Saturday, August 21, 2010

Choosing Wire for Jewelry Part 1

Several things must be considered when choosing wire.
  • Solid wire refers to gold, silver, copper, and brass wire.
  • Craft wire can be copper, brass, and colored copper wire.
  • Flexible beading wire, such as Tiger Tail, Beadalon, Soft Flex and others are most often used for bead stringing. 
Today I'll be talking about the solid wires.

GAUGEis the thickness of the wire.  There are gauges of wire that are much thicker or thinner than traditional jewelry-wire gauges, but there's no reason to discuss them here, so I won't! 
  • The lower the gauge, the thicker the wire.  The higher the gauge, the thinner the wire.
  • The typical gauges for jewelry range from about 10 to 30 gauge.
  • 10 gauge wire is probably the thickest wire used for jewelry as it is very difficult to bend. 
  • The best gauges for rings are probably 10 through 16.  You want ring wires to be thick and stable.
  • Bracelets and necklaces are sometimes made from a base which is a single piece of fairly thick wire.  Other times they are made from smaller sections of wire, such as jump rings and shaped links.  Typically, necklace and bracelet wires will range from 16 to 20 gauge.
  • Earring wire is usually 18 through 22 gauge, with 21 gauge as the preferred gauge for ear wires.
  • 24 through 30 gauges are most often used in wire wrapping, wire knitting, and wire crocheting, where fine, flexible gauges are needed.
  • If you are stringing beads onto wire, you must use a gauge that will fit through the bead holes, which can vary considerably, with pearls usually having especially small holes. 
SHAPE:  Jewelry wire comes in four basic shapes.
  • Round wire is used for a variety of jewelry items.  Round is the traditional wire shape.
  • Half-Round wire is like a piece of round wire that has been sliced down the middle, leaving it to look like a half-moon when viewed from one of the ends.  It's good for wire wrapping because the flat side sits against the bead and doesn't slide around as easily as round wire will while you are wrapping it, but it appears like Round wire on the outside.
  • Square wire has four flat sides, which makes it good for wire wrapping because it sits against the bead without too much sliding around.  It can be very attractive because three squared edges are visible. 
  • Twisted wire is sometimes made from square wire.  Twisting turns square wire into textured round wire.  If you have a pin vise or a drill you can twist your own square wire.
TEMPER:  is the hardness of wire.  For me, this has been the most difficult thing to grasp about wire because there are so many variables that affect the hardness of a wire.  Hard wire can be softened by being annealed, which involves heating it.  Soft wire can be hardened by hammering, tumbling, or "work hardening."  I'll talk hammering and tumbling wire on another day.  Work-hardened wire is just what it sounds like...the wire gets harder as you work with it.  Have you ever bent a piece of wire back and forth until it broke?  That's because it will eventually become brittle and break if overworked.  As wire gets thicker, it will feel harder because thick wire is more difficult to bend.
  • Dead-soft wire is best for wire wrapping, wrapped loops, knitting, and crocheting because it is so flexible and does not work harden easily.  It is not good for something that must keep it's shape, like a ring. 
  • Half-hard wire is the temper that is used most often for jewelry.  It is relatively easy to bend, but hardens somewhat as you work with it.  Sometimes, work hardening isn't enough.  I'll talk about hammering and tumbling on another day.
  • Full-hard wire is not good for projects that require flexibility.  It is hard to bend and quickly becomes brittle, causing it to break easily.
  • Spring-hard wire is very difficult to bend.  When made into "memory wire" it springs back into its original shape after being bent--perhaps that's where it got its name.  It is also used to make pin backs and other items that need to maintain their shape.
When you purchase solid wire, including copper wire, from a bead shop, it should be labeled with its temper.  When you buy copper wire from a hardware store, it won't be labeled but will usually be half-hard.  Craft wire is soft and won't be labeled.

To see "Choosing Wire for Jewelry Part 2," click here.

© Copyright 2011 Linda's Art Barn. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Copper & Pewter

This is a follow-up to my blog from the other day, "Gold & Silver Prices." 

A lot of us have started using copper for our wire and findings instead of gold-filled and sterling silver.  Copper is also a commodity and is subject to fluctuating prices, but it's not nearly as expensive as gold and silver.  The day that I posted the gold and silver prices, I saw that copper was a little under $4 a pound, which means that it's less than 25 cents per ounce.  That's a great price if you compare it to gold and silver.

Copper can be very nice on some pieces, but in my opinion, it doesn't work with all colors.  For example, I just don't like the idea of using copper with red, because it's like mixing orange and red.  You might like that look, but it bothers my eyes--probably goes back to the days of my youth when you weren't supposed to mix red, pink, and/or orange.  Of course, you can patina the copper so that it turns a dark brown if you like--I usually don't care for this patina very much because it's dull and looks like tarnish to me and I tend to prefer my metals shiny.  There are recipes for creating a verdigris (green) patina on your copper.  I love the color of verdigris, but it's a form of corrosion and it will flake off.  You might be able to protect it with some spray sealers, but I'm not sure.  I suspect that the sealers would quickly wear off, which makes this a bad choice for items to sell.

