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DIY Men's Jewelry

July 17, 2018

It’s been a while since we had an article on making jewelry for men. For me, it’s not easy to design jewelry for guys. I’ve made some jewelry for my husband over the years and I always get it back because I’ve accidentally added feminine touches (like a few tiny sparkly beads that I thought he wouldn’t notice…). To help make sure that doesn’t happen to you, I’m just going to share some of my favorite designs that OTHER people here at Rings & Things made!

This bracelet is my newest favorite:

The Dragonfire bracelet is created with 12mm round Lava Stone beads and 12mm Dragon Blood Jasper beads. We almost always have Lava Stone in a variety of sizes, but we can’t always get 12mm Dragon Blood Jasper. Lizardite and Kambaba Jasper are excellent alternatives. The beads are strung on size 6 (0.7mm) silk cord, which is wrapped onto 4-strand braided leather cord (this type of braided leather cord is normally used for Southwestern bolo ties). Complete parts and instructions for this bracelet are here.

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DIY 4th of July Jewelry

June 18, 2018

It’s fun to wear something colorful and patriotic for Independence Day, but it’s hard to find good red, white and blue jewelry that isn’t tacky or cheaply made.

So … make your own! The key is to start with quality components, in nice, bright colors. Swarovski makes some of the purest and most reliable reds and blues, and has set the benchmark for sparkling crystal for over a century. The catch? They don’t always have the names you’d expect. Here are my favorites for the 4th of July:

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Wire: Hardness, Softness and Types of Metal

October 5, 2017

I’m sorting (mostly tossing) a bin of papers that “I might need some day” and ran across these notes written at least 10 years ago by Rings & Things founder, Russ Nobbs. It’s a nice summary of wire-related jewelry terms that can be confusing. So I’m archiving it here on the interwebs before recycling the piece of paper.

Hardness is the “temper” of the wire, or how springy it is:

  • Dead Soft is as soft and bendable as the wire can get.
  • Full Hard is as stiff and springy as the wire can get.
  • Half Hard is … halfway in between.

Sterling wire is inherently softer than Gold Filled (GF) wire.

Steel wire ( such as 316L and memory wire) is inherently harder than most other jewelry wire.

Continue Reading…

12 Days of Christmas DIY Charm Bracelet

October 20, 2014

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a Partridge in a Pear Tree.”

Here’s a fun way to remember the rest of the gifts in the “12 Days of Christmas” song: Make yourself a bracelet with a charm representing each gift.

12 days of Christmas Bracelet

“12 days of Christmas” DIY Charm Bracelet

1. Gather Supplies and Tools:

2. Determine Bracelet Length

  • Decide if the standard 7.5″ bracelet is the right length for the recipient.
    Remove links to shorten; add links to lengthen.
  • The links on this chain are tough! Use 2 pairs of pliers and twist to open a link. If you want to be able to re-use the removed chain links, open and close them just like jump rings:
Jump Ring Tip - How to open and close jump rings

Jump Ring (and Chain Link) Security Tip

  • If your pliers have scrapes or serrations on them, dip the tips in Tool Magic, or wrap the tips in masking tape to prevent scraping the jump rings and chain links.

Important notes about toggle clasps and bracelets:

Tip 1) Toggle clasps are great for bracelets because they are easy to put on and take off with one hand, but beware: If the bracelet is too loose, the toggle can work its way out and cause the bracelet to get lost! Whenever possible, adjust the length to fit the wearer’s wrist.  (I removed 7 links to get it to fit me properly. )

Tip 2) Because you pull the bar (or “T”) portion of the clasp through the round loop, toggle clasps work best if you don’t dangle any charms from the last link or 2 of chain.

3. Determine Placement of Charms

gold chain bracelet with oval links, perfect for charm bracelets

There are approximately 40 links on this bracelet.

There are approximately 40 links on the pictured bracelet. I removed 7 to make the bracelet fit more securely. This leaves 33 links.

The charms look best if you have a charm on every other link, and an empty link at each end. That takes up 25 links.

This leaves 8 links (4 open spaces to attach fun dangles for the full length of the bracelet, following the same every-other-link pattern as the charms). That brings us to…

4. Make Some Sparkly Dangles

Tutorials — How to make beaded head pins:

  1. How to make beaded head pins with a 1-step looper (blog)
    or…
  2. How to make traditional beaded head pins (PDF)
Festive beaded head pins for 12 Days of Christmas Charm Bracelet

Festive beaded head pins for “12 Days of Christmas” Charm Bracelet

What to put on each dangle:

Make 4 or more beaded head pin dangles. (I made 21.)

  • Your partridge needs a pear, so use a golden topaz teardrop bead for one or two of the dangles that you’ll place near the partridge.
12 Days of Christmas Bracelet Tutorial - Closeup of Pear "Tree"

“Pear Tree”

I topped every dangle with a tiny 2mm round gold plated bead. Why? Even though I’ve been making beaded head pins for over 20 years, I still (too often) chip glass and crystal beads when I finish my loop. A simple metal bead on top fixes this issue.

I also put a tiny round bead at the bottom of (almost) every head pin.  Why? I like the look of ball-end head pins, but they are more expensive than standard “nail head” pins. This tiny extra bead creates the look of a ball-end head pin.

Close-up of beaded Christmas head pins

Close-up of beaded Christmas head pins.  Use either Swarovski crystal head pins or standard head pins — or a mix of both.

5. Attach the Charms

Start placing your charms, then finish making the dangles. Straighten the bracelet chain and place it on the Chain Sta (“Chain Stay”), or pin/hang the bracelet on a convenient shelf, clipboard, etc.

Chain Sta (Chain Stay) chain holder

The “Chain Stay” chain holder makes it easy to keep your chain straight and add dangles at consistent intervals without worrying about losing count.

Starting at approximately the 6th link from the Ring portion of the clasp, add the Partridge.

12 days of Christmas Charm 1 Partridge In a Pear Tree

Partridge

Use large, sturdy jump rings to attach the charms in the same order as the verses in the song. To make sure you get your jump rings securely closed, use 2 pairs of pliers, and twist, don’t “oval-ize” the links. (See above tip.)

12 days of Christmas Charm 2 Turtle Dove

Skip a link, add #2) Turtle Doves

12 days of Christmas Charm 3 French Hen

Skip a link, add #3) French Hens

Keep skipping a link before adding the other charms in the following order:

4 Calling Birds

#4) Calling Birds

12 days of Christmas Charm 5 Gold Rings

#5) Gold Rings

12 days of Christmas Charm 6 Geese-A-Laying

#6) Geese-A-Laying

12 days of Christmas Charm 7 Swans-a-Swimming

#7) Swans-a-Swimming

12 days of Christmas Charm 8 Maids-a-Milking

#8) Maids-a-Milking

12 days of Christmas Charm 9 Ladies Dancing

#9) Ladies Dancing

12 days of Christmas Charm 10 Lords-a-Leaping

#10) Lords-a-Leaping

12 days of Christmas Charm 11 Pipers Piping

#11) Pipers Piping

12 days of Christmas Charm 12 Drummers Drumming

#12) Drummers Drumming

After placing the charms, fill empty end spots with colorful dangles:

  • Use a single large jump ring to put a “pear” dangle and (optional) a green crystal dangle on the 4th link from the end (near the partridge).
  • Repeat with the 2nd link from the end.
  • Repeat with other colorful dangles to fill empty spots at the “T” end of the bracelet.

