Monday, August 1, 2011

Part III - Durable Beaded Jewelry Tips From the School of Hard Knocks

In Part III, my final instalment of durable beading tips, we continue with the nitty gritty of how to create sturdy pieces. If you're just tuning in now you may wish to check out Part I and Part II as well. Even if you're a buyer and not a maker, you may just find some things to watch out for when making a purchase.

Double Edge Design Necklaces $135 available at (photo by John A. Ford)

Lesson #9 – Toggle clasps on bracelets make people cry

Please avoid using toggle clasps on bracelets. I know, they’re so pretty and easy to use. I love toggle clasps, I really do, but not on bracelets.  Bracelets are subjected to a lot of movement and take the most beating. Sooner or later the toggle will fail. A lot of people lose their bracelets this way and it causes heartache and tears. 

People are often very sentimental about their jewelry even becoming attached to inexpensive costume pieces. I can’t tell you how many times people have brought in cheap costume jewelry desperate for someone to repair it.  Oftentimes the jewelry was a gift from someone special or they just really like it. If you insist on using toggle clasps for bracelets, at least consider adding some chain as a safety catch for when the toggle fails. Measure the chain so that you can still fit the bracelet over your hand, but tight enough that if the clasp opens, it won’t readily fall off the wrist.  1” to 1.5” of chain usually works depending on the size of the bracelet.  A little trial and error on this or custom fitting will be well worth it. 

Quality spring clasps or lobster clasps are the most secure for bracelets.  Lobster clasps can be trickier to use so always try putting on the bracelet by yourself first. If you can’t manage it, your customer won’t either.  Have a few different sizes on hand to see what works best.

I love unique and beautiful toggle clasps for necklaces! Check out this beauty available in Cathy Dailey's Etsy shop.

Artisan Sterling Silver Round Toggle Clasp w Wrapped and Spiral Bar $15.88 USD

Lesson #10 – Plated metals suck

When choosing metal findings for my next project I tend to opt for non-plated metals first.  I’m really not a fan of plated metals. The plating is so thin that jewelry shows wear very quickly.  I also hate this trend of rhodium plated sterling silver.  Apparently people like it because the jewelry doesn’t tarnish, but once the rhodium plating wears off, the unpolished sterling underneath looks crappy to me. What’s the point of using precious metal if it looks worn and junky? 

Sterling silver is easier to maintain than most people think so plating it is just not worth it to me.  This is not to say that I never use them, I do. But I use them strategically and with caution. If you can use non plated metals such as brass, bronze, copper, sterling silver, gold filled or gold components so much the better.  These metals can be worn over and over without showing wear. Polishing may be needed, but the piece can be restored to its former glory. 

I recommend using plated metals such as silver plated brass findings in places where the jewelry doesn’t directly touch the skin. For example, sometimes I create earrings with sterling silver ear hooks but silver plated metal everywhere else to help keep the cost down.  Since the plated metals aren’t directly against the skin, the jewelry will last much longer. People like myself with acidic skin can wear the plating off of costume metal within just a couple of days! Perspiration also causes plating to wear faster as well as the frequency of use. 

Most importantly, go back to Lesson #2 and decide how long you want your jewelry to survive and choose your findings accordingly.

Examples of non-plated metal findings

Brushed copper wavy disks 8mm (qty 12) -

Lesson #11 – Practice safe pinwork

Wrap your eye pins and head pins closed whenever you can.  Much like jump rings, open loops on eye pins and head pins are common culprits for breakage. By looping and attaching them to the next component and then wrapping it closed two or three times, the level of durability goes up exponentially.  There is no gap for tiny parts to escape through. I create loops both ways but tend to stick to wrapped loops on necklaces and bracelets. When doing open loops, make sure they’re closed tightly with no gaps. A metal file is indispensable for smoothing the tip before creating the loop. Filing first makes the tightest and most secure fit.

These attractive earrings by Jechory Designs shows the kind of looped pinwork I'm talking about. Wrapping the ends can also be used as a design element.

Handmade Sterling & Teal Glass Earrings $20 by

Lesson #12 – Elastic creates backlash

Elastic jewelry breaks. It’s as sure as death and taxes.  They have exciting but short careers like the New Kids on the Block.  When considering the life span of your work keep this point in mind.  I know, it sucks because elastic solves the problem of tricky clasps and creates a comfortable fit.  Use your elastic stranding material for inexpensive fun projects and rescue your swarovski crystal and gemstones from an untimely death.

Lesson #13 – Not all magnetic clasps are created equally

Magnetic clasps come in different shapes and designs. Some are quite secure and some should probably be avoided at all costs.  I have great results with latch style or multi strand magnetic clasps (see first photo below). The kind that simply pulls apart can be problematic in certain situations. They seem sturdy enough during construction but when worn can come apart unexpectedly leading to disaster.  If you use a pull apart style magnetic clasp on a bracelet, always include a safety catch and choose a stronger magnet than you think you will ever need.  I recommend using pull apart magnetic clasps in instances where your customer cannot manage more traditional styles. Here are a couple of lovely examples of magnetic clasps by Plazko.

Plazko has kindly offered a 5% discount on all purchases until the end of August! Just use this coupon code: B2BM5

Gold Filled 20mm 3strand Tube Clasp - 1pc (2223) $7.99 by

Sterling Silver 8mm Magnetic Clasp with Crystals - 1pc ( 2397) $6.12 USD by

Lesson #14 – Knowledge is Power

Include care instructions for your customers. Let your valued customers know how to properly take care of their new handmade treasure by providing information either verbally (if selling in person) or better yet, by giving them a little card with all the information they need.  When selling in person, sometimes it’s appropriate to teach your customers how to inspect their jewelry for signs of wear i.e. loose jumps rings and loops. 

Preventing breakage before it happens saves time, money and heartache.  Showing customers where to look for potential issues is not a negative reflection of your workmanship, just the opposite. Jewelry is delicate and needs to be properly cared for.  By empowering your customers with useful information to protect their investment, you might just gain a customer for life!

Lesson #15 – Take your jewelry for a test drive

Test your materials and workmanship regularly to make sure it meets your standards. When starting a new jewelry line, make the first piece for yourself or a trusted friend and wear it non-stop for a few weeks. If you’re satisfied with the quality, go ahead and sell your new jewelry line with confidence! 

"Street Chic" Upcycled Denim & Czech Crystal Bracelet $48 by

These are tips I live by through personal experience. Although no piece of jewelry is completely break-proof, you can feel good knowing that you’ve done everything you could think of to be preventive.  Your customers will appreciate it too!

Do you have any tips you'd like to share? Leave us your comments.

Until next time, happy beading!

© 2011 Christine Marie Ford
The text of this article is the property of Christine Marie Ford and may only be reproduced only with expressed written permission.


  1. wow!

    GREAT advice, insights and info! Thank you for posting! :)

    Hi! I found you via the Handmadeology Etsy team & am your newest follower! Hope you can stop by my blog: and follow too!

    Have a great day! :)

    Des, Mano y Metal

  2. Thank you Mano y Metal. Your work is amazing. I check out your blog and it was too entertaining NOT to follow! I love your post on your chaotic core. :)