You can buy ready-made copper findings for reasonable prices in many local or online bead shops.  You can buy your copper wire in a hardware store--it's usually even cheaper there.  If you can find a hardware store that sells copper wire in various gauges without a plastic coating, you've hit the jackpot!  I understand that Home Depot used to sell small reels of 20 gauge, round copper wire, but I haven't been able to find it recently.  I have bought some copper wire by the foot in their electrical department, but they mostly don't seem to have the gauges that I want.  If you're doing wire-wrapping, you'll need to get your half-round or square wire from a bead shop.

Something to consider...Often the copper wire you buy in a bead shop is treated to resist tarnish.  The copper wire you buy in a hardware store is not treated.  I once made a necklace out of copper links from 2 different gauges of wire.  After a while the larger links (hardware store copper) turned a dull brown while the smaller links (bead shop copper) maintained their color and shine.  In this case, it doesn't bother me because I can occasionally soak the necklace in a vinegar/salt solution for a few minutes to remove the tarnish.  I know that the focal bead I used won't be harmed by the vinegar and salt because it's not porous. 

Lead-Free, Fine Pewter:
Another inexpensive alternative to sterling silver or gold-filled findings is lead-free pewter, also known as fine pewter.  It's made in gold-tone and silver-tone.  Fine pewter doesn't tarnish, which makes it superior to base metal findings.  While the silver-tone looks like sterling silver, the gold-tone can sometimes be a tiny bit brassy.  One downside to fine pewter is that it's brittle and cannot be "work hardened" so you'll only find ready-made findings.  You won't find wire, earwires, open jump rings, or clasps with moving parts made from fine pewter.  There are some wonderful fine pewter spacer beads, bead caps, cones, charms, and toggle clasps available.

For much of my jewelry, I use fine pewter toggle clasps and spacer beads with sterling or gold-filled jump rings and earwires.  Of course, I always list the types of metals I used in my items for sale in their descriptions.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gold & Silver Prices

One winter, about 20 years ago, I hurt my back in a car accident and couldn't ski that year. While my friends were skiing, I wandered into a small bead shop and fell in love with beading. I started out with clasps, jump rings, chains, and headpins in goldtone and silvertone "base metals." I soon learned that those base metal findings didn't maintain their original color or shine for very long.

I continued to "practice" making jewelry with base metals for a while. After all, I was a beginner and I was the only one who was going to wear those pieces—and precious metals were much more expensive than base metals. For example, I think that base-metal headpins were about a penny each while sterling headpins were about 5 cents each back in those days. You might say that's not expensive, but it meant that sterling cost 5 times more than base metal. It really added up when I was making a necklace with lots of dangles or buying clasps and chains.  Once I developed skills, I moved up to sterling silver and 14K gold-filled findings.

Here is some information that some of you might not know about gold:

Gold—cannot rust or corrode. 24K gold is pure gold and is very soft. It must be alloyed with base metals to create 22K, 18K, 14K, and 10K gold to make it hard enough for jewelry. Alloys are also used to make colors, such as rose gold.

Gold Plate—a very thin layer of gold over base metals, such as zinc, nickel, and copper. It is relatively inexpensive, but the plating will wear off quickly.

Vermeil—like gold plating, but is a very thin layer of gold over a core of sterling silver. It is more durable than gold plate, but not as durable as gold filled.

Gold Filled— a layer of gold over brass or other base metal. The gold layer is 50 to 10,000 times thicker than the layer of gold on gold-plated jewelry. Therefore, it lasts much longer. The gold layer will eventually wear through, but could take many years.

Here is some information about silver:

Fine Silver—is 99.9% pure silver and is softer than sterling. It is too soft for clasps, but is good for wire-wrapping.

Sterling Silver—is an alloy using 92.5% silver plus other base metals.

Argentium Silver—is a modern alloy made with 93% silver and 7% germanium. It is similar to Sterling, but is a bit more expensive. Unlike Sterling, it is resistant to tarnish and firescale.

Silver Plate—is similar to gold plate. It is a thin layer of silver over base metals. The plating will wear off quickly.

All this brings me to the current prices of gold and silver, which have been rising quickly in the past few years. These precious metals are commodities, which makes them subject to fluctuating prices.

Average prices in 2000:
     - Silver was about $5 per ounce.
     - Gold was about $280 per ounce.

Closing prices on August 10, 2010:
     - Silver closed at $18.146 per ounce.
     - Gold closed at $1196.20 per ounce.

Of course, these prices are a huge problem for those of us who like to use precious metals in our jewelry creations. Many of us have VERY small businesses and cannot afford to buy in the quantities that most wholesalers require.  We are stuck paying retail for our findings, and then we have to pass the cost on to our customers.