Buying Guide for Chain Maille Jewelry

4 09 2014

Chainmaille jewelry comes in a wide variety of quality. Some chainmaille jewelry exhibits high-quality craftsmanship, fine materials, and professional manufacturing techniques. Some chain jewelry shows sloppy work with little attention to detail and uses low-end materials. Most chainmaille jewelry is somewhere in between. If you are interested in buying chainmaille jewelry, how do you know what you are looking at? What should you look for in chain jewelry to determine whether the piece is worth the price?

1. Ring Closure

Ring closure refers to how accurately the cut ends of a jump ring match up. Most chainmaille jump rings are not soldered, so closure is the most important thing to look for. If rings don’t close completely, or if the cut ends don’t quite match up, the rings may scratch your skin and may, over time, pull apart. If the closures are particularly bad, you can see the gaps and mismatched edges easily. Near-miss closures you can feel with your fingers because they will scratch or feel bumpy. Perfect closures are difficult to see and feel smooth. Unfortunately, perfect closures are nearly impossible to create with handmade chainmaille. Even so, ring closures should not have gaps, feel scratchy, or be noticeably misaligned. Here is one of my pieces, with perfect and near-perfect ring closures.

Perfect and near-perfect jump ring closures

Perfect and near-perfect jump ring closures

Here is a lovely Rondo a la Byzantine bracelet from someone else. The bracelet is very nice, but some of the closures could be much better.

Missed.closures

Ring closure affects the price, as well as how much a buyer should be expected to pay. A jeweler has to work much harder to make perfect and near-perfect ring closures and must pay much greater attention to detail. The jewelry will also last longer, move more fluidly, and be more comfortable to wear. Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when the rings are closed well.

2. Ring Cut

Jump rings are cut 2 main ways: with a saw or with clippers. Saw-cut rings will have a flat edge, and clipper-cut rings will have a wedge. Saw-cut rings produce higher quality jewelry because they create a flat surface at the ring cuts. When the rings are closed perfectly, they make a continuous ring. Clipper-cut rings have an additional problem. Because clippers pinch off the ends of a ring, they create a sharp edge, a knife edge that can really scratch your skin. On the other hand, saw cut rings may also scratch because the ring cut can be very sharp if the jeweler had a good saw blade. An imperfectly closed, saw-cut ring will scratch you. As I mentioned above, perfect closures are very difficult to achieve. A difference of less than 0.1 mm will be noticeable. You might not be able to see it, but you can probably feel it. For this reason, I typically file all the cut edges slightly to create a more rounded edge. I have noticed that people who make armor from stainless steel or high-strength industrial wire (such as for armor), tend to use clippers to cut their rings. These types of wire are much harder to saw cut than wire from copper, silver, a similar softer materials. When I first started making chainmaille jewelry years ago, I clipped all my rings. Soon after, I “graduated” to saw-cut rings. The difference in quality was extreme. Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when the rings are saw cut.

3. Ring Density and Specifications

This characteristic is a bit harder to describe. High-quality chainmaille jewelry requires fairly exacting matching of wire gauge to ring diameter. It produces a dense weave in which the rings don’t “flop” out of positions. The weave should hold its shape under a variety of conditions. If the wire is too thin, or if the rings are too large for the wire thickness, the chain will be loose and floppy, and the weave will spread out and lose its shape. What you are looking for is a dense chain (a lot of rings per inch with little “air space” between them). However, the chain needs to be flexible enough to move fluidly. This is a fine line to achieve. Most beginning chainmaille makers don’t understand the issue of Aspect Ratio and use rings that are too large for the weave because it makes the weaving easier. Using too-large rings is ok for learning and practicing, but quality chainmaille jewelry reflects careful matching of ring size and wire gauge. On the other hand, some variation is fine to produce different looks. Here are two of my box chain bracelets using slightly modified ring specifications. The top bracelet (copper) is as loose as possible without losing the design. The bottom bracelet (silver) is a great, dense weave.