For a mostly-gold bracelet, you’re done!

Or … If you decide the bracelet needs more color, fill the links between the charms with additional colorful dangles in shades of siam red, emerald green, opalescent milky white and sparkling crystal.

12 days of Christmas bracelet Finished

12 days of Christmas bracelet … finished!

Put the Christmas color dangles in any order you want, or use my “bird-brain” memory hint:
Some of these birds are easy to remember, especially once you have pictures (charms) for each. But I’ve never seen a French Hen or a Turtle Dove in real life, so I surrounded my turtle dove with “turtles are green” and “doves are white” sparkling hints.

Close-up of green and white crystal beads surrounding the Turtle Dove

Left to right: Partridge with pears, Turtle Dove with sparkling green and white hints, French Hen, open-mouthed Calling Bird

Ready to get started?

Rings & Things has everything you need!

Christmas and winter holiday jewelry supplies for sale

Purchase Christmas Components Here

CzechMates Memory Wire Bracelet Tutorial

September 25, 2014

I love the Picasso finishes and and unusual colors of CzechMate 2-hole tile beads and other CzechMate 2-hole beads. But it’s hard to find a project with them that doesn’t involve needles and intricate beadweaving.

So … here it is! When I discovered pliers designed for looping ends of memory wire, I decided on an ombre chevron cuff bracelet. This 4- to 6-row ombre chevron design takes advantage of the CzechMate color combinations, and is easy to “string” on memory wire. The outside row uses a few seed beads (or bugle beads) near the edges, because their sizes are so compatible with these 2-hole beads.

Memory Wire bracelet made with 2-hole CzechMate tile beads

My first 2 ombre CzechMate bracelets. Rather than wrapping the memory wire around your wrist three times like most memory wire bracelets, these are cuff bracelets.

For a petite wrist, use standard stainless steel memory wire. For larger wrists or a looser fit, use stainless steel anklet memory wire. (Don’t be swayed by the word “anklet” — it’s actually an excellent bracelet size.)

Cutting Memory Wire:

When cutting any type of wire, wear eye protection, or at least make sure your bits of wire will end up someplace safe, not in anyone’s eye. Cup your free hand over the end, and aim the wire downward at a soft surface like a flocked bead mat.

Tools and Memory Wire:

Memory wire is strong, springy steel — much tougher than most jewelry wire. It requires strong, durable tools, both for cutting and bending. I tried cutting steel wire with my cheap cutters and one blade SNAPPED, shooting across the room in 3 pieces. I also dented high quality cutters that were not designed to cut steel. I strongly suggest a pair of heavy-duty flush cutters and a pair of memory wire looping pliers. They aren’t too expensive, and they work great for lighter-duty projects as well.

Step 1. Practice Making Loops:

Although Memory Wire Pliers make it easy to make consistent-sized loops, steel wire is tougher to bend than other jewelry wire. I recommend practicing memory wire loops before you begin adding beads. This helps you make all your loops at the same angle, and avoid chipping your end beads.

CzechMate Memory Wire Bracelet - Practice

Cut four 2″ pieces (each about 1/4 of a circle). Practice making a loop at each end, with both loops on the same plane (or angle).

Memory Wire - How to Make Nice Loops

How to Make Nice Loops with Memory Wire

1. Grip one end of the wire firmly in the pliers and use your fingers to smoothly wrap the wire around the small side of the pliers. Don’t let it twist upward or downward.
2. About halfway around the pliers, release the plier grip on the wire, and get a new grip so you can finish making your circle.
3. Close the loop ALL the way — don’t leave a spot for beads to slide down inside a gap in the loop.

Repeat at other end. Grip the wire’s tip, push around, release, re-grip, and finish pushing. Take a look at your circles — are they the same size and angle, or are they twisting ickily in random directions? Make a few more until it’s easy to make nice consistent loops on the same plane. Also note that these loops are all to the OUTside of the circle, not the inside:

Memory Wire Loop - Do and Don't

For bracelet comfort, make all loops curve to the outside, not the inside of the arc.

Step 2. Assemble your beads:

Appletini TOHO Seed & Bugle Bead Mix

Appletini TOHO Seed & Bugle Bead Mix

TOHO seed bead mixes work excellently with CzechMate 2-hole tile beads. There are great color mixes to choose from, and you can use 3 large seed beads, 4 small seed beads, or a single bugle bead as perfect-size spacers.

A few beads from each assortment are too tiny to fit on memory wire, or too big to fit next to a Czechmate, so save those for future projects.

Step 3. Make the bracelet:

Cut 4 pieces of wire, each about 1-1/8 coils long (Like going all the way around the clock face from midnight to 2pm.).

3a. Cut 4 pieces of wire, each 1 to 1-1/8 coil long. Make sure they are all the same length.
Carefully round 1 end of each wire.

CzechMate Memory Wire Bracelet Step 3b

3b. For a 2-color bracelet, count out 21 tile beads of each color, in sets of 3.

For a 1-color bracelet, use approximately 42 beads. For a 3-color bracelet, count out 15 tile beads of each color in sets of 3. Lay them out in the order that you’ll use them. You might not use all the beads you laid out, but it’s easier to keep your pattern going correctly if you lay out the beads in advance.

String 1 bead.

3c. String 1 tile bead.

Pick up a 2nd wire, and string 1 bead. String a 3rd bead onto both wires.

3d. Pick up a 2nd wire, and string 1 tile bead.
String a 3rd tile bead onto both wires.

String 2nd color using same pattern.

3e. String 2nd color using same pattern.

Don't worry that the beads and strands flip and flop around at this point.

Don’t worry that the beads and strands flip and flop around at this point.

End with 2 tile beads. Make sure you have at least 1/2" (12mm) of wire left.

3f. End with 2 tile beads. Make sure you have at least 1/2″ (12mm) of wire left.

3g. After your last 2 beads, push beads snug (but not super tight), and trim wire to approx. 1/2″ if necessary. Next, very carefully round the end wires for both strands (one wire at a time). Abrupt / harsh movements may chip the end bead.

Take another of your prepared wires, and string 4 seed beads, or a single bugle bead. Place these next to your strung CzechMates … do they look good? If not, pick a different color or size and test it before you begin the next step.

Back at the beginning, feed a new piece of prepared wire through the other hole in one of your first beads.

3h. Back at the beginning, feed a new piece of prepared wire through the other hole in one of your first beads.

