Give Your Rings the Finger Test

10 02 2013

As a chainmaille jeweler who always seeks to provide better and better quality jewelry, I spend a lot of time looking at what other chainmaillers are doing. I also want to price my jewelry at appropriate prices, which means I need to identify typical prices for jewelry of the same quality as mine. As I research others’ jewelry, I look at

  • design (type of weave, colors, patterns, wire shape, etc.),
  • material (aluminum, silver plated, sterling silver, etc.),
  • aspect ratio (wire gauge relative to ring size, which affects weave tightness), and
  • ring closure.

If you’re a chainmaille jewelry buyer, I recommend that you examine the same characteristics.

What have I found in my research? Even when the design, material, and aspect ratio are good, many pieces of jewelry have problems with ring closures.

Problems with ring closure

Ring closure defined. Chainmaille jewelry is made from jump rings. Jump rings are rings with a cut in them so they can be opened, woven into the jewelry, and then closed. Ring closure refers to how well the two cut ends match up. Closure has three aspects, as follows.

  • Lateral closure: Rings ends should meet laterally so that the ring is fully twisted back to round shape.
  • Vertical closure: They should also meet vertically so that one end isn’t higher than the other.
  • Round closure: The ring ends should touch, with no gap between the two surfaces.

The reason why ring closure is important. If the rings aren’t closed well, they will scratch your skin. They may also catch on clothing and, little by little, pull open, causing the chain to come apart. The cut ends may also catch on other rings, preventing the fluid movement of the rings and distorting the overall shape of the chain. Finally, if you’re using any type of plated or coated wire, the underlying base metal will be visable on the cut edge.

Caveat. Before we look look at images of closure problems, I must tell you that these designs are very nice. The jewelers have created attractive chains. I specifically chose these images because I like the chains and I think the jewelers have talent. The rings suffer from closure problems, but with a little work by the jewelers, the chains will be great.

You can click the images for a larger view.

Example Problem 1

Closure problem 1

Closure Problem 1

Good design: This chain is made with the full persian chainmaille weave. I really like the appearance of the metal used and the color scheme. I don’t remember the type of metal, but it looks great. This is a beautiful chain.

Closure problems: Now look at the red circles I added.  These two rings have problems with lateral closure. They haven’t been fully twisted back to a round shape.

Pain ahead: As I look more closely, I see that these rings are cut with wire cutters, not cut with a saw. The edges are not flat but wedge-shaped, like a knife edge. This is a big problem. The ends that are sticking out are going to be sharp–not what you want against your skin.

Worth remaking: You can’t fix wire cutting method, but you can make a new chain using saw-cut rings. This design is very nice, so I hope the jeweler finds and corrects the closure problems.

Example Problem 2

Closure Problems 2

Closure Problem 2

Good design: Here is a very nice half persian 4 in 1 chain made with square wire. I really like the use of square wire. Making rings with square wire can be quite difficult. The wire tends to twist when being coiled for making rings, so kudos to this jeweler. I also like the pattern of gold rings, which gives this chain a nice touch. Indeed, this is one of the more attractive examples of half persian that I have seen.

Closure problems: Now look at the red circles. The left and right circles show problems with lateral closure. If you look closely at the image, you will find other example of this problem. The middle circle shows a problems with round closure. The edges of the ring in the middle circle don’t seem to touch.

Worth fixing: Considering how beautiful the design of this chain is, I truly hope the jeweler fixes these problem. I mean it. I’m very enthusiastic about this design. The rings in this design are just loose enough that the jeweler can get chain nose pliers between them and close up the rings.

Example Problem 3

Closure problem 3

Closure problem 3

Good design: Here is a piece of a Rondo a la Byzantine chainmaille bracelet. I like this design a lot. In fact, my favorite pieces are made with this design.

Closure problems: Now look at the ring in the circle. This demonstrates a vertical closure problem. One side of the ring cut is higher than the other. A lot higher. The metal in this chain looks like aluminum, which is very, very soft. I predict that this ring will open after a few times the bracelet is worn.

Aspect ratio problems: One comment on a slightly different topic: The jeweler hasn’t found the right aspect ratio for the rings. The center rings under-lap other rings, and the entire chain seems to be too loose. Using smaller rings for the byzantine units in the middle will help. (I like 18 gauge rings, 4mm and 6 mm inner diameter, by the way.)

