Famous Coils of our Time

Design Idea A73L

by Sandra Lupo, Metalsmith, Jewelry Designer and Instructor,
Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and BeadsĀ®

From ancient armlets to amulets, wire coils have found their rightful place as a design element in metal jewelry. Early high-karat gold coils served as finger rings and funerary items for the likes of Queen Pu-abi of Ur (C. 2500 BC). Chinese tribal leaders may have sported gold armlets with at least 7 coils in the Yuan Dynasty (13th-14th century AD).

Fast forward to the last century and make a stop to visit Alexander Calder, American sculptor (1898-1976). This renowned and revered artist created wire jewelry as early as 1906 and used simple copper, brass and steel wire (no high karat here) to form at least 1,800 pieces of jewelry in his lifetime. Whether wraps, rings, spirals or coils, Calder put his wire jewelry creations on the map.

In the 21st century, we make coils with sterling silver, gold-filled, silver-filled, copper, brass, steel, aluminum and niobium. Our coils do resemble coils of distant times--simple designs, simple elements and simple tools.

What is a Wire Coil Anyway?

A wire coil is a continual series of rings formed by shaping a length of wire onto a steel mandrel. Different shaped mandrels can yield coiled rings in round, oval, square or triangular shape. Octagon and hexagon shapes can also be formed if you find a dowel, mandrel or other rod that is in that particular shape.

The most versatile shaped coil is round. It can be transformed further by adding more coils to it or cutting it apart to create jumprings.

An abundance of wire types, shapes and gauges will yield a variety of coils and individual jumprings for many uses. For a complex coil, use a wire twister and wire, and then form a coil. Now coil the twisted wire on a mandrel and you have a twisted round coil.

Go one step further and make cuts into the rings of the twisted coil to create twisted jumprings. Take a hammer to the individual jumprings cut from the twist coil and with a steady ''whack'' you can flatten a twisted jumpring just enough to give it the look of a lacy circle and the needed strength of a connector or link.

Want to Make a Coiled Bead?

Create coils using different gauges and colors of wire--there are no limits--then create a coil over a central wire; the different wire gadgets are great for this application. Follow gadget or pattern directions and measure accurately for consistency, although even coiled bead mistakes can be one-of-a-kind treasures! Famous Coils of our Time
What Gadgets, You Ask?

Since you are working with metal, you'll need metal tools to manipulate the wire into the coil shape you want. If all you have is a pencil, then certainly use it, but the metal might imbed into the pencil wood and then you'll need to break the pencil to release the coil. A steel mandrel does the right job and the coil will slide right off.
A pair of flush-cutters that have a fine pointed end and are suited to the gauge wire you are using will give you good flush ends on the coil and in between cuts for individual rings--this is a must when creating jewelry as the wire will poke into the skin otherwise.

Pliers, hammers, mallets, steel bench blocks and anvils are metalsmithing tools that do a great job of transforming lengths of wire into components and findings; wire twisters, coiling gizmos and wire jigs all work great in transforming wire into shapes and coils.

Simple can become complex and there's plenty of satisfaction when simple coils morph into unexpected components. Get comfortable with your tools and try lots and lots of different wires. Practice is essential and documenting your mistakes and successes will help cut out unnecessary time and yield consistent results.

View related videos and other accessible instructions for ideas. Take a class at a national bead festival, regional craft center or local bead shop and you'll learn how to take a length of wire and turn it into a coil for use in a wire jewelry piece. Pick up a book or magazine and let your creativity run wild with the numerous ways a coil of wire can be manipulated or integrated into something familiar or unexpected.

A final suggestion--thank Mr. Calder. He made exceptional wire jewelry that inspires jewelry makers, one and all.

Famous Coils of our Time

Additional Resources