3i. Where the wire comes out, add 3-5 seed beads (or a bugle bead) so they are the same total length as a Czechmate tile bead or slightly shorter.

Feed through next CzechMate, add bugle or seed beads, repeat to end of bracelet.

3j. Feed through next CzechMate, add bugle or seed beads, repeat to end of bracelet.

Repeat for 4th row, trim excess if necessary, and carefully round the ends.

3k. Repeat for 4th row, trim excess if necessary, and carefully round the ends. (Click image for close-up.)

Tips & Errata:

Do your best to make the loops all face the same direction, but don’t be hard on yourself if they don’t. Here is my first bracelet, with wonky ends and a chipped bead. When I taught a class on how to make this bracelet, I introduced the “practice making loops” step, and not a single person chipped a bead!

Example of bad loops on my first memory wire bracelet.

Close-up of bad loops on my first bracelet. The tips listed above should help you make better loops and avoid chipped beads.

By my 3rd bracelet, I realized it’s much easier to finish the ends if the strands (after looping) are tiny bit shorter than one full coil, so now I design these more like cuffs than bangles.

Czechmate and Memory Wire - Finished Cuff-Style bracelets

It’s much easier to finish the ends, if each strand, after looping, is slightly shorter than one full coil, more like a cuff than the bangles I originally envisioned.

You’ll soon perfect your ability to make all your loops at the same angle. After that, these are quick and easy to make, so make a bunch for gifts or to sell!

Czechmate Memory Wire Bracelets

Variations on a theme.

Depending on the size of your spacer beads, some bracelets spike up a bit in the middle, and others curve up at the outside edges. This is part of the fun with these designs. Used in this pattern, I think the CzechMates™ Two Hole Triangle Beads look like tiny Stegosaurus / dragon spikes.

Parts & Supplies:

Any questions? Please ask! (Click on “Comments” or “Leave a Reply” below.)

How can you tell if gemstone beads are genuine or imitation?

April 28, 2014

We recently received this email asking whether gemstone beads (especially from China) are fake, and it’s a great opportunity to address not only her question, but related questions that we frequently get over the phone and in our Showroom.

Hello,

I have recently come across some articles that say gemstones exported from China are fakes or contaminated. As a large distributor, do you test the products or suppliers before you re sell the items? If so, what are your findings? In general, do you think there is much truth to the speculation about gemstones and semi precious stones exported from China being fake or contaminated? Thank you for your help. –Lauren

Russ’ reply:

This is a great question. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to describe how we deal with misinformation and misleading names in the bead industry. We’ve struggled with this for years ever since I learned from a rockhound that most black onyx started out as chalcedony treated with sugar water and then heated.

The simple answer is yes, there is a lot of misrepresentation and misleading information about beads from China and elsewhere.
No, it’s not just beads from China that are enhanced or misrepresented. It’s not that simple. Enhancing or misrepresenting gemstones is not limited to Chinese suppliers.

Most buyers do not realize that gem enhancement is ancient, easily 2500 years old. Black onyx enhancement is reported in the notebooks of Pliny the Elder.

Some examples of treated or commonly misrepresented stones:

Black onyx is treated with sugar and "carmelized" with heat.

Black onyx is treated with sugar and “carmelized” with heat.

Red carnelian is treated with acid in which iron has been dissolved and then heated.

Red carnelian is treated with acid in which iron has been dissolved and then heated.

Most blue sapphires are heat-treated yellow sapphires, often by the miners.

Manmade Hematite Beads and Pendants

Most hematite beads are a manmade sintered iron oxide product, leading to names like Hematine, Hemalyke and hemalike.

All the "fruity quartz" names from a few years back are merely pretty glass.

All the “fruity quartz” names from a few years back are merely pretty glass.

"Opalite" is not a laser treated quartz. It's a pretty glass with an opalescent quality.

Opalite” is not a laser treated quartz. It’s a pretty glass with an opalescent quality, similar to milky opal crystal and Czech glass beads.

Turquoise dyed magnesite beads

Magnesite is a neutral stone that takes dyes and treatments very well.

Most beads sold as “Chalk turquoise”, and too many beads on the market as “turquoise” or “stabilized turquoise” are really dyed magnesite.

Broken (and cut) magnesite nuggets showing both natural and dyed versions.

Broken/cut magnesite nuggets showing natural and dyed versions. (Click image for close-up.)

Turquoise Beads

Most turquoise beads on the market are stabilized turquoise, hardened with resins. (This enhancement is usually revealed, but confusion exists between stabilized turquoise and dyed magnesite.)

Although we are not gemologists at Rings & Things, and we don’t have fancy lab facilities or an X Ray Def machine in-house, we do use tried-and-true simple tests when we’re unsure about a batch of beads. When we receive unusually bright beads, or lovely even-colored beads strung on cord the exact same color, we put them in a bin of water for a few hours (or even weeks) to test if they are colorfast. We break occasional beads to see what color and/or texture is inside. We send out samples from metal suppliers for destructive assay to verify silver content and lack of lead or cadmium content. There is no equivalent testing facility for most gemstones sold as beads. The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) does a great job testing precious stones but they are not much help for inexpensive stone beads.

We break occasional beads to see what color and/or texture is inside.

We break occasional beads to see what color and/or texture is inside. (Click image for close-up.)

We ask a lot of questions from our suppliers. We research on the internet and ask others in the gem and bead industry. We track new stones names on the gem forums (particularly mindat.org.)

We make mistakes, but when we discover we’ve used the wrong description or name we quickly change to the correct one and admit our error.

Editor’s note: One example is Thunder Agate:

Thunder Agate beads, mined near Thunder Bay, Ontario, and cut in China.

Thunder Agate beads, mined near Thunder Bay, Ontario, and cut in China.

Our first batch of Thunder Agate was sold to us as Lake Superior Agate (the official gemstone of the state of Minnesota), but a customer in Minnesota told us “…it would be very hard to get any large Lake Superiors and the colors are not those of our area”. So we looked closer, and questioned the vendor, who said the rough is from the Thunder Bay area of Ontario (which is close, but not quite the same as the official stone). So we immediately re-tagged our beads, and sent a corrected email.


Part of the problem with beads from China is language and culture. Chinese names are often descriptive rather than technically mineralogical. The characters for turquoise in Chinese mean “Green tree stone.” Anything that looks like “Green tree stone” might be called turquoise.

chinese characters for turquoise stone

The characters for turquoise in Chinese mean “Green tree stone.”

Jade is very important in China but the word “Yu” for jade is used for many different stones that are used the way jade is used in China. Here is a quote that Barbara in Beadcollector.net wrote during her visit to Beijing Geological Museum:

‘Jade’ in China describes all polycrystalline and cryptocrystalline mineral aggregates and a few non-crystalline materials that are suitable for carving and making into jewellery. The characteristics are beauty, colour, moderate hardness, tough and fine texture, and as well as nephrite and jadeite includes opal, serpentine, quartz, turquoise, lapis lazuli, malachite, dushun yu, marble, natural glass, rhodocrosite, sodalite, and rhodonite.