Two ring densities for a box chain weave

Two ring densities for a box chain weave

Now, for comparison, here is someone else’s bracelet that is far too loose. Notice that the weave is almost indistinguishable. It won’t hold its shape when worn, and the rings will flop around unless the chain is stretched out, meaning they will hang out away from the rest of the chain. This bracelet would have been much better if the jeweler either used heavier wire or used smaller rings.

Box chain with incorrect ring specifications

Box chain with incorrect ring specifications

Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when the chain are dense but fluid, rather than loose with floppy rings.

4. Wire type

I hesitate to discuss wire type because really great jewelry can be made from a wide variety of wire types. Coated copper, anodized silver plate, and stainless steel can make beautiful jewelry. On the other hand, these material types are less expensive to buy and use than sterling silver, gold-fill, gold, and platinum (i.e., precious metals). With that said, plated and coated wires will lose their plating and coating over time, so they don’t stay as beautiful as when you first buy them. Plated and coated materials cannot be polished or they will lose their surface coloration and material fairly quickly. They do make a less expensive option to the higher-quality materials. Most importantly, they allow for lots of colors and interesting designs. For example, although sterling silver will always be sterling silver color (depending on the amount of tarnish, of course), anodized, permanently colored silver plated wire comes in many colors, from the deepest reds and blues to the lightest pinks and purples. Personally, I think lower-end materials are fine for casual jewelry that you use as a fashion accessory. They may not be “fine jewelry,” but they can be quite nice. The main difference is that high end materials cost more to use, have greater values, look and are more expensive, and will stay beautiful over time. Bottom line: The jewelry is worth more when it is made from precious metals.

It’s up to you.

When you are thinking about buying a piece of chainmaille jewelry, consider these four issues. Some may be more important to you than others, but they all should affect the price and how much you are willing to pay. If you are a jewelry maker, you, too, need to consider these issues when determining the price to set for your jewelry. For example, a bracelet with poor closures should not be priced the same as a similar piece with perfect closures, much like a silver-plated bracelet should not be priced the same as a sterling silver bracelet. The reverse is also true. If you make high quality jewelry with precious metals, don’t drop your prices to compete with lower quality pieces. Instead, instruct your buyers why your prices are appropriate.





My Two Favorite Weaves

4 01 2014

At last count, I create 17 different chainmaille weaves. You can see the list here.

However, two are my favorite: The JPL and the Rondo a la Byzantine.

The Jens Pind Linkage (JPL)

 

Silver bracelet with gold accent--very classy!

Silver bracelet with gold accent–very classy!

 

This weave makes a very classy chain for jewelry. It’s less intricate than the byzantine chain and similar rope weaves, by far, although it is also far harder to get started and requires much more specific ring sizes.

As a chainmaille weave, there is not much I can do with it other than make it longer or thicker, or to add other weaves to it on the end. But that’s ok. The weave pattern is very nice and, as I said, has a very classy, refined look.

Rondo a la Byzantine

Sterling silver, high shine, amazing!

Sterling silver, high shine, amazing!

This weave makes for a broad and highly sophisticated bracelet. It does not make a chain, by normal definitions, but it is chainmaille jewelry. Indeed, this weave shows best how chainmaille techniques create not just chainmaille but also jewelry.

The Rondo a la Byzantine combines helm weave (on the top and bottom) and single byzantine units (the middle section). This weave takes quite a long time to create, compared to JPL. But the result is worth the labor. It also contains a lot of wire, making a noticeable weight. This image shows the Rondo a la Byzantine in Sterling Silver, and it contains around 1.8 ounces of silver.





Etsy or Zibbet?

28 11 2013

Etsy is a long-established marketplace for hand-crafted goods, supplies, and vintage items. Zibbet is a relative new-comer to the marketplace field.

I have been selling items on Etsy for nearly 2 years, but recently, I opened a Zibbet shop, too. Although they both offer artisans like myself the opportunity to sell online to a global audience, they have several fundamental differences, described below.

Overall analysis: I prefer Zibbet…by a hair

I haven’t yet sold anything on Zibbet, so I will skip discussing the processes for buying goods and collecting money. I am also not going to discuss all the differences, just the major ones that affect buyers. In this analysis, I will examine (1) Shop appearance, (2) Shopping for handmade items, (3) numbers of buyers and sellers, and (4) Item listing pages. The bottom of this post has a summary of my impressions and the reason for my preference in marketplaces.