Worth remaking: You can’t fix aspect ratio problems. The chain needs to be remade with different ring specifications. And while doing so, the jeweler can make sure the closures are accurate. I’m pretty sure he or she will like the result of the extra work. (I also recommend using different materials. Aluminum rings don’t keep their shape.)

Example Problem 4

Closure problem 4

Closure problem 4

Good design: This is an attractive chain in the box chain weave. The pattern of silver and red rings looks nice, and I can tell that the jeweler tried to make a beautiful chain.

Closure problems: See the rings in the circles? These are more examples of lateral closure problems. They are not too bad, but they are noticeable under close scrutiny.

Worth fixing: If the jeweler will take a little time to examine the rings of the entire chain, and to fix any problems like these, the chain will be really great. Other than the closure problems, everything about this chain is nice.

Example Problem 5

Closure problem 5

Closure problem 5

Good design: Here is another half persian chain, similar to the one I made with silver plate and brass. This is a good design with two colors of wire. The half persian design is particularly attractive and comfortable to wear–if the closures are good.

Closure problems: The circle on the right shows yet another lateral closure problem. The circle on the left shows a round closure problem. Now that I look at the image again, I see a problem with verticle closure, too. Look to the right and above the right circle. There it is.

Worth fixing: Fortunately, this weave is easy to fix. The rings are very accessible, meaning it’s not too hard to get your pliers around the rings to correct any problems. This jeweler should be able to correct the closure problems fairly simply. I’m a big fan of this design. Given the quality of the photographic image, I’m guessing that the jeweler is serious about quality and will agree with my assessment.

Example Problem 6

Closure problems 6

Closure problems 6

Good design: This looks like a full persian weave with “captured” beads. I have been thinking about making a similar one, myself. It’s a really neat design. The beads are locked in by the chainmaille, so they don’t require stringing. On the other hand, the beads have to be placed while the chain is being constructed, which makes closing the rings a bit tricky.

Closure problems: First, look at the red circles. You will see that this chain has major problems with round closure. In every unit of chain (each repeating section), the rings simply don’t close fully. The gaps are very noticeable. The wire seems to be aluminum, and if that’s the case, this chain will fall apart. The gaps only need to open slightly more (and they will), and the gaps will be big enough for other rings to slip through.

Weave mishap: Now look at the blue circle. Each ring is supposed to go through 4 other rings, 2 on one side and 2 on the other. Here, the jeweler missed a ring.

Worth fixing:  The problem with the closures might be the ring inner diameter or, conversly, the bead size. Those beads seem to completely fill the space available. To prevent the problems with round closure, the jeweler might need to use larger rings or smaller beads. Of course, the weave needs to be corrected, too. Once these issues are resolved, this will be a really neat, unique bracelet.

Give Your Rings the Finger Test

Every one of these closure problems could have been prevented with two simple strategies.

First: Work under a magnifying lamp.

If you don’t have one, go straight to your local craft store and blow the 30 bucks or so to get a magnifying lamp. (Here’s mine.) Alternatively, go get a pair of magnifying glasses. They’re not sexy, but they work.

Second: Use the finger test.

After you close a ring, run your finger over the top of the closure. Do it in both directions. Does it scratch one way but not the other? If so, you have a verticle closure problem, with the high side scratching most.

Now run your finger along the sides of the closure. Are you getting scratched? If so, you have a lateral closure problem. Look straight down at the closure through your new magnifying lamp. Twist the ring into round shape.

Does this add time to the construction process? Yes. Is it worth the extra time? Absolutely. Don’t sacrifice quality for speed.

I do this with every single ring I add to the chain. Sometimes the closure is off by maybe a tenth of a millimeter. That’s little but detectable.

Being practical, too: To be honest, sometimes the closure problems are very, very slight.  For example, I can easily see and feel a 1/10 mm (0.1) vertical closure problem. I’ll fix it.

But if the problem is even smaller, I might not. Sure, you can feel super slight differences with your finger, and if you look very closely under 10x magnification you might be able to see them, but they are too slight to scratch your skin. If you wear the jewelry, you won’t feel anything. Furthermore, the rings won’t catch your clothing.

For lower cost pieces, that’s close enough. For higher cost pieces, such as sterling silver pieces, Ill keep working at the rings until they are smooth with the finger test.

And never, ever leave problems with round closure. The edges need to touch.

And one last note: don’t put the pieces up for sale until they’re made right.




One response

10 02 2013

Update: Kudos to this jeweler for great closures. She’s using aluminum, which is much easier to manipulate, but it’s obvious she took the time and cared enough to make it right.

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