You see the problem this causes? In the West, only jadeite and nephrite are really jade.

I agree that many stone beads coming from China are sold with inaccurate names or descriptions.

  • Some misrepresentation is intentional because the fake will sell better if the buyer thinks is is a more expensive stone.
  • Some is misunderstanding the level of mineralogical detail or accuracy we in the West want.
  • Some is that the importer does not ask enough questions of the cutter or Chinese exporter and passes on inaccurate names.
  • Some is mislabeling by the Chinese exporter because they do not understand the English words.
  • Some is simply lack of knowledge about stones and not caring to find out what they are selling.

For example, a Chinese seller understands that dyed magnesite is not real turquoise and that “stabilized” means the stone is enhanced. This leads to a dealer with 2 piles of blue beads, one labeled “Stabilized Turquoise” and the other called “Natural Turquoise.” The stabilized pile was really blue dyed magnesite. The “natural” was real turquoise hardened with clear resin. Natural to us means that nothing has been done to enhance the stone. “Natural” to that dealer meant that it started out as real turquoise.

On Etsy and on Chinese sites I see blue dyed magnesite sold as dyed howlite. They tried to be accurate (and knew it wasn’t turquoise) but are using the wrong stone name.

Examples of Natural and Dyed Howlite

Examples of Natural and Dyed Howlite. Shown: Untreated white howlite donut, surface-dyed howlite donut, and strand of dyed howlite beads represented by the seller as “natural turquoise.” (I paid $75 for this necklace in the 70’s. It’s part of Rings & Things’ collection of fake turquoise. We learn from mistakes. ~Russ)

A lot of stones can be dyed or enhanced with stronger colors. Lately we’ve seen many common stones with intense colors added to them. Stones this intense should almost always be labeled as “dyed” or “enhanced”.

Bright Dyed / Enhanced Agate beads

Bright Dyed / Enhanced Candy Jade and Agate beads.

We try to accurately label enhanced and dyed stones. From our old printed catalog:

Some stones are simply dyed, which is not always colorfast. One way to avoid getting caught with stones that “run” when they are worn, is to look at the cord or plastic line the beads are strung on. If the cord is stained with blotches the same color as the beads, then beware. We avoid stones that look like they will “run”, so our altered beads are generally enhanced with various trade secrets such as the centuries-old methods for coloring black onyx and carnelian, or dyes that only come off when exposed to acetone or acid.

We label gemstone beads in our catalog and online store with the following symbols and terms:
+ enhanced,
* manmade, and
~ descriptive name.
There isn’t room on the tags for explanatory paragraphs, so on each stones Category page in our web store, we have more information about the stones. Scroll down below the Carnelian beads on this page for an example. To see all of this information in one place, you might also be interested in our Gemstone Beads Index (sorry, no longer in print – but almost all of the information from it, is in the headers and footers of our Gemstone Beads Categories in our online store, and we’re working on getting the remaining information live again); it has a great deal of information about each stone (where it is mined, and how to care for it, as well as common enhancements or other important information).

+ Enhancements can include:

Dye/stain/acid to change the stone’s color or make natural color more pronounced or uniform.
Heat treatment to produce an effect such as crackling or color change.
Irradiation (harmless to the wearer) to create a new color.
Plastic/resin/wax to harden the exterior, making it more durable.

~ Descriptive Name

The names for these beads are meant to describe what they look like, rather than identify what they are made of. These are generally accepted, common terms including “new jade” (a serpentine) and “African turquoise” (a jasper). They are genuine, natural gemstones that resemble more-expensive stones, and make excellent substitutes.

* Manmade

You’ll find that many online sellers, and nearly all of the “big box” stores don’t clearly label manmade gemstones. Goldstone, for example, has been made in Venice since the 17th century, but few end consumers are made aware this is a fancy glass rather than a gemstone grown by nature.

Stones carved from “block” should be called manmade, but many sellers call them “stabilized” or “reconstituted”, or don’t question them at all. Genuine malachite has become rare, very expensive, and nearly impossible to find as beads. Our manmade malachite is a nice imitation carved from block.

Large pile of manmade imitation turquoise block at a Chinese Materials seller visited by Russ Nobbs in 1996.

Large pile of manmade imitation turquoise block at a Chinese Materials seller visited by Russ Nobbs in 1996. (Click image for close-up.)

I’ve collected many pictures of fake and misrepresented turquoise on my Pinterest page to help educate buyers: http://www.pinterest.com/russnobbs/turquoise-imitations/

What can you do to avoid buying misnamed and misrepresented beads? Buy from dealers you trust and who can tell you about the material. Ask questions when you shop. Ask detailed questions. If you are uncomfortable with the answers or the prices, don’t buy. Do some of your own research by checking the information in our gemstone category pages, Gemstone Index, or other sites and lapidary books.

I hope this answered most of your questions. I appreciate your business and your questions.

—————————————-
Russ Nobbs, Founder & Director
http://www.rings-things.com – Spokane, WA – USA
Shop gemstone beads now:

Additional questions can be posted at our Facebook page, or using the “Add a response” link below.

Links updated 2016-01-08. ~Polly Nobbs-LaRue. Russ, we miss you.

How To Make Tassel Earrings

March 23, 2014

Tassel earrings can be made so many different ways: The tassel itself can be chain, plain or fancy head pins, beading cable with sparkling crystal beads, Wire Lace, almost any type of thread … even spikes!

And then, how to top off the tassel? Bead caps, cone ends and bullet ends are classic tassel tops, but other options are crystal dome beads, fold-over clamps, and simple jump rings.

Here are 12 of my favorite tassel earring tutorials from 9 designers, with tips for each pair, and — if the original project from 2015 is still available — links to each designer’s complete supply list and tutorial.

Fuchsia Daydream Tassel Earrings

How to make Fuchsia Daydream Tassel Earrings

Fuchsia Daydream Tassel Earrings
by Melissa Rhoades

The fuchsia flowers that bloom on countless front porches during warm weather inspired these crystal earrings. Pre-made chain tassels and two layers of crystal dome beads from Swarovski give depth and movement. To create the flower’s top, add crystal beads to a 2″ eye pin in this order: light pink bicone, dark pink bicone, 8mm fuchsia dome bead, 15mm amethyst dome bead, and top with a green bicone. Create a simple loop above the beads.

There is some debate about the best way to create a simple wire loop. For step-by-step illustrations of 3 popular methods, see page 1 of Rings & Things Jewelry Basics 101 PDF.

Add a pre-made chain tassel to the bottom loop, then make tiny dangles to hang from the chain, using ball-end head pins, 4mm crystal bicone beads and simple wire loops.

Tip for working with wire, jump rings, eye pins and head pins: Use non-serrated pliers to avoid marring your wire, and/or add Tool Magic™ to the tips of your pliers.