First, shop appearance

If you click the images below, you will go to the shop (external link)

ETSY
My Etsy shop
My Etsy Shop-Chainofbeauty

My Etsy Shop-Chainofbeauty

Clean layout with easy to find shop navigation links, such as shop sections.

All the useful information is well-organized down the left size, leaving all the shop items in the main table on the right.

Etsy allows sellers to feature specific items, which are displayed at the top of the shop listings. This is quite nice for sellers.

I like this layout slightly better than the Zibbet layout.

Zibbet
My Zibbet shop
My Zibbet shop-BeautifulChains

My Zibbet shop-BeautifulChains

Pretty much the reverse of the Etsy shop, with all the useful links on the right side.

The shop sections list is a bit harder to find on Zibbet because it’s lower on the page. (It doesn’t show up on this image because it is lower than the shop navigation section.)

Zibbet doesn’t have a featured item section to highlight certain items.

Perhaps not as nice as the Etsy layout, though very close, all the important stuff is easy to find.

Bottom line: Both are fine, and any differences are not significant.

Second, handmade items

This is the most significant difference between the two marketplaces and is the main reason why I prefer Zibbet.

Two words: Resellers, Manufacturers

Both sites feature 3 main categories of goods: handmade items, supplies, vintage items. However, and this is an important however, the Etsy definition of “handmade” is not what you would expect.

When I think of the word “handmade,” I imaging a person making something from scratch or raw supplies and then selling it. When I take wire, make rings, weave them into jewelry, and sell the jewelry, that’s handmade.

Handmade on Etsy

Resellers: Etsy is plagued with people who buy items (whether from the people who make them, other Etsy sellers, or wholesale or retail suppliers) and then sell them as if they had made them. This practice is against Etsy terms of service, but it happens anyway. In fact, some of the images for items are straight off retailers’ websites! Maybe someone made the item by hand originally, but the seller sure didn’t.

Manufacturers: Recently, Etsy changed its policies regarding manufacturers. The new policies allow, even encourage, people to design something and then have a manufacturing company mass produce it. Let’s say I draw a neat design for a new bracelet. I could send the design to some sweat shop, have them figure out how to make it, and then pay them to make 500 bracelets. That’s not what I mean when I say something is “hand made,” and it is no different than buying jewelry at WalMart. To me, this is simply a retailer / wholesaler business model.

On the other hand, the changed policies make sense in a very, very limited way. This works for people who do art and photographic prints. A person who takes great photographs or paints a picture can send the images to a printer and have the printer print it. I’m guessing that most photographers and artists don’t have the ability to create large-sized or canvas-backed images, so this works for them. The difference, though, is that the photographer / artist actually creates original the art work.

The result is that the Etsy marketplace is quickly becoming flooded with cheap mass-produced junk. Those of us who make our jewelry are getting buried, and the buyers who think they are getting handmade items might be mistaken.

Handmade on Zibbet

“Handmade” means “handmade.” If you don’t make it yourself, you can’t sell it as handmade on Zibbet. I like that…a lot.

Many Etsy sellers are migrating to Zibbet for exactly this reason.

Bottom line: Go Zibbet! Zibbet is far superior in this regard.

Third, the numbers

Etsy, by far, has more sellers and more buyers. Buyers will have more options. Sellers will have more potential buyers.

Will this change? Probably. When Etsy started, it, too, had few sellers and buyers. Zibbet is still fairly “young,” and I expect it will grow.

Bottom line: Etsy is better (for now).

Fourth, item listings and details

Etsy is easily the better designed site, particularly on the item listing pages.
If you click the images below, you will go to the shop (external link)

ETSY
Sample Etsy listing
Etsylisting2

The well-designed Etsy listing page

The Etsy listing page has big pictures that you can scroll through, item details on the left, and seller information below. Item description has a wide column, so the text is easy to read.

Etsy doesn’t allow active non-Etsy links in the descriptions, so I can’t easily send people to a video or other item information. Also, Etsy doesn’t allow any text formatting, which is a nuisance, not even bold.

