Monday, April 4, 2011

Part II - Durable Beaded Jewelry Tips from the School of Hard Knocks

We all know how frustrating it is to have a beloved piece of jewelry fall apart before its time. In Part I of this series, I received many fabulous comments from my reader.  One of my readers even mentioned that in some cases their jewelry purchase didn't even make it home before breaking! Sadly, that's happened to me too.

In Part II of this series, we'll delve a little deeper into the jewelry making process with more tips to make your handmade pieces live a longer happier life!

"Angel Wings" Sterling & Swarovski Earrings $85 by Christine Marie Ford

Lesson #5 – Use wire guards

Wire guards look like teeny weeny horseshoes. Use wire guards whenever you can to protect your stranding material from stress and strain that causes breakage. The ends of beadwork are usually the most vulnerable to breakage so keep this in mind when choosing the right findings to start and stop a piece. Wire guards come in different sizes to match the stranding material you choose. I don’t worry about being perfectly precise as long as the wire is neither too tight or too loose inside the guard. The only downside of using wire guards is that they sometimes cause jewelry to kink.  If kinking is causing a problem on your project you may wish to go without them. Use your discretion and take the overall weight of the piece into consideration. Here's a few listings I found on Etsy for your convenience... - 20 Sterling Silver pieces $4.25 - 144 solid copper wire guards $5.45 - 20 gold filled wire protectors $8.99
Lesson #6 – Open jump rings are the weakest link

Of all the components that cause structural failure in jewelry, open jump rings are quite possibly the biggest culprit.  Jump rings are a necessary and commonly used finding to link many parts of jewelry together. Open jump rings are the easiest to use but can make your jewelry vulnerable to breakage if not used strategically. One solution is to solder the jumps closed afterwards. If like me, you don’t have soldering equipment there are still some strategies you can try to minimize the risk of breakage.  First, avoid using single jump rings made of precious metal like silver and gold on heavier pieces.  These metals are soft and the weight of the piece will cause the jump rings to re-open causing breakage. In such instances consider using more than one jump ring to do the job. An additional plus is that it creates an attractive secondary design.  Always make sure that you close jump rings completely with no gaps whatsoever. The teeny tiniest gap could mean disaster even if you’ve used more than one.  If necessary, use a magnifying glass to be sure that the jump ring is closed smoothly and tightly. Run your fingernail along the join. If you feel a bump on either side, it’s not perfectly aligned or is still slightly open. Keep a metal jewelry file handy to smooth out any problem joins.  Discard any jump rings that don’t close smoothly. - 100 silver plated jump rings 8mm $3.25 - Soldering Kit with DVD $89.75
(this is soooooo on my wish list!)

A handy solution is to using open jump rings or soldering is to use split rings instead.  Split rings look like tiny key rings and work quite well most of the time. - 20 antique brass split rings 6mm - $1.25 - 100 Copper Split Jump Rings 7 mm OD - $8

Also, stock up on oval jump rings in different sizes.  Oval jump rings are slightly safer because their shape naturally helps to keep other parts away from the opening. Gravity helps too when the jewelry is worn.  If you use costume metals, brass is quite strong and is more likely to hold its shape when using heavier beads.  As a general rule, avoid using open jump rings whenever you reasonably can. For example, you could attach your wire guard directly to a clasp and crimp it closed rather than attaching the wire guard to the clasp via a jump ring. See? It’s a small difference that can make your jewelry last for years without incident. - Handmade sterling silver 22 gauge Oval jump rings 5mm 25 pieces - $5.79
Lesson #7 – sterling silver and gold filled crimp tubes rock!

I only use sterling silver or 14k gold filled crimp tubes now.  Even if you never ever use precious metal for anything else, I would invest in this. I’ve had nothing but disappointment and disaster from costume metal crimp beads or tubes no matter what the brand.  The entire structural integrity of a piece of jewelry often boils down to one single tiny crimp. With so much riding on such a tiny part, it only makes sense to use the best quality you can find. High quality crimps grip better and are far less likely to fail. - Sturdy Sterling Silver Crimp Tubes 2mm x 2mm - 100 pieces $12.25

When crimping your jewelry, the crimp should be good and tight but don’t over do it. If you squeeze the heck out it with your pliers, the crimp itself can become quite sharp cutting right through the stranding material or weakening it to the point that it will break later.  This happened to me very recently. A customer who had bought a necklace more than a year ago came back with this very issue. I had crimped too tightly causing a micro tear in the stranding material. After having been worn for a year it finally snapped apart.  I restrung the entire necklace, polished it and replaced a few old jump rings free of charge. The customer was pleased with the repair job and I had earned yet another pearl of wisdom from the school of hard knocks.

Lesson #8 – Double crimp even if no-one else is doing it

Now I haven’t seen anyone else doing this but I double crimp whenever I can especially when I’m using expensive, large, or heavy beads. I also double crimp on bracelets because they tend to undergo the most stress and movement.  Double crimping is an important part of my preventive practices.  When making a necklace I start out with the clasp, then a wire guard and crimp, followed by a decorative bead and then another crimp. After crimping both I cut the wire flush with the crimp.

my double crimping technique used on a bracelet
Some beading experts instruct you to crimp once and cut the wire flush with the crimp.  I feel this makes my jewelry far too vulnerable to breakage. Other experts advise leaving a little tail of stranding material tucked in a few beads but in my experience they ALWAYS work their way out eventually. Hardly professional! Double crimp and cut flush with the second crimp. If you don’t like the look of the crimps you can cleverly cover them up with crimp bead covers to create a beautiful design!  Another nice perk about double crimping is if the jewelry ever breaks it’s less likely that all the beads will fall off. This is especially helpful if your customer comes back needing a repair job and you don’t happen to have any replacement beads left. If no beads are missing you can save time and money too. - 50 Sterling Silver Crimp BEAD COVERS Findings 3mm F59 - $9.99

Well, that's another day of lessons from the School of Hard Knocks and you've all done very well. I welcome your comments and remember to stay tuned for the final part of this series!


  1. Terrific tips to have in one place!

  2. Awesome tips, thanks!! I also usually double crimp. :)

  3. ElfRenee, nice to meet another double crimper! LOL

  4. Indeed, terrific tips. Loved that you also provided info on where to get it and the cost. Thank you:):)

  5. I'm not a jewelry maker, but these tips look like they could be lifesavers to those who design and make jewelry!

  6. Great tips! makes me want to get my beading stuff back out and try a few of these tips out!

  7. I almost always use wire guardians and crimp covers but the double crimping is something new that I think I will have to try. Kudos to you for all the great advice!!

  8. I appreciate all these great comments! Welcome to my blog. :)

  9. Excellent information! Very useful and amazing, I will be looking to
    participate in the conversations if you folks are looking to talk about this thread

    Gold Filled Crimp Covers

  10. Thanks for your comment House of Gems. I like your gold filled crimp covers actually. I've started using them more often. They create a really professional finish. :)