Shores of Curacao

How to make Shores of Curacao Tassel Earrings

Shores of Curacao Tassel Earrings
by Jan Roberts

When is the last time you saw a tutorial for clip-on tassel earrings … with spikes!?!

This spiky pair of earrings uses the same pre-made 8-strand chain tassels as above, with lightweight metallized plastic spikes, and a great clip-on earring finding from TierraCast.

Cut the tassel chains to different (somewhat random) lengths for a feathery look, and use jump rings to attach spikes to the chain ends. This is a great design for clip-on earrings, because the metallic plastic spikes are hollow, making the whole design very lightweight.

How to open and close jump rings

Jump Ring Tip: To open and close jump rings, twist sideways instead of “ovalling” them. This keeps their shape better, which makes them easier to close all the way.

For more jump ring tricks, see page 3 of the Rings & Things basic jewelry-making PDF.


Bright Particles Tassel Earrings

How to make Bright Particles Tassel Earrings

Bright Particles Tassel Earrings
by Rita Hutchinson

Cut 10 pieces of chain. 2 each: 2″, 1.75″, 1.25″, 1″ and 0.5″. Add pairs of the molecule crystals back-to-back to 8mm round jump rings, and attach a set to the bottom of each chain. Attach one chain of each length to an 8mm jump ring. Add another jump ring to the top of this. Add a final pair of molecule crystals to the top jump ring.

Tip for cutting equal lengths of chain: Cut one piece of chain to the required length, and run a head pin through an end link. Slide the end link of the spooled chain onto this head pin next to the original chain.
Hold the head pin up horizontally (parallel to the floor) with the two chains dangling straight down. Cut the chain from the spool, the same length as the piece already cut. Repeat for the total number of pieces you need.

How to Cut Equal Chain Lengths

Hold up the pin, and it’s easy to see where to cut!


Lilac Tassel Earrings — fit for a Queen!

How to Make Lilac Bliss Tassel Earrings

Lilac Bliss Tassel Earrings
by Mollie Valente

Cut 14 pieces of chain, each 1.5″ long (7 pieces per earring). See tip above, for cutting equal lengths of chain.

For each earring, string the end link of seven chain pieces onto a 5mm jump ring, and connect the jump ring to a 2″ eye pin loop. String the eye pin up through a bullet end (hiding the jump ring), then add a 7mm rhinestone wheel and 8mm crystal briolette bead to the top. Finish by wire-wrapping a loop, adding the chain tassel to the post earring before finishing the loop. Mechanical-grip nuts are long-lasting, secure earring backs.

For step-by-step instructions on making wire-wrapped loops, see page 2 of Rings & Things Jewelry Basics 101 PDF.


Capped Sea Jellies

How to Make Capped Sea Jellies Tassel Earrings

Capped Sea Jellies Tassel Earrings
by Amy Mickelson

Use round-nose pliers to carefully uncurl and slightly straighten the loop on two tassels. Slide the C-Koop flower bead caps over the straightened loops, and reform the simple loops. Attach a French clip ear wire to each loop.


Nature Flows – Sparkling Crystal Tassel Earrings

How to Make Nature Flows Tassel Earrings by Kayla Hefling

Nature Flows Tassel Earrings
by Kayla Hefling

To make these sparkling earrings, cut 4 pieces of beading cable, and fold them in half. Hold all 4 strands together and run a large (size 3) crimp bead over the folded strands, creating a loop at the top. Flatten the crimp. String 4mm faceted crystal rondelle beads on each strand, add a small (size 1) crimp to the bottom, and crimp. Slide a floral bullet end over the top, and attach an ear wire to the loop.

Crimp Bead Tip: You can simply flatten crimp beads with a pair of flat-nose pliers, or use a pair of crimping pliers to create a smaller, neatly rounded crimp.


Crystal Bronze Persuasion

How to Make Crystal Bronze Persuasion Tassel Earrings by Laurae Sather

Crystal Bronze Persuasion Tassel Earrings
by Laurae Sather

Add approximately 9 antiqued Indian brass beads to each 7/8″ head pin. Make a simple loop at the top of each head pin.

Trim the head off a head pin, and make a large loop on one end, to make the beaded head pin dangles easier to attach. Attach 5 beaded head pins to this large loop. Run this pin up through a 15mm Swarovski Crystal Bronze Shade dome bead, and carefully make a simple loop at the top. Attach a Bronze Niobium French hook ear wire to the top loop.

Tip for turning head pins into eye pins: If you run out of eye pins or wire the right size, you can convert head pins into eye pins. Simply snip the head off, and make loops as needed.

See: more colors and sizes of Swarovski’s crystal dome bead


Disco Wizard Tassel Earrings

Tutorial for Disco Wizard Tassel Earrings by Amy Mickelson

Disco Wizard Tassel Earrings
by Amy Mickelson

Use rhinestone chain and long “wizard hat” cone ends to create this fun pair of sparkling earrings.

For each earring, cut 3 pieces of rhinestone chain (2 to 2.5″ long), and add a chain end to each piece. Use chain-nose pliers to gently fold the prongs of the chain tab over the edges of the rhinestone.

Add a 4.5mm jump ring to the chain tab of the longest chain, then attach this jump ring and the other 2 pieces of chain to a 3″ eye pin. If the loop on the eye pin is not large enough for the two chain tabs and jump ring, cut off the eye and make a larger loop.

Slide a long cone over the eye pin to cover the chain tabs. Make sure each piece of rhinestone chain faces out. If not, rearrange them on the eye pin.

Make a wrapped loop (page 2 of Jewelry Basics 101) at the top of the cone, and attach a leverback ear wire.


Lilac Crawley Tassel Earrings

Tutorial for Lilac Crawley Tassel Earrings by Rita Hutchinson

Lilac Crawley Tassel Earrings
by Rita Hutchinson

Randomly string approximately 1″ of tiny pearl beads, 3mm Crystal Lilac Shadow bicone beads, and size 15 Miyuki seed beads onto 9 1.5″ sterling head pins. Make a simple loop at the top of each head pin.

Separate these into a group of 4 and a group of 5. Connect the group of 4 with a 4mm jump ring, and connect the group of 5 with a 5mm jump ring.

Trim the head off a head pin. Make a loop at one end, and attach the 2 jump rings to the loop, then string this through a sterling silver Santa Me’ cone, add a crystal bead to the top and make a wrapped loop directly to a textured Marquise ear wire (ear wire loop doesn’t open).

Repeat for other earring.


Petra Chain Tassel Earrings

Cut 14 pieces of chain in varying lengths from 2″ to 1.25″. Make sure you have two sets of each length. Keep the sets of seven separated. (See: tip for cutting equal chain lengths.)

Using 1″ ball-end head pins, create wrapped-loop 4mm round gemstone dangles connected to one end of each chain. For step-by-step instructions on making wire-wrapped loops, see page 2 of Rings & Things Jewelry Basics 101.

