Jewelry-Making Wires: Precious Metals

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

Wire is a staple ingredient for metalsmiths and most jewelry designers. And whether it's used in a small supporting role or as the star, having a variety of wire on hand will ensure you are prepared for whichever stage direction you are given from your creative spirit.

The Bare Wire--Wrapit® Copper, Brass (Jeweler's Bronze) and Nickel Silver

Jewelry-Making Wire: Non-Precious Metal, Colored and Steel Wires Bare metals have increased in popularity and new roles are being established in fabrication, manipulation, beadwork and gemstone setting. In jewelry pieces, we follow popular trends and applaud the new stars in period jewelry like Steampunk and Art Deco. Marry these metal wires and work them together to create valued pieces, lush in memory, texture and workmanship. Appreciate the beauty and flexibility of bare metal wire by using patinas and finishes, perfect for interpreting a fresh design into a forgotten treasure.

Color-Enameled Copper Wire

Wireworkers who like to use colored copper can think of themselves as costume designers--interpreters of colorful art to be worn. Wires such as Zebra Wire™ color-coated copper wires are saturated in vivid colors and are easy to manipulate. This wire will work-harden slowly since the core is pure copper and almost all wire manipulation and cold-connecting techniques can be utilized. Heat application is not suitable, since the color is enameled onto a bare copper core and damage to the finish could occur. It is also advised to work with nylon jaw pliers or to cover bare steel tools with Tool Magic® to protect the finish on the wire.

Form jumprings using color-coated copper wires then use the rings to link components together, in forming chainmaille designs or to add interest to the technique of making Viking body armor, once made with monochromatic steel, and more.
Jewelry-Making Wire: Non-Precious Metal, Colored and Steel Wires

Aluminum Wire

Jewelry-Making Wire: Non-Precious Metal, Colored and Steel Wires Aluminum wire, anodized and colored, is extremely lightweight and can be used in jewelry, hobby, crafting and garden-set applications, too! Unlike color-enameled copper wire, which will work-harden as it's manipulated, aluminum stays soft. Manipulate this wire, regardless of the gauge, and see for yourself how easy it is to form. Its lightness and the color saturation are its most attractive features.

Like colored copper wire, aluminum jumprings woven into chainmaille look great and are a lot of fun to work with, even with bare hands (yes, tools free!). If you do use tools, work with nylon-covered or dipped tools so as not to mar the painted color and finish that may be only "skin deep."

Niobium Wire

This wire type is exceptionally lightweight and ideal for dramatic earring designs--think red carpet! The natural color is grey although it can be anodized (electrically colored) in fabulous hues with as much color saturation as aluminum. The temper is manufactured as half-hard so this very soft wire can be worked into strong wire structures, as in chainmaking and chainmaille.

Both natural and anodized niobium are hypoallergenic, which is a huge plus for a wire that is a bit pricey. A lot does go a long way when you are producing earwires to suit the sensitivity needs of customers.
Jewelry-Making Wire: Non-Precious Metal, Colored and Steel Wires

Memory Wire

Jewelry-Making Wire: Non-Precious Metal, Colored and Steel Wires This product is like a diva! She wants her way, or no way at all! Consider this feature and design simply strung bracelets, finder rings and necklaces covered with shiny beads and other media, such as chain, fabrics and leathers. Repetitive bead patterns and layering beaded memory wire coils will take a simple stringing job and turn it into true costume jewelry, suitable for Cleopatra's neckline.

Work with tools that can handle this tempered steel. Use memory wire cutters only and choose round-nose, chain-nose and flat-nose pliers that are geared for heavy-duty applications. Memory wire will respond to heat to make it easier to bend the wire with chain-nose or flat-nose pliers and turn a loop with your round-nose pliers. You can also use a glue to secure bead tips to memory wire ends rather than turning loops.

Stainless Steel Wire

Stainless steel wire is ideal for creating sturdy wire components. The 316L wire manufactured by Beadalon is the same grade used for hypoallergenic earwires, as well as surgical instruments.

This 3/4 hard tempered wire is available in different shapes and a good range of popular gauges. It is not as tough to work with as memory wire so we won't give it diva status, however the wire should be cut with the same cutters used for memory wire. Do not use your standard flush-cutters with even the thinnest gauge of stainless steel or you'll experience dull blades and little dings along the blade's edge.

When handling, it feels smooth and strong with a good springiness that works better with heavy-duty tools and gadgets then with bare hands. A coiling mechanism is ideal to generate coils and a jig with steel pegs is a good way to form wire components that are strong for chainmaking, for example (see below). For most wire-working and jewelry-making applications, the use of heat with 316L is not needed and not recommended. Heat applications are better left to the manufacturer’s controlled environment needed for high temperature heating and possible toxic fumes. So stick with fabrication and strong tools.

Wireworking Tools

For the best in heavy-duty hand tools, check out the new line of tools by Lindstrom®. And be sure to consider these wire-bending tools that make designing and working with wire a lot easier--as well as more fun!

Have fun developing a role for each type of wire--the variety available makes it easy to keep up with the ever-changing trends and the insatiable need to satisfy the treasured inner creative voice.

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