June 06, 2022 11 min read
In a world of ever-changing high-street fashion trends, it can be gratifying to create your own completely unique accessories that perfectly suit the colour scheme of your chosen outfit. This can be a daunting task if you're new to the craft and still need to assemble the ‘right’ tools for the job, however this guide will introduce you to key elements. We will teach you about the basic tools and components and what they are most useful for, plus some handy tips and tricks that will show you how accessible this skill can be and encourage you to give it go yourself! First allow me to introduce you to the materials you can choose to use in any piece of jewelry…
Beads are a universal aspect of Jewellery making that can be found at all points in history and at every level of society, because anything can become a bead! You just need to have a hole running through the middle of it and be able to thread it onto a string. The three most famous and frequently used types of glass beads are Preciosa Bicone Beads, Round Beads and Seed Beads. Bicones are shaped differently to round beads, however both are cut with facets so that they can sparkle in the light. Seed beads on the other hand are completely smooth and tend to be fully round or slightly cylindrical, however there are other styles that give slightly different finishes. All beads can come in different sizes; Bicones and round beads are typically measured in millimeters that represent the diameter of the bead, whereas seed beads have assigned numbers and as the number goes higher, the bead gets smaller.
Chatons look like flat back crystals from the front, but they come to a point at the back, giving that that iconic diamond shape when viewed from the side that many associate with Superman. This extra depth means there are more facets in the stone, giving it greater brilliance in the light and can come in foiled or unfoiled. Chatons are often set into metal casings and are the types of crystals you typically find on rings.
Fancy Stones come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they are faceted on both sides of the crystal; this is what makes them different to Chaton’s, which are always round and come to a single point on the back. Fancy Stones are often the center piece of an item of jewelry, for instance that famous blue heart shaped crystal on Rose’s “Heart of The Ocean” necklace in the film Titanic. In the story it was a ‘blue diamond’ but a large blue Heart shaped fancy stone would achieve a similar appearance.
Pearls in their natural form come from mollusks (like oysters) and have many connections with romantic ideas and myths throughout history. Preciosa pearls are crafted from glass and coated in a layer of ‘nacre’, which gives them their opaque, pearlescent finish. This nacre process means that glass pearls for Jewellery making can come in a variety of colors. There are also different ways the pearl can be drilled, for instance the 5810 drilled Pearl is completely round and has a hole running all the way through it just like a bead. However, you can get half drilled pearls where the hole only goes halfway in and this makes them well suited for sitting on the end of pins or at the bottom of dangling earrings. You can also get cabochon pearls that are domed on one side and flat on the other. Cabochons can come in different shapes and be made from different materials because it is the cut, with its’ flat back and smoothly curved front face that defines it as a cabochon.
Pendants are decorative objects that can go on necklaces or earrings and usually have a hole in one end, which will be attached to the rest of the piece with a bail. Pendants can be made of anything; however faceted crystals are very popular because you can create a matching Jewellery set from them. It is also possible to turn a solid object into a pendant by using a specially designed bail so even though a drilled hole is easy, it is not vital.
Almost all Jewellery is made up of small metal components, also known as "findings for jewellery making". These include the chains for necklaces and bracelets, many types of ear wires, and various styles of clasp, which are used to turn a length of chain into a necklace that can connect to itself.
There are also several types of metal beads and crimp beads which can be used to secure loops when working with chord or thread. A crimp is essentially a short tube of metal, which can be pressed flat with pliers and this will hold together anything that was running through the loop. Crimp beads are then placed over the top which will make it look like a simple metal bead. This is a great way to secure loops of thread without having to tie a single knot and is popular in beaded bracelets. Jump Rings are another popular way of connecting metal components and these act like links in a chain. You can open these by gently gripping it with pliers and twisting either side of the loop open and closed, avoid pulling Jump Rings open as this damages the metal.