Etsy does allow item options and prices for specific options, which is great. For example, a 7-inch bracelet can cost less than a 9-inch bracelet. This gives the buyer more control over price and details, and this lets the seller price items according to the actual labor and material costs.

Etsy allows sellers to sell digital items through their system. People can buy my PDF tutorials, and Etsy delivers them by email.

Zibbet
My Zibbet shop
The 3-column Zibbet listing page

The 3-column Zibbet listing page

Zibbet listing pages are somewhat ugly. By using a 3-column layout, the item description is sqeezed into a long column, which is harder to read and harder to write.

The design also leaves a big blank space under the images if the description is more than 20 or so lines. Unfortunately, the description will likely be longer than 20 lines because the column is narrow.

Zibbet does allow active non-Zibbet links, so I can refer shoppers to a video of the item. That’s nice. But it, too, doesn’t allow text formatting.

Unfortunately, Zibbet does not provide item options. If I want to provide different options at different prices, I need to make different listings, which gets confusing for the shoppers.

Zibbet doesn’t allow sellers to sell digital items through their system. People can buy PDF tutorials, but I have to send them myself.

Bottom line: Etsy is superior.

Overall Analysis

1. Zibbet and Etsy are about the same on shop page design. I give these even marks.

2. Etsy has more sellers and buyers, but I think that will change with time. For this reason, I give Etsy slightly better marks for now.

3. Zibbet handmade items are handmade. Zibbet gets high marks; Etsy fails.

4. Etsy item listing design, options, and features are far superior to Zibbet.

So, with the first two areas, they are about the same. However, Etsy’s strength in listing pages doesn’t overcome its failures in handmade. For Zibbet, listings are weak, but if you are shopping for handmade, you will get handmade.

The final result: Zibbet, by a hair.





Wire Length Calculator for Chainmaille

19 10 2013

If you read this chainmaille blog occasionally, you may have seen my post complaining about wire suppliers incorrectly measuring wire I purchase. In brief, I used to order wire by troy ounce, and the actual weight received would be slightly different. As a result, I don’t always get enough wire for a project. I decided to start ordering by length.

This leads to a problem. How much wire do I actually need to order, i.e., how long is the wire? If I know how long the wire is in a piece of chainmaille jewelry, I know how much wire I will need to make the jewelry again.

Why a Wire Length Calculator Is Useful

If I’m using silver plated wire or copper wire, I don’t need to worry about the length because the wire is so cheap, and I always have a lot on hand. However, when I use sterling silver wire or gold-filled wire, this question is important. I usually order just what I need for a particular piece because these wires are more costly.

Let’s say I made a bracelet in silver plated wire, and now I want to make the same bracelet in gold-filled wire. How much wire do I need to order? How long was the wire in the original silver plated bracelet? I will need the same length in sterling silver or gold-filled wire.

To answer this question, I start with 2 known facts: feet per ounce for silver plated wire and weight of the bracelet. First, I use my digital scale (new window) to determine weight. Then I look up the feet per troy ounce. And then I do the math. I’m good at math, but this gets tedious.

I like making chainmaille, and I like using Excel. With these two interests, I created an Excel spreadsheet to calculate wire length. Now, I only enter weight and gauge, and Excel does all the math for me.

Read the rest of this entry »





Current List of Chainmaille Weaves

18 08 2013

I was checking out my gallery today, and I realized that I have done 17 different weaves, not including some variations of Japanese-style chain.

Current List of Weaves

Most, but not all, of these have examples in the gallery. Weaves not in the gallery are marked with an X.

  • Box chain
  • Butterflies
  • Byzantine (with 4 or 5 variations)
  • Candy Cane Cord
  • Celtic Star
  • Dragonscale / Mermaid
  • Full Persian
  • Half Persian 3-1
  • Helm Weave (X)
  • Jens Pind Linkage (JPL)
  • Mobius
  • Rondo a la Byzantine
  • Spiral Weave (X)
  • Tao Flowers
  • Trizantine (X)
  • Turkish Round
  • Viper Basket

What’s Next

I’d like to learn elf weave in bracelet fashion (not sheet), Great Southern Gathering (GSC), and a few others that I think look really neat. In the meantime, however, I will keep exploring options for the above weaves and new ways to combine them. For example, I would like to make full Persian hearts, and I’m thinking about how to combine either full or half Persian with dragonscale, which I think would be really neat.

