Friday, January 11, 2013

Modified Jump Ring Connections

Yesterday, I talked about the pros and cons of using a single length of wire to connect a series of jewelry elements. As promised, today I'm talking about connecting jewelry elements with modified jump rings. That is, jump rings with a non-traditional shape and/or with embellishment. So, let's revisit Clafoutine's necklace that does use jump ring connections:

I hope there's no one out here that would argue that this is anything other than a lovely, lovely necklace. But, could it be more lovely? Certainly, my argument is that - ever so slightly, of course - yes, it could. I've used jump rings to connect elements before and it almost always made me weep from being underwhelmed. But, the reason we use those connections is because they're effective. They provide two degrees of movement, which in turn, alleviates stress and increases durability of the jewelry.

You: "Okay, Julie. That's a good idea: make something functional simultaneously pretty. Certainly you're not the first person to think of that."

Me: No, probably not. So, let's talk about why people would be hestitant to work with something other than a standard jump ring.

You: "Do we have to?"

Me: Pttttthhhhhh. :P

Jump Rings. The workhorse of the jewelry industry. I'm assuming you know that they are made by winding wire around a round dowel or mandrel, then cut along one side to create many perfect, round rings, slightly open at the ends. It's super cost effective and easy to do on an industrial scale. The beauty of a round jump ring, made on a round armature, is that the stresses are evenly distributed around the wire. So, when you're making the jump rings, the wire doesn't try to pop open into an unmanageable coil (I'll show you in a bit). Then, as you use it, the forces of wearing the jewelry get distributed to the whole ring rather than being centralized in one or two places, which could make the jump ring open and fail. So, that's the physics part.

There are other reasons we stick to the round jump ring. Over the past eight years teaching classes, most of which involved jump rings in some way, the most common question I think I've ever gotten is:

"(when in a bead store on your own) how do you know which jump ring to use?"
Someday I'm going to set up a force lab in my studio and test jump rings until I know their force rating like we do for FireLine. Until then, I have to say, that knowing what jump ring to use comes by experience. Given that, how many jump rings do you want to test? A couple of diameters for a few wire gauges of jump rings that are inexpensive, perfectly made, and readily available, or hundreds? A trick is to use the heaviest gauge with the smallest diameter that you can. That will give you a lot of leeway in terms of giving the jump ring a new shape and being comfortable with it's potential durability. This assumes, importantly, when you make your own modified jump rings that you feel comfortable working with wire. If you're inexperienced with wire you may inadvertantly introduce additional weaknesses into the rings: gouges from the tools, or inadvertant work hardening. Finally, make sure that the ends of the ring are located properly.
That is, not at the point where the ring connects to the adjacent elements, nor in the exact middle between the stress points. This last point may be arguable since, theoretically, the stress along the link should be the same along the entire length. However, the side points are usually the points that stick out the furthest and are most likely to catch on things, making the ring more likely to pull apart if the seam is in the middle.

In an ideal world, you'll either: make your jump rings an unusual shape by using an unusual shaped wood mandrel (that you can saw into)

OR: close and solder them, shape them, tumble harden them, then saw them back open. (And preferably not with brass. Remind me to whine at you about brass.) Both methods have their challenges, but the benefit of the fuss is that the ends will still close perfectly. As you will see in my pictures below, I did the lazy way and the ends are wonky, which could catch on clothing. Thus, I present here, A Bracelet For Nudists. Just kidding. The edges on these plastic discs are way too irritating to wear against the skin (which I know because I tried it); I still totally encourage upcycling, but they are much better used in earrings and necklaces, or as fringe. Be. Aware.

Bracelet Using Modified Jump Rings and Upcycled Plastic

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