Metal plating is extremely common in many types of jewellery; however few know what it actually means. Plated metal is the result of a process called electroplating, basically this means there is a base metal (called a substrate) and it is coated in a thin layer of protective or decorative metals over the top to change its strength or appearance.
Gold ‘plated’ is not the same as gold ‘gilded’ because in this instance the gold is not a separate foil that is glued on, but a chemically attached layer of loose gold particles. Copper or other base metals lie underneath the golden surface, and this will eventually be revealed after lengthy oxidisation or frequent contact with skin and chemicals that can be found in toiletries.
Silver Plating is also used for its decorative appeal and is made the same way as gold plating and will require the same type of care to prevent tarnishing, which is both natural and inevitable. The best ways to delay tarnishing, is by storing jewellery in sealed containers to prevent unnecessary exposure to the air. Keep the metal away from moisture as much as possible (a classic mistake is taking showers while leaving jewellery on) and limit how much contact with skin it receives, the oils react with the metal and often result in those green residues on the skin, which are completely harmless, but undesired. A common example is the back of the neck where a necklace has been allowed to sit for a long length of time.
For a shining finish that will resist the natural effects of tarnishing for longer than plated metal we recommend Sterling Silver (925). It is not “Fine Silver” which is 99.9% pure, because unblended silver is typically too soft and malleable for most uses, including jewellery making. Most silver jewellery that is bought and worn will be made from Sterling Silver, which is typically hallmarked with a “925” stamp. Sterling Silver is Fine Silver that has been alloyed with copper to a composition of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper, this makes the resulting metal harder and more durable, without compromising the iconic silver colour. It’s worth knowing that the added copper will cause Sterling Silver to tarnish eventually compared to the completely pure silver. When tarnished it will turn dark brown or black over time, especially in humid conditions. However, it won't rust or perish with normal use and it's easy to clean.
For a steady grip and a clear look at what you are doing, we recommend using pliers for the majority of metal work. Pliers and Tweezers can easily be mixed up if you’re new to this, the way to tell them apart is pliers have jaws designed to grab an object firmly, which then enhances the strength of the users grip. Tweezers are much finer and are designed to simply pick up and move small items; for instance you bend wire with a pair of pliers and you pick up a crystal with a pair of tweezers. Pliers can come in a wide variety of sizes and intended tasks, however, there are five key types that can be considered the core kit for any beginner jewellery maker and these can be bought individually or in our sets of pliers that can be found in the tools section of our website.
In jewellery craft you will almost always need to bend something, and Round Nose Pliers are perfect for creating the smooth, tight loops you will need to connect one component to another. The round tips are wider at the bottom and narrower at the end, giving you control over the size of the loops.
Whenever there is excess wire, it is best to trim with Side Cutters; these are better than Scissors because the cutting edge is much stronger and you can apply more force with the pliers handles, the flat side also gives more accuracy when cutting.
Chain Nose Pliers and Bent Nose Pliers are great for holding and bending wire in a variety of ways. The jaws on both types are flat and smooth on the inside and they both come to narrow points at the tip of the tool, perfect for accurately grabbing tiny sections of wire. Bent nose pliers are different because the nose curves halfway so that to the tip is at a right angle to the handle, this is good for awkward tasks when you need to reach round something.
Flat Nose Pliers are the final type that we recommend, like Chain Nose Pliers they are flat and smooth on the inside, however the jaws on the Flat Nose Pliers are much wider and are best for when you want to control a larger amount of surface area or smooth something out.
When you are weaving beads together you may wish the use thread because of it’s flexibility, Nymo, Wildfire, Fireline are very popular brands. Fireline and Wildfire both provide conditioned threads which are more resistant to stretching and breaking. When a thread is conditioned it means it has been coated in something that prevents the thread from fraying, this can be done with bees wax or synthetic conditioner.
Nymo threads are made of unconditioned nylon, this does mean it is more likely to fray however, it comes in a wide range of colours making it well suited for bead embroidery. If you want to condition a thread yourself you simply hold your block of wax in one hand, pressing the thread into it with your thumb and pull the thread through it using your other hand, it is best to do this several times to ensure good coverage.