Attach the other end of a seven-chain set to the loop of a 1.5″ eye pin. Pull this eye pin through a bullet end and add a gemstone bead to the top. Make a simple wire loop, and attach to an ear wire.

See: Complete parts and tutorial for Petra


Modern Tassel Earrings

This great pair of unique tassel earrings from Tiffany uses some non-standard materials and techniques: beading chain… but no beads. And she topped off the chain with ribbon crimp ends (and a dab of glue).

See the full tutorial, with step-by-step photos.


Swarovski Crystal Tassel Earrings

This lovely pair of tassel earrings is made with Vintaj bead caps, Vintaj bird charms, 16mm shell pearls, a crystal bicone mix in shades of brown, and 1mm chocolate WireLace.

Check out this nifty template Tiffany created, to get just the right look:

I’ll let her explain in the proces in her own words and step-by-step photos.


I hope you enjoyed these designs, and learned useful new jewelry-making techniques!

If you have any questions, please ask.

Rings & Things ships jewelry-making supplies all over the world, and we love to teach you how to make jewelry, whether you make jewelry for sale, or just for fun.

~Polly

How To Make A Wire Bird Nest

February 10, 2014

It’s February, and snow and ice are covering every surface… which means I’d really like to fly away to someplace warm for the winter.

Wire wrapped bird nest bracelet with freshwater pearl beads and Vintaj bird charms.

Wire wrapped bird nest bracelet with freshwater pearl beads and Vintaj bird charms.

But I don’t have wings, so the next best thing is having Kayla explain how she makes these adorable wire bird’s nests.  She made this sweet bracelet by creating 3 wrapped nests with different shades of freshwater pearls, then added swooping Vintaj bird charms.  (The chain is one of our favorites: antiqued brass ring & connector chain.)

Gather supplies for wire bird nest tutorial.

Gather supplies for the wire bird nests.

These wire nests use only a few supplies:

And a single tool:

Warning: Pearls often have tiny holes, so if you’re following this design using different pearls than the ones we’ve linked, you may need to use 26-gauge wire instead.

Wire Bird Nest Instructions:

Step 1. Feed 3 beads onto the wire. Leave about 3/4" tail.

Step 1.
Feed 3 beads onto the wire. Leave about 3/4″ tail.

Step 2. Begin curving the egg beads into a circle.

Step 2. Begin curving the egg beads into a circle.

Step 3. Take the wire tail and wrap it around the longer end a few times.

Step 3. Take the wire tail and wrap it around the longer end a few times. Use your fingers, not pliers, so you don’t mar the wire or scratch the pearls.

Step 4. Trim excess wire.

Step 4. Trim excess wire. (Remove the short tail.)

Step 5. Wrap the wire 5-6 times around the pearl beads.  (Add more wraps for a thicker nest.) Don't try to be too neat! This style of wire wrapping is supposed to be a bit messy.

Step 5. Wrap the wire 5-6 times around the pearl beads. Don’t try to be too perfect — this style of wire wrapping is supposed to be a bit messy.

For a thicker nest, just wrap a few more times around the beads.

Step 6. Feed the wire all the way down through the nest.

Step 6. Feed the wire all the way down through the nest.

Step 7. Wrap two times around one side of the nest, then go about 1/3 of the way around the nest, feed wire through, wrap two times, go 1/3 of the way around and feed the wire through a final spot.

Step 7. Wrap two times around one side of the nest, then go about 1/3 of the way around the nest, feed wire through, wrap two times, go 1/3 of the way around and feed the wire through a final spot.

Step 8. At the final spot, wrap three times, and trim excess wire.  This is where narrow-tipped flush cutters are nice, because it's best if you can trim the wire toward the inside of the nest so it won't snag.

Step 8. At the final spot, wrap three times, and trim excess wire. This is where narrow-tipped flush cutters are nice, because it’s best if you can trim the wire inside of the nest so it won’t snag.

Finished: perfectly messy springtime wire-wrapped bird's nests!

Finished: Perfectly messy & sweet Springtime wire-wrapped bird’s nests!

The beads in the image above are (clockwise from top):

The wire is 22-gauge gunmetal Artistic Wire.

Want more options? Try these egg-shaped gemstone beads, or other colors of oval freshwater pearl beads. And once you make a few of these in colorful Artistic wire, you might want to branch out into sterling silver wire or gold-filled wire!

Flying the Nest - Bracelet Tutorial (with full parts list for bracelet)

Flying the Nest – Bracelet Tutorial (with full parts list for bracelet)

~ Polly & Kayla

Note: This style of wire-wrapped birds nest “baskets” work great for bracelets, earrings and pendants, because they don’t have a closed-off back — you can see the pretty egg-shaped pearl or gemstone beads from both sides of the charm.

 

Best Riveting Tool Set

July 22, 2013

With 100s of rivets, eyelets, and related tools to pick from, the #2 riveting question I get is:

What are the best tools to easily
set both rivets and eyelets?

The answer depends on whether you want to rivet mostly leather, or mostly metal.

For leather, see my Riveting with TierraCast Leather Findings tutorial.


For metal and mixed media, the best set of riveting tools is…

This combination for 1/16″ diameter rivets and eyelets:

1/16" Long Reach Rivet Tool

#69-907 1/16″ Long Reach Piercing/Riveting Tool
— one end pierces; the other end sets 1/16″ rivets

1/16" Long Reach Reverse Rivet Flaring Set

#69-990 1/16″ Long Reach Reverse Rivet Flaring Set – for riveting tightly curved items, like rings and bangles

1/16" domed piercing base

#69-902 1/16″ domed piercing base — for piercing curved items

Fidget (hinged book pin) made with 1/16" eyelets and rivets

Fidget (hinged book pin) made with 1/16″ eyelets and rivets

Live with Intention - Cuff Bracelet (made with domed piercing base and reverse riveting accessory)

Live with Intention – Cuff Bracelet (made with domed piercing base and reverse riveting accessory)

Plus this combination for 3/32″ diameter rivets and eyelets:

Long Reach 3/32 Riveting Tool

#69-993 3/32″ Long Reach Piercing/Riveting Tool — one end pierces 3/32″ holes; other end sets 3/32″ rivets

3/32" Long Reach Reverse Rivet Flaring Set

#69-996 3/32″ Long Reach Reverse Rivet Flaring Set — for riveting tightly curved items, like rings and bangles

3/32" Domed Piercing Base

#69-905 3/32″ Domed Piercing Base — for piercing curved items

Cities in Bloom Bracelet

Cities in Bloom – etched bracelet with 3/32″ eyelets

This list of riveting tools allows you to pierce 1/16″ and 3/32″ holes without having to trade piercing bases all the time, and easily set 1/16″ and 3/32″ rivets and eyelets on flat and sharply curved items.

If you plan on riveting only flat items, then skip the domed piercing bases and reverse riveting tools.