I’m also working on going “smaller” – smaller wire diameter, smaller ring diameter. Already, I’m making chains using rings that are only 2.5 mm diameter, and I really like the way they look.

Finally, I will use more sterling silver and gold-filled wire, less copper-based, plated wires.

Good times ahead!





Starter Chains for JPL

3 08 2013

Jens Pind Linkage (JPL) is a bit tricky to start. I finally mastered it after having done it quite a few times. It’s a great-looking weave when done correctly.

A little about the JPL chainmaille weave

JPL is basically a spiral weave with a low enough aspect ratio to keep from uncoiling. The rings overlap as they pass through other rings, and with a low aspect ratio, they don’t un-overlap. Once the weave is started, with at least 5 or 6 rings, it becomes fairly easy to do. The problem with JPL, however, is getting to that point where the weave is “stable,” meaning it won’t come uncoiled and will hold its shape.

JPL needs an aspect ratio pretty close to 3.0. I like 18 gauge, 3 mm inner diameter rings (aspect ratio 2.9), but I have seen people making it with bigger gauges, even up to 12 gauge! Still, 18 gauge is my favorite. With these wire specifications, you get a chain like this:

3color.jpl.4

Here are some sample gauge / diameter combinations that work well for JPL, with AWG wire gauge and inner diameter:

  • 20 gauge, 2.5 mm ID (aspect ratio: 3.1)
  • 18 gauge, 3.0 mm ID (aspect ratio: 2.9…perfect!)
  • 16 gauge, 4 mm ID (aspect ratio:  3.1)
  • 14 gauge, 5 mm ID (aspect ratio 3.1)
  • 12 gauge, 6 mm ID (aspect ratio 2.9…perfect!)

Aspect ratio of 3.1 is just a hair loose for my taste, but I generally like dense weaves (i.e., more rings per inch, less wiggle in the rings). With JPL, the increased density is what makes the weave so nice and keeps it from unraveling.

JPL tutorial video

Over in the Chainmaille Resources page, I put a link to the best video I’ve seen for starting and weaving the Jens Pind Linkage chainmaille weave. It’s by Amy Sanders, and it’s great. You can access the JPL tutorial video here, too:  http://youtu.be/xNzSS1ob9WI

The JPL starter chain

Starting the JPL gives people a lot of problems. To help people make this great chain, I made a bunch of extra “starter” chains. Starter chains are basically short sections of chain that people can add on to. Then, when the new section of chain is long enough, the starter is removed.

A starter chain, therefore, helps people get past the difficulty of starting the weave, which is the hardest part. Here’s a picture of one of the starter chains:

JPLStarter2

Click for a closer view

The JPL starter chains are a little more than 1 inch long, so they are stable and long enough to hold comfortably. They are only in 18 gauge, 3 mm ID. I used 3 colors, just like in the completed bracelet above. The pattern is copper-brass-silver (or silver-brass-copper, from the other direction). With three colors / types of wire, the pattern is easy to see and continue, even in single wire type.

For someone who wants to make this beautiful and classy chain, but who is frustrated trying to get it started, the JPL starter chain is a perfect solution.

I’m selling these for $4 (plus $1 shipping) through my Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/listing/158598979/starter-chain-for-jens-pind-linkage-jpl.





Problems with Wire Weight

4 05 2013

Again and again I run into the same problem: I can’t get the right weight of wire from supply stores. Silver and gold-filled wire are fairly expensive, so I try to buy just the amount I’ll need, plus a little more for scraps and damaged rings. At the supply store, I order what I will need, and I almost never get what I ask for.

The three jewelry supply stores where I get my wire are Santa Fe Jewelry Supply, Thunderbird Jewelry Supply, and Rio Grande Jewelry Supply–all reputable stores with good products and good service, and I shop at them regularly. But none of them get it right.

Read the rest of this entry »