Jump Rings for Maille – Part 1
Now it’s time to talk about jump rings – materials, sizes and that dreaded term…aspect ratio. ‘Cause face it — without jump rings, there is no chain maille.
When I started with making chain maille there wasn’t a huge variety of jump rings for use with jewelry. Most of the ring suppliers catered to the non-jewelry market. The jewelry supply stores sold rings based on outside diameter (OD), so you had to figure out the inside diameter (ID) yourself. Not to mention there wasn’t a huge variety of gauges, sizes or materials.
Now things are all changed — we jewelry artists have access to all kinds of wonderful rings in loads of materials and sizes. Woo hoo!
Chain Maille – Art, Science or Both?
No doubt about it, maille is an art; all one has to do is look at the myriad items, jewelry or not. But there is also a scientific aspect to making maille, because for many patterns, you need rings of a specific size. That size varies according to the gauge of the wire. Yikes — head spinning yet?
This relationship between gauge and size is called the aspect ration (AR). It’s a term guaranteed to make your eyes glaze over, LOL. However, it’s something you do need to know about if you want to maille.
You don’t have to know the math, but you do need to know the AR (or know how to find it) for any given ring. For example, the pattern Jens Pind requires a very specific AR in order to work; it’s a very narrow range. Something like European 4-in-1 is a lot more forgiving, but it still needs a certain range of sizes in order to look its best.
I wrote up an ebook (free) about AR, and it has a nifty chart in it that lists the ARs for some of the most common jewelry maille ring sizes and gauges. So here you go - chain maille rings.
So yes, there is science involved — but when has science been this much fun?
Ring Materials — My Precious….
When I was starting to maille (back in the stone ages I think), sterling silver was pretty cheap, so I mostly used sterling. Plus, it was one of the few metals that I could get rings for in a variety of ARs and gauges.
These days sterling is not exactly cheap, but there are all kinds of other materials now so I am not too disappointed. While I still love silver, my heart has been wooed by colorful rings in aluminum, copper, niobium and titanium. That being said, let’s talk materials. I’ll start with the metals classes as “precious” in chain maille terms – gold, silver, niobium and titanium.
Gold is gorgeous, no doubt about it. It’s available in yellow,white and rose; as solid and gold-filled. Gold-filled is much less expensive than solid, and is a great alternative to the (sky-high) price of solid gold. And gold-filled is not the same as gold-plated.
Plated rings have a thin layer of gold over a base metal core. Gold-filled on the other hand has a very thick layer of gold bonded to a metal core (usually brass). In terms of wear-ability, it’s just as durable as regular gold.
Gold’s main drawback is price – even gold-filled is pretty expensive. However, you can still use gold as an accent, even if you can’t manage to make an entire bracelet or necklace with it.
Silver comes in many forms – argentium, sterling and the new silver-filled. Argentium has the same amount of silver as does sterling; it just has different metals alloyed. Sterling includes copper, which is why sterling tarnishes fairly easily. Argentium doesn’t have copper, so it’s sometimes billed as “non-tarnishing”. It’s more accurate to say that is slower to tarnish.
There is the new silver-filled jump rings out on the market. These rings are similar to gold-filled – same basic principle, except with silver.
Niobium is best known as a hypoallergenic metal. It’s naturally a gray color, but can be anodized to all sorts of lovely colors. (I will explain what anodized means a little further below.)
Niobium is a bit heavier than silver or gold, so keep that in mind when you are designing earrings.
As far as price, it’s less expensive than silver, but more expensive than the base metals.
Titanium is famous for being light and strong, but it’s also one of the hypoallergenic metals. Many people who can’t handle even niobium can wear titanium. It’s naturally a silvery shade, and it can also be anodized to other colors.
As I mentioned, titanium is light. It can be good for earrings, but it could also be a “minus” if you like your jewelry to feel substantial.
And titanium is a very stiff/strong metal, difficult for most people to manipulate in gauges thicker than 20. Definitely keep that in mind or you may be staring at your rings instead of using them.
Price-wise, it’s about the same as niobium.
I mentioned the term anodized in relation to niobium and titanium, but what is it exactly? It’s defined as a “process used to increase the thickness of the natural oxide layer on the surface of metal parts”.
To put it more simply, a metal that is anodized has had a current passed through it, and that current changes the surface of the metal to a different color. Different currents produce different colors.
Think of copper — when it oxidizes, it turns brown, green, gray, etc. Copper oxidizes from exposure to air and also from the chemicals in a person’s body. Anodizing is a little different in that it doesn’t happen naturally (like in silver and copper), and only happens with metals that are naturally reactive to the process. In the chain maille jump ring world, this means niobium, titanium and aluminum.
I’ve already made this post long enough, so I’ll do a separate one for the base (i.e. non-precious) metals. See you later!