The chain is a wonderfully varied material that is frequently used in jewelry making. A chain can be used as a design element in earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, as the foundation of a charm bracelet or pendant necklace, or for something as functional as a necklace extender.
The chain is typically made in small factories that use complex machinery to draw, coil, link, and sometimes even solder metal wire into the various chain styles. Certain specialty chains, such as Thai Hill Tribe silver chain, are meticulously handcrafted by skilled artisans. The chain can also be made from materials such as wood, acrylic, and fiber.
The finest chains are made from 18- or 14-karat gold, gold-filled, fine silver, sterling silver, or platinum wire. The most popular and versatile chains are made from brass wire, which is available in both raw and plated metal. Raw brass and raw copper chains are commonly plated with a silver, antique silver, gold, antique copper, gunmetal, or antique brass finish. The plating process enhances the beauty of the chain, improves its durability, and reduces corrosion.
Other metals, including steel and aluminum, can also be used to make a chain. Aluminum is particularly lightweight and can be brightly colored by an electroplating process called anodization. For a descriptive list of metal types, see the appendix.
Chains made from wire can be altered in a number of ways to add variety and interest to the style or metal surface. The shape of links can be manipulated, textures can be added, and links can be soldered to make them more secure.
Soldered versus unsoldered chain is selected based on how the chain will be used in a particular project. Soldering closes and secures chain links so they will not stretch and gap, which can lead to breakage. Most precious metal chains are soldered. Other metals, such as copper, are not easily soldered. When working with unsoldered chain, the links should be substantial enough to handle normal wear without stretching. Individual links of an unsoldered chain can be used as decorative components in jewelry projects like earrings.
Flattening is a process where wire links are flattened in a press to create more surface area that will reflect light. The flattened chain appears to be brighter and shinier.
Drawing chain, not to be confused with drawing wire, is a process of stretching round or oval links to elongate the shape of the links. Drawing chain changes its overall appearance and also makes it narrower.
Dapping can either curve a metal link or leave a single hammer strike mark on the link. Curved links add interest and hammer strikes add a surface texture that reflects light.
Hammering wire links creates a multifaceted surface. Different hammering techniques leave different marks on the metal surface. Any style of hammering adds reflectivity to the surface of wire chain links.
Texturing can be applied to the surface of metal or wire by imprinting textures ranging from simple lines to more complicated pattern imprints. Hammers with decorative heads are used to create a variety of textures.
Knurling is a common texture that gives chain links a crosshatched surface texture that looks nice when oxidized.
Diamond cut patterns or angled facets are created on the surface of the metal using precision tools. This alteration creates the best light-catching facets possible.
A chain is manufactured in a nearly endless range of styles from simple cable chains to rhinestone cup chains. A style is defined by the shape of the links, the order of the linking, and in some cases, by the surface treatment of the links.
Cable chain is made by connecting round or oval links of wire together with each link lying at 90 degrees to the next. Cable chain is the simplest and most common chain used in jewelry making.
Double cable link or parallel cable chain is made when two links are laid side by side in each link position.
- Flat cable chain is made from links that have been hammered flat.
- Figure 8 chain starts out as a basic cable chain, but then alternating links are twisted into a figure 8 (the shape of an infinity symbol).
Satellite chain is made from small round links with small beads added at even intervals that look like orbiting planets, adding interest and texture to the chain.
Curb chain is made from oval links that have all been twisted, or “curbed,” so the entire length of the chain lies flat against the body.
Double curb link or parallel curb chain is made when two curbed links are laid side by side in each link position.
Long-and-short chain is a chain style that is made from short, repeating patterns of links that are fairly uniform in width but differ in length.
- Figaro chain is a popular long-and-short variation made from a pattern of three short, curbed links followed by one long, curbed link that is the same length as the three short links.
Rollo chain and belcher chain are made from uniform round or oval links. These chain styles are heavier than cable chain and look like they have been assembled from strips of metal rather than from round wire.
- Rollo chain is made from uniform links of half-round wire.
- Belcher chain is made from uniform links of low-domed or flat wire.
Bar chain is made from bar-shaped links joined by small, oval ring connectors. The bars can be straight, curved, decorative, elongated, shaped, twisted, hollow, solid, or even a combination of these.
Beaded chain or rosary chain is a series of wire-wrapped beads, pearls, or gemstones that are linked together.
Snake chain is a tubular chain made from an assembly of curved plates. Snake chains are highly flexible and have a solid appearance instead of open links.
Ball chain is made from tiny spheres of metal rather than open links. These spheres or balls can be solid or hollow to reduce weight. They can be fixed at regular intervals along the length of the chain or fixed directly next to one another. This type of chain is also known as a bead chain or pipeline chain.
Cup chain is made from a series of cup-style metal links that are set with glass or crystal rhinestones. The metal “cups” are generally square in shape with prongs at each corner to hold around rhinestone in place. Cup chains come in a wide range of cup sizes, base metal types, and colors.