or may not be there, depending on:

Heatwaves. Seriously, folks, it’s going to be 120F on Saturday. I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years. It would take extraordinary enticements to make me brave even crossing the street in central Phoenix if I’m not absolutely required to do so. I will probably be lurking in a dim basement listening to music, gorging on mango popcicles, and drafting a subversive political cross-stitch ABC book. (Cross-stitch skulls, mushroom clouds, biohazard symbols, AK47s, Trump’s Hair, and many other fun things to sketch.)

Work. I love my dayjob. I love my writing and art. They are all hitting tremendous deadline pushes with a vengeance this month.

Clothes. (See Heatwaves.) This is not weather for me to tempt heatstroke with heavy hall costumes. So if I go, I’ll just be in civvies. But you might see me wearing this book pendant.

Marian Crane original design

And I may or may not have a cobalt blue streak in my hair.

Anyway, if you are going, stop by any of the Kids Need To Read events and booths, and buy raffle tickets. Why? Let me remind you that this mask…

First Frost mask by Marian Crane

…is up for grabs, along with (4) $25 vouchers for the jewelry-making supply company Plazko.com.

Carry on.

 

First Frost Mask, Phoenix Comicon

In honor of The Sovereign and the Thin White Duke*, and as part of the Kids Need to Read charity’s events at the 2016 Phoenix Comicon, I will be donating ‘First Frost’, a black wire and crystal bead mask** inspired by that wonderful ancient fantasy flick ‘Labyrinth’.

First Frost mask by Marian Crane

This is the second wire mask I’ve made in my life (the last was a copper wire butterfly mask, lost in a gallery move years ago). This one was inspired by the amazing masks from Chantal Mallett and Grin, Grimace, and Squeak. (I’ve since made more, but I am still not worthy, really.)

First Frost mask sideview by Marian Crane

But if you happen to fall in love with this one, you might just win it at the KNtR events! (Along with an even better prize, I think: one of four $25 gift credits to the online bead and jewelry supply company Plazko.com.)

Dimensions: approx. 4″ high, 8″ wide. Materials: black coated craft wire in several gauges, black SoftFlex beading wire, black elastic, clear glass beads, Aurora-borealis iridescent clear glass beads and drops, black metal crimps, clear elastic hanger for display (remove for wearing). Retail value: $125.00.

I’m working my way up to making a sterling silver and labradorite mask from some of the silver wire stock that Plazko carries. Wish me luck, and have fun at Phoenix Comicon!

*I miss David Bowie’s genius, glamour, and heart. For anyone jumping on the potential ‘fascist’ bandwagon, I’d note that Bowie’s Duke days were some of his darkest…and he transcended them. Something to aspire to.

** photography by the talented Viktor Shmyhlenko.

Plazko: Jewelry DIY for the rest of us

I am very happy to announce my association with the jewelry-making supply firm Plazko.com.

Since 2010, Plazko has been a go-to supply destination on Etsy for high-quality sterling silver and gold-filled wire, jewelry components, and silver charms. Last year the company expanded to its own online sales platform…resulting in thousands of satisfied return clients from all over the world.

What drew me in as a client? Good prices, wide stock, online convenience and reliability, and no-hassle returns.

In 2016 Plazko will be launching some amazing new product lines (including some exclusive gemstone beads and pearls that I’m personally drooling over).

www.plazko.com

An expanded online presence will include more video tutorials from respected and skilled jewelry artists like Bonnie Clewans. (And hacks like me.)

We are also planning an online retail sales platform for fine crafters, artisans, and artists: Plazko Marketplace.

I’ll be showcasing some of my own finished jewelry, accessories, and fine craft artwork. If you’ve liked the silverwork and beadwork pieces on my Photobucket and Pinterest pages…chances are, they’ll be on Plazko Marketplace soon.)

In addition to helping out around the Plazko warehouse, I’ll be part of a team writing blog content, how-to articles, artist interviews, and industry news for the Plazko website.

For now, if you want to contact me regarding Plazko, please use the email address in this blog’s links. And watch this space!

 

A Not-A-Super B**l Commercial

Shameless promo ahead.

I know a small jewelry findings supply company that has impressed me with its quality and service. I wasn’t aware they made this YouTube ad for a sale yesterday, and I hope they’ll continue the sale for a day or two.

At any rate, Plazko.com is a good little company, and their ad is pretty funny.

Added: the owners of the company have extended the sale through 2/11/2016!