Jump Rings for Maille — Part 2
I already discussed precious metal jump rings for maille, so this time let’s talk about the base metal rings. Aside from what they are made of, is there anything else you need to think about? In a word…yes! ;) So let’s talk about the differences in base metal jump rings and precious metal rings.
AWG, SWG and You
You probably are familiar with wire gauge, which is the thickness of the wire. For jewelry, the gauges most often used are 16, 18 and 20. So far so good, right? Well….there’s this little thing called standards for measuring wire. And the two main standards — AWG (American Wire Gauge) and SWG (Standard Wire Gauge) aren’t exactly the same for all gauges.
Yep, I just ruined your day, LOL.
OK, what does this mean anyway? It means that depending on the kind of jump rings you are buying, you may have to think twice about what you’re getting!
When it comes to jewelry findings, you normally see things measured based on AWG. However, in the world of chain maille jump rings, you may also run into SWG measurements, which are thicker.
Example: for a wire that is 18 gauge, AWG says it’s 1mm in diameter. However, the SWG measures it as 1.22mm in thickness. This obviously makes a big difference in AR, since 1.29mm is a size 16 in AWG.
So the moral of the story is….know if the jump rings you are thinking about buying are measured as AWG or SWG.
Chain Maille Jump Rings – Base Metals
OK, enough about gauges – let’s talk metals. Base metals are basically anything except those designated as precious (and in the chain maille jewelry world, precious means silver, gold, niobium and titanium.)
The most common base metals used in jewelry are copper, brass, aluminum, bronze and stainless steel. One thing these all share is that they are pretty inexpensive! But each metal has pluses and minuses, as you will see.
Copper is a relatively soft metal, which makes it easy to manipulate in the thicker gauges. The two main ways you can get copper jump rings are “natural” (not treated in any way) and enameled.
Enameled copper rings are colorful — just about any color you can think of is available. The down side is that since the enameling is just a surface treatment, it can be scratched. The bracelet you see to the right is made from enameled copper.
Natural copper is lovely, but it does oxidize pretty easily so you’ll have to spend some time getting rid of the tarnish (lemon juice and/or ketchup works well).
Stiffer than copper, brass comes in two main “colors”. One is regular brass, which has a bright yellow hue. The other is called red brass, which is a more golden color (not as “brassy”). The red brass is also sometimes called nu gold, jeweler’s brass and merlin’s gold.
Brass also tarnishes easily, so keep that in mind. And also keep in mind that by the time you get to 16 gauge, the jump rings are going to be more difficult to manipulate.
Aluminum is very popular for chain maille as it is both inexpensive and light. It also comes in a wide variety of anodized colors. (Reminder; anodization is a surface treatment and can be scratched.) Bright aluminum is a bright silvery color, and works really well. Just make sure you do not get regular aluminum, as you will get black rub-off all over yourself.
I mentioned that the aluminum rings are lightweight, which makes them great for earrings. But if you like jewelry with a hefty feel, this isn’t the metal for you. On the other hand, it means that you can make something large and still keep it comfortable. For example, a dragonscale collar in silver would be on the verge of being uncomfortably heavy, while the same collar in aluminum would feel much lighter.
Don’t confuse bronze the metal with bronze-colored. For example, there are bronze colors in enameled copper and anodized aluminum. But bronze the metal is an alloy of copper and tin. It has a reddish-gold color, and as you might imagine it tarnishes (because of the copper content).
Bronze is a stiff metal, so once again it will be tough to manipulate in the heavier gauges. It can be a little on the brittle side if you over-work it.
Really popular for men’s jewelry, stainless steel is heavy and has a nice shine to it. But don’t make the assumption that stainless or surgical steel are hypoallergenic, as they may not be – it depends on the amount of nickel used in the alloy. And it’s usually pretty tough to find that out.
Steel is really stiff, and if you work in gauges thicker than 20 gauge, you’ll need heavier-duty pliers. Not to mention a few muscles!
Gotta Get Rings
One more thing to think about is if you are buying these jump rings from a jewelry supplier is this: is the size of the ring based on the outside diameter or inside diameter. After all, an 18 gauge inside diameter jump ring is roughly an 8mm outside diameter. While a 6mm outside diameter is about a 4mm inside diameter. Biiiiiiiig difference!