Many different varieties of wire can be used to design beautiful jewelry. From precious metals to steel to colorful recycled telephone wire, the choice of wire has a great influence on the look and feel of the end product. Let’s take a look at some of the options out there in wire material, shape, and size.
Materials: Let’s take a look at three general categories of wire – precious metal, base metal, and “memory” wire. Precious metal wire, while the most expensive option, can produce a beautiful and valuable piece of jewelry, especially when combined with precious or semi-precious stones. Most of the silver wire used for jewelry is sterling silver, which contains 92.5% silver, with the other 7.5% being made up of base metals to increase its strength. In most sterling, the remainder contains copper, which is what causes sterling silver to tarnish so readily. ArgentiumÃ?Â® sterling is a new sterling alloy that replaces the copper with germanium, producing a sterling silver that is highly tarnish-resistant.
14-karat gold wire is much more expensive than silver wire, which is why using gold-filled wire is very popular. Gold-filled wire has a core of base metal wrapped in gold. Unlike gold-plated metal, the gold will not flake off, and gold-filled wire is a very nice option for people who like the look of gold but don’t want to spend their entire budget on wire!
Base metal wire encompasses copper, brass, and nickel wire. Nickel wire is approximately the same color as silver wire, but many people have allergic skin reactions to nickel, so beware of using it for jewelry that will rest directly on the skin. Brass can be an inexpensive alternative to gold, and bare copper wire has a warm color all its own. Copper wire is often sold coated with a colorful layer of plastic or enamel that can add a sense of fun to jewelry designs. In fact, since copper is the conductive material inside most electrical and telephone wires, you can find inspiration inside old bundles of phone wire!
Steel “memory” wire is sold in sizes made for rings, bracelets, and necklaces. This wire “remembers” its original shape, and so is good for one-size-fits-all jewelry that is easy to wear. A bracelet, for example, can be strung with colorful beads and simply slipped on; the wire will return to its original circular shape around the wrist. Be sure to use heavy-duty wire cutters on this material so you don’t dull the blades on the cutters you use for softer wire!
Wire Shape: While round wire provides the most versatility for jewelry designs, half-round and square wire is also commonly used. Half-round wire is flat on one side and domed on the other side. It is used to wrap bundles of other wire together, with the flat side facing the bundle so the wrapping wires lie flat. Square wire is used to add variety to a design, or when a design calls for many wires side by side (the flat sides of square wire sit closer to each other than the curved sides of round wire.) Square wire can also be twisted to add sparkle to a design. Other shapes of wire can be found in supply stores as well, including triangular wire, flat bezel wire, and gallery wire with patterns cut into it.
Size: The thickness of a wire is called its gauge. In the American Wire Gauge system, the thicker the wire, the lower its gauge number. Most jewelry designs use wire between 18 gauge and 22 gauge. Thinner gauges, from 24 to 28, are used for very fine coiled detail or in knitted and crocheted wire pieces. Thicker gauges, from 16 down to 8 or 10, are used as the support structure for more intricate pieces such as cuff bracelets, or for a thicker, more solid look. Care should be taken to use an appropriately sized wire cutter for thicker gauges so as not to dull the blades of smaller cutters.
The choice of wire is one of the biggest influences on the end result of a wire jewelry design. Will it be a fanciful, multi-colored piece that shows off your fun side, or a delicate concoction of coiled gold and silver? Wire jewelry has so many choices to offer, be sure to try your hand at as many as you can find!