Friday, July 8, 2011

Please, please do NOT finish your ends like this!

As the jewelry instructor at Knits & Pearls, where I also work as a sales assistant, I do all of the jewelry repairs, redesign, and restringing projects that come in. One of our customers brought in a pretty garnet and sterling necklace today, made by a local Twin Cities designer, to be split into a two strand necklace.

If you're familiar with my blog you know I have a serious, serious beef with designers selling jewelry that looks like they just got out of their first jewelry making class at the big box craft store. Let me show you a picture of the necklace and explain what I mean.

Please, please do NOT finish your ends like this!
No, I'm not going to let you see who it is. That's just not nice.

Crimp beadsmashed flat with pliers not the crimping variety.Arrrrgh! It looks bad, it leaves four corners to scratch you, and it doesn't capture the beading cable as efficiently as possible. Crimping pliers are specially designed (like the much-larger pliers designed for the industrially used ferrule) to minimize work hardening and stress on the metal, which in turn helps prevent breakage. Additionally, the crimping pliers bends the crimp tube in a way that creates redundancy in the way it captures the stringing cable, better ensuring that the crimp bead holds the cable without being prone to breakage.
Crimp coverNoneWhy should you use a crimp cover? Besides covering the crimp bead to create a more polished aesthetic, it creates a buffer around the crimp bead by absorbing and diverting a lot of the stress caused by movement of the bracelet and clasp, helping prevent accidental breakage.
Wire Guardian or French WireNoneLike with the crimp cover, this finishing component offers both an aesthetic and practical purpose. Most beading cable, unless you purchase the sterling silver cable, doesn't look particularly pretty, so it's nice to cover it up. In order to hide the cable many designers just pull the cable tight, tight against the jump ring (bad) or clasp loop (double bad), putting an enormous stress on the crimp tube, which often causes the crimp tube to fail. Third, it prevents abrasion of the stringing cable by the movement of the clasp, again preventing damage to the cable and increasing the strength and integrity of the bracelet. In this case the designer did not pull the loop particularly tight, but it is still less-than-attractive and susceptible to abrasion.
Beading CableLooks like SoftFlex 0.018That's a good brand of beading cable with a really durable coating and in a heavy enough gauge to help prevent the natural gemstones, with their often-rough beadholes, from abraiding through the cable. However, look at the way the ends were cut - out in the open right next to the crimp tube. This is a problem, first, because those ends can rub against the skin and cause irritation; second, because cutting the ends so close to the crimp bead can put stress on the crimp tube if cut too close and doesn't give the wearer any insurance against losing the beads should the crimp tube fail. Whenever possible, you need to weave the beading cable back through several beads before cutting.
Jump RingPresentHooray! It's there. It's small enough to be unobtrusive, yet large enough to easily accommodate the clasp and allow movement, which prevents stress of the clasp and crimp bead. It's also of a heavy enough gauge to minimize accidental deformation or opening. While some artists would claim it's much more secure to attach the clasp directly to the bracelet without a jump ring, I'd counter that a properly-chosen jump ring is just as secure, serves to absorb and divert stresses caused by the movement of the clasp and bracelet away from the crimp bead, making the bracelet much more secure, and makes alterations of the clasp and bracelet much easier to perform.

Why do I care? It's primarily self-interest. As a designer, I want buyers to feel confident when they look at a handmade piece of jewelry. I don't want those consumers to become jaded from buying my work because they've purchased other handmade jewelry in the past that has broken. It's the designer's responsibility to be aware of all the tools and findings at their disposal to make their work more beautifully finished and durable. While there are certainly very saavy buyers out there, they shouldn't need to do metallurgy research before going out to purchase a bracelet. Making jewelry to give away to your friends is one thing, but being a professional jewelry designer involves much more than being able to pick out pretty beads and assorting them in manner pretty enough for others to notice; it's about being able to give your honest, informed appraisal that the work you are selling will never physically irritate the wearer, snag hair or clothing, nor break from expected wear and tear.

Did I include everything a designer needs to know about jewelry design here? No. There are additional concerns involved with the mechanics of putting a bracelet together, such as making sure the distribution of weight around the piece keeps it in the orientation in which it's meant to be worn. I haven't even touched upon the principles and elements of art and design: rules that should be understood well before they're broken. Any design choice should be a result of careful reflection, not because you didn't know a different or better way to do it.

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