The Long Reach tools listed above allow you to rivet items from approximately 0.5mm to 11mm (1/32″ – 7/16″) thick. If you’re only going to work on thin items (up to about 6mm or 1/4″), you can save a few dollars by getting these tools in standard (original) length instead of long reach. (See the full list of Crafted Findings riveting tools. If something is out of stock, here’s a tip: You can use Long Reach accessories in the standard/original base, but you can NOT use standard accessories in the Long Reach base.)

Old-school wire riveting uses a different set of tools, which you can find here. But the question I’m answering in today’s blog is “What are the best tools to easily set both rivets and eyelets?”

Optional Nifty Gadgets:

A swivel vise is also handy.

A swivel vise is nice; it holds the riveting tool (at any angle you want), keeping your hands free

A swivel vise is handy for holding the riveting tool at the angle of your choice, freeing your hands for slippery stacks of items to be riveted.

And I love these colorful little tins for storing assorted rivets and eyelets – I cut up the label that comes with my items, and I stick just the relevant info on the lid of the tin, so I know what length and diameter they are, and what stock number to re-order when I run low:

Color metal storage tins

Colorful metal storage tins for holding tiny rivets and eyelets — My favorite is the set of 20.

Which brings me to question #3:

What sizes of rivets and eyelets are best to start with?

Definitely the assortments — one of each size — because then no matter what new project you start, you’ll have the right length. The color choices are copper, brass, and aluminum. If it’s a toss-up for you, I recommend copper. It’s the easiest to polish or antique, and is a nice accent for any color of metal. Or brass, because all the eyelets are brass.

1/16″ diameter rivet assortments

Short (1/16, 3/32, 1/8 and 5/32" long)

Short (1/16, 3/32, 1/8 and 5/32″ long)

Medium (3/16, 7/32, 1/4, 9/32 and 5/16")

Medium (3/16, 7/32, 1/4, 9/32 and 5/16″)

Long (11/32, 3/8, 13/32, 7/16 and 15/32" long)

Long (11/32, 3/8, 13/32, 7/16 and 15/32″ long)

1/16″ diameter eyelets

3/32″ diameter rivet assortments

Assorted 3/32" Rivets

Short (1/16, 3/32, 1/8 and 5/32″ long)

Medium 3/32" Rivet Assortment

Medium (3/16, 7/32, 1/4, 9/32 and 5/16″ long)

Long (11/32, 3/8, 13/32, 7/16 and 15/32" long)

Long (11/32, 3/8, 13/32, 7/16 and 15/32″ long)

3/32″ diameter eyelets

Oh, and the #1 riveting question is: What’s the difference between all these types of rivets and eyelets?

I hope this helps you pick the ideal riveting tools for the projects you have in mind!

~Polly

Feel free to post questions below!

Surgical Steel and Hypoallergenic Metals

June 3, 2013

If you’re designing hypoallergenic earrings or other jewelry, what are your options? What metals are safe to wear? Is surgical stainless steel the same as hypoallergenic or nickel free? The answers aren’t as simple as you might hope, but there are some great (and economical) choices.

First, a few definitions:

Hypoallergenic

Hypoallergenic means “below normal” or “slightly” allergenic. The term was coined by the cosmetics industry in the 1950’s, and became a popular marketing term for jewelry soon afterwards.

Many people are allergic to nickel, so “nickel free” and “hypoallergenic” are sometimes considered synonymous. Be aware that hypoallergenic does not mean nickel-free, nor does it have a legal or medical definition for use in jewelry. You’re better off using specific materials rather than the vague term “hypoallergenic.”

Many people believe that stainless steel is nickel free, but most stainless steel alloys (even surgical stainless steel) contain 8-12% nickel. Roughly 6-12% of the population is allergic to nickel, so although it’s legally acceptable to put a “hypoallergenic” label on all stainless steel, it doesn’t seem quite fair to those who are looking for nickel-free jewelry.

Just a few more terms to define, before I get to the list of good metals to try.

Elements and Alloys

Alloys (such as stainless steel, sterling silver and 14kt gold) are mixtures of elements (such as iron, gold, copper and zinc). People create alloys to change the color, melting temperature, and/or strength of lone elements. For example, solid gold is too soft for ear wires — to make it stronger, it is alloyed (mixed) with other elements such as silver and to make 14kt or other alloys of gold. Iron is alloyed (mixed) with other elements primarily to make it stronger and resistant to rust.

Nickel Free or EU Nickel Directive?

Since there isn’t a formal US definition of nickel free, and alloys vary, a good way to find items that are very low nickel, is to search for items that say they meet the EU Nickel Directive. Another method is to avoid alloys entirely, and focus on elemental metals such as niobium and titanium. For more information about the term “nickel free”, see our Nickel-Free Metals Information page.

Good Metals to try:

Because different people are allergic to different metals, I can’t give you a “one size fits all” solution. However, the metals listed below tend to cause fewer problems than others. Carefully check out these metals and links (updated October 2015) to see which metals are likely to work best for you.

Niobium

Hypoallergenic Teal Niobium ear wire

Niobium is an excellent choice for people with metal allergies. It is highly resistant to corrosion and other reactions, and is used in medical implants.  Niobium is not plated or painted, so the color will not flake or chip. It is anodized, meaning it is colored by dipping it into an electrically charged “bath.” Because it is an inert element, with no nickel, lead, or other additives, most people with metal allergies can safely wear niobium.  It doesn’t match basic silver and gold colors — but it is available in rich black, copper, blue, bronze, green, pink, purple, teal and yellow.

Do not be confused by the color similarities of anodized niobium and anodized aluminum. Both metals can be anodized to wonderful bright colors, but aluminum is too soft for ear wires.

Rings & Things stocks colorful Niobium head pins, eye pins, and jump rings in addition to Niobium ear wires.

Titanium

Titanium flat pad post for gluing

Titanium is a very strong metal, frequently used in medical implants, and is another excellent choice for people with nickel allergies.

Titanium and Brittania

Our titanium ear wires and earring posts are Grade 1 ASTM F67, which is unalloyed commercially pure titanium, and meets the EU nickel directive. Our titanium earring posts have either a Brittania pewter pad (tin, antimony and copper), or a stainless steel flat pad.

Stainless Steel

There are over 100 alloys of stainless steel, and each is denoted by a unique SAE steel grade number, which may include one or more letters. Stainless steel alloys include steel (iron with carbon), chromium for scratch resistance and corrosion resistance, nickel to reduce brittleness and improve strength at both high and low temperatures, and other trace elements. For stainless steel alloys used in jewelry, these trace elements are approximately 0.75% silicon, 0.045% phosphorous, 0.03% sulfur, 2% manganese, and 0.1% nitrogen.

304 stainless steel is the most popular grade of stainless steel. It is 18-20% chromium, 8-10.5% nickel, 0.08% carbon, plus iron and the trace elements listed above. It is commonly used in the food industry (sinks, coffee urns, dairy storage and hauling, beer/brewing, citrus and fruit juice handling, etc). The same corrosion and stain resistance that make it great for food handling, also make it popular for jewelry.