Poundage is a term used on most threads and chords and this indicates the strength of the thread, showing how much weight it can hold before it snaps. Fireline threads started as fishing lines, which is why you will find cross over and is why so much attention has been paid to it’s strength compared to its range of colours.
There is also braided beading thread which doesn’t fray or stretch because of how it’s made and frequently has a nylon coating, which helps to protect the strands inside from wear and tear. Beading chord also has multiple strands and are usually 2 ply or higher. Ply is a term that is also used for knitting wool and refers to how many strands of fibre are twisted together to create a thicker and stronger final thread, similar to the red and white stripes on a candy cane.
Monofilament chord is made from a single synthetic strand that is sturdy enough to not require a needle. When using clear chord, you can put colour on the end you are using when threading, to make it easier to find if you have to put it down.
There are three things to consider when choosing wire as a beginner: hardness, gauge and metal type. Hardness refers to how flexible it is and directly affects how well it will hold its shape. There are three major categories of hardness, the softest is called ‘Dead soft’, which is very easy to bend making it perfect for tight coils but will also easily be bent out of shape. ‘Half hard’ wire is still bendable, but it is springier and will hold its shape better, ‘Full Hard’ describes wire which is really springy and is best at holding its shape once formed, this does however require the most force when being manipulated into shape. Memory wire is considered different because it holds its’ factory-made shape so well that it behaves like a slinky, this makes it great for bracelets and requires special memory wire cutters because it will likely damage any other tool. You also need to understand gauge, which basically means the thickness or diameter of the wire. The thicker and heavier a wire is, the smaller the gauge number will be. For example, a 28-gauge wire will be like a thread, whereas 12 gauge will be thick and require a lot of force to bend. Just like metal findings, the type of metal needs to be considered if it is going to be in contact with the skin and information on the composition of any given wire can be found on its spool.
You will find an extensive range of crafting, embellishment and jewellery making projects available to download from our website. They will give you an easy opportunity to use the knowledge you have learned:
Firstly, you will need the finding that will go through the ear; these can be Shepherds Crook or Fishhook ear wires if the earrings are going to dangle. You can also use post and scroll ear wires if you are designing Stud earrings.
Flat Headpins are great for simple bead or pearl earrings because they have a flat stopper at one end, meaning you can thread beads or pearls onto it and they won’t slip off the other end.
The trick now is connecting the pin to the ear wire and the best way to do this is by using round nose pliers to bend the headpin into a small loop and using side cutters to trim off any excess.
You can now use a 4mm Jump Ring to connect the looped end of the headpin to the other loop on the ear wire. Twist the jump ring open with your chain nose pliers and then thread the two loops onto it. Once your happy that everything is facing the front, gently twist the Jump Ring closed and it’s done! Repeat the process for the other earring.
There are three key decisions to make when designing the metal parts of a pendant necklace; which style of chain, what style of clasp and which type of bail are you going to use? The most common type of chain is a Trace Chain however, Belcher chains, Curb Chains and Snake Chains are all worth considering and come in different lengths if you are buying a premade necklace.
If you are making a necklace from scratch you will need to add a clasp, which could be a Lobster Clasp, Bolt Ring or Toggle Clasp depending on the look you are aiming for, and these will be attached to the chain with a Jump Ring.
The part of the necklace that will be seen the most is the pendant and its Bail, and you need to pick the right sized bail to fit around your pendant. Using a Simple Bail as an example, you will find a measurement in millimetres in the product description, if it says 7mm this means it can securely hold anything with a hole that is up to 7mm deep between the picks of the bail. A very popular size of bail is 11mm as it is a good average size and Pinch Bails are easy to prize open and then pinch closed around your bail without the need for a tool. Bails have loops on them that are designed so that you can simply thread the chain through, resulting in a finished necklace.