Best Practices: 6 Tips and Ideas for Making More Interesting Necklaces

I was browsing around an antique store the other day when I heard the lady behind the counter say to a customer who had just come in, "Wow, I LOVE your necklace!"

You can bet that I made haste trying to see the necklace all the fuss was about. It was bold, all silver and white, lots of wire, quite big and definitely eye-catching. The lady wearing it was dressed all in black and dark grays; I figured she probably knew that necklace would steal the show so she let it shine on its own.

Think about the necklaces (and bracelets) that catch your eye in stores, ones that you love to see your friends wear, or one that you love to wear yourself. Do they have anything in common? Through years of studying jewelry, making jewelry, stringing designs, and fabricating metal components, focals and clasps, a few ideas have stuck in my mind as "best practices" or go-to ideas to keep in mind as you design a necklace or to jumpstart a necklace design that just isn't working.


1.     Think balance, not symmetry. This is a basic idea in all of art, design, and photography. Symmetry can be boring; aim for balance instead. If you string a bunch of beads on one side of a necklace, use ribbon in the same or a similar color on the other side to create more interest. (In this case you'll probably need something to balance the weight on the ribbon side as well.) Another technique that I employ a lot in my Southern Baubelles necklaces is to put the focal piece on the side instead of the front. Things that aren't perfect and symmetrical are just more interesting to the eye, like a comfy lived-in room as compared to a stiff formal room that it looks like no one actually lives in.

The wired element in Linda Larsen's Wired Vine necklace is on the side, not the front. This asymmetry gives the necklace more interest.

2.     Do good and repeat. There's value in repetition, especially when you're working with really bold designs. It might seem like it should be the opposite (only one outrageous piece per necklace), but repeating an outrageous element can actually add a sense of order that helps calm the eye and take the design from oh-my-gosh to oh-how-nice.

I thought Tammy Bowman's Honeycomb Hive bracelet was a necklace when I first saw it. The same rule applies however; repeating her cute and bold chain-maille hive element makes this "bzzz-y" design smooth as honey.

3.     Be odd. On the other hand, sometimes an element can be pretty but just not enough. Repeat it three or five or more times (always stick with odd numbers) and a simple element can make a masterpiece.

The flowers in Alice Garfield's Abstract Sakura necklace are delicate and wouldn't be enough on their own; repeating the design (three large, five total–odd numbers either way) made it just right.

4.     Don't skimp on the clasp. Don't assume the clasp is just a utilitarian piece to help you put a necklace on and take it off. You put so much time and effort into making a necklace; why not put the same love into a handcrafted clasp? Even if you don't make it yourself, look for unique handcrafted clasps when you're buying jewelry supplies. And haven't you ever had a necklace that just won't stay put but spins around so the clasp is always showing? Might as well make it pretty and special because you know it will show.

Cassie Donlen's Slink-a-dink necklace is full of pretty handmade wire and lampwork glass design elements; why use a store-bought clasp? The clasp she made to go on her handcrafted necklace is as artistic and special as the rest–so much so it could double as the focal.

5.     Be versatile and provide options. When I participated in my first Bead Soup Blog Party a couple of years ago, the clasp I was given to work with was so beautiful, it could've easily been a focal piece. That led me to the idea of making necklaces with more than one "front;" which would allow the wearer to turn the necklace around to suit her outfit or her mood the day she wore it. In another very bold necklace I made a few years ago, I worried that it would be too over-the-top to sell, so I made the big-and-bold focal piece removable in case it was just too much for the already big-and-bold strand of large beads. This simple act made the piece more versatile and wearable, either for an over-the-top day or a really, really over-the-top day.

6.     Add a surprise. One of my favorite little touches to add to necklace designs is either an unexpected little addition at the clasp (usually a dangling pearl on a wire-wrapped head pin) or near the focal at the 4 or 8 o'clock position (only if the focal is at the 6 o'clock position). A contrasting bead (such as a bird-shaped bead on a strand of all round ones) or a contrasting pop of color (a bright red, pink, or turquoise bead in a design of all neutrals, perhaps) will add interest and give your design more of a handmade feel, too. One of the ways I made more "fronts" in the Bead Soup necklace I mentioned in number 5 above was to add pops of red in a necklace that was all greens and golds.

Also from my first Bead Soup Blog Party, I discovered this necklace by Shannon Chomanczuk. Shannon's use of a little bird bead among the round beads is a surprise that really made her necklace special.

Employ one or a few of these ideas the next time you make a necklace and you're sure to make a more interesting, appealing necklace design. Another great way to ensure more attractive designs (necklaces, earrings, or any other jewelry) is to make the projects in our Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry eBooks, especially in 10 Wire Jewelry Projects: Designs from our Covers. Top designs taken from the best of Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry magazine, these pieces are made by favorite jewelry-making designers and chosen by expert editors as the cream of the crop.

Get more great ideas for making unique necklaces.

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