Beadable Cheese Knife

Rings & Things stocks over 100 items made from 304 stainless steel: wire, ear wires, earring postsstringing cable and cable chokers, jump ringssplit rings, hair findings, lobster clasps, spring loaded clasps, dog tags, glue bails / pendant plates, beadable silverware, and beadable wine bottle stoppers. Some are plated, but most are raw stainless steel.

2-tone gold / stainless ear wire

2-tone stainless steel ear wires allow you to have a plated (gold, copper, etc.) ball and coil, with a raw stainless steel ear wire. They may look odd in the package, but look great on the ear.

304L Stainless  Endless Necklace Chain

304L stainless steel is almost the same as 304, but has a lower carbon content (0.03%), and may contain a slightly higher amount of nickel (8-12%). This alloy has increased weldability and resistance to corrosion (great for men’s jewelry).

430 Stainless Steel Ear Wire

430 stainless steel contains less than 0.75% nickel, and some forms of 430 stainless steel meet the EU nickel directive (less than .05% nickel ion migration). 430 stainless steel has good corrosion resistance compared to non-stainless steel, but not as good as the 304 and 316 alloys.

XC45 Steel is a high-quality structural carbon steel made of 0.42 – 0.5% carbon, 0.3% (or less) nickel, and small amounts of silicon, manganese, sulfur, phosphorous, chromium and copper. This grade provides the springy strength required for genuine French barrette backs (made in France) and French shoe clips.

Surgical Stainless Steel

Adding the word “surgical” to a stainless steel alloy’s name does not actually make it a better grade of steel. The SAE grade number (304, 430, 316L, etc.) defines the alloy and its properties, so the word “surgical” simply tells us “non-SAE-tech people” that 316 and 316L stainless steel alloys have properties suitable for temporary medical implants, or for making durable surgical instruments.

316L Stainless Steel Leverback Hoop

316 and 316L surgical stainless steel contain 2-3% molybdenum for even greater resistance to harsh corrosives (both industrial, and in the body). 316L is a low carbon version of 316, with extra corrosion resistance, and is frequently used for stainless steel watches and marine applications. Like most other stainless steel, it contains 8-10.5% nickel, making it unsuitable for people with nickel allergies.

Sterling Silver and Fine Silver

Sterling Silver Marquise Ear Wire

Sterling silver is an alloy containing at least 92.5% silver. The most popular sterling silver alloy is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. To prevent tarnish while on display in department stores and high-end jewelry stores, some sterling is plated with rhodium. Most people can safely wear good quality sterling silver, but a few are allergic to silver or copper. Sterling silver from reputable vendors is nickel free, but be aware that some jewelry marked sterling or 925 — especially if the price seems too good to be true — may contain little or no silver at all, or be alloyed with random metals.

Argentium Leverback

Argentium™ sterling silver replaces some of the copper with 1.2% germanium (the remainder is 6.3% copper and 92.5% silver). Argentium sterling silver is tarnish resistant, laser weldable, and has other unique properties.

Other special alloys of sterling are occasionally available, each with its own unique properties. More info about sterling silver, including hallmarks.

Silver Fill

Silver fill (also called silver overlay) is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of sterling (.925) silver to a base of less costly metal, usually brass. The minimum layer of silver must equal at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item. Silver fill is 100’s of times thicker than silver plating, so it lasts many years longer before wearing through the layer of silver. If you can wear sterling silver, you can most likely wear silver-fill items for quite a few years before you wear through the top layer to any irritating basemetal layers beneath it.

Vermeil, pronounced “vehr-MAY” [French], is gold plated sterling silver. If you can wear sterling silver, it’s very likely that you can wear vermeil.

Karen hill tribes butterfly pendants

Fine silver, sometimes stamped “.999”, is 99.9% pure silver, which means it is softer and more malleable than sterling. It is commonly used for bezels, handmade ball-end head pins, and components made by the Karen Hill tribes.

Just like sterling silver, fine silver can be misrepresented. If you’ve experienced allergies to cheap items marked sterling, 925 or 999, you may want to try again from a reliable, knowledgeable vendor before you rule out silver entirely.

Gold


Karat (kt) gold
: Pure gold is 24kt, meaning 24 out of 24 parts are gold. 24kt is too soft to be functional, so it is alloyed with other metals for durability, cost and color. 14kt is 14 parts gold out of 24, and the remaining 10 parts are other metals. Depending on the color of gold (which can be yellow, rose, green or white), the other parts may be copper, silver, nickel, zinc, tin, palladium and/or manganese. People with nickel allergies should be aware that, until recently, most white gold contained nickel. Today, palladium is used to make a white gold alloy that is less likely to react to the wearer’s skin.

12kt Gold Star Jewelry Link

Gold fill (also called gold overlay) is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of karat gold to a base of less costly metal. This produces a surface with karat gold. The minimum layer of karat gold must equal at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item. Gold fill is 50 to 100,000 times thicker than regular gold plating, so it lasts many years longer before wearing through the layer of gold. If you can wear 14kt gold, you can most likely wear gold-fill items for quite a few years before you wear through the top layer to the brass or other basemetal beneath it. Roughly half our gold-fill items are 12kt gold fill; the other half are 14kt gold fill.

Copper and Brass

copper heart blank

Copper is a lovely reddish metal. It is easy to work with, but oxidizes quickly, and where it comes into contact with skin, can turn skin green. The “green skin” factor makes it unpopular for ear wires or earring posts. You can lacquer (or otherwise coat) it, but high contact points — such as going through an ear — wear off quickly.

Most people can safely wear copper, but aren’t always excited to have their skin turn color where it touches them. For this reason you may want to mount copper bracelet designs onto a sterling backing, or use copper-colored niobium ear wires on copper earrings.

Alternatively, many people believe that copper can prevent arthritis, so solid copper bracelets are popular. For this effect, it needs to touch (and react with) your skin, so skip any protective layers.

raw brass blanksBrass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Depending on the desired properties, the percents of copper and zinc can vary greatly. Because brass is usually 50-90% copper, it has roughly the same “green skin” properties as copper.  Cheap brass earrings may have irritating impurities in their alloy, causing an allergic reaction to people who aren’t allergic to either copper or zinc.

brass ear wirepurple electrocoating brass ear wireBrass is a popular material for plated ear wires, because it is inexpensive, easy to plate or electrocoat, and is relatively allergy-free.

Non-Metal Earring Findings

E'arrs pierced-ear protectorsSome people are allergic to so many metals that it can be frustrating (or impossible) to find any that are wearable. A good solution is E’arrs Ear Protectors, non-metal sleeves that slide over earring posts (and ear wires).  These add a bit of thickness to the earring post (or ear wire) so they can be annoying for the first few days. After that, they are fine as long as you continue to wear them.

 

I hope this article help you pick the perfect metals for the jewelry you make (or modify).  If you have any questions, please leave them as comments below and I will answer as quickly as I can.

~Polly

Edited October 2015, to update links.