Circles and Friends: 10 Innovative Jewelry Designs Based on a Classic Shape
Whether or not you’re with the ancients about it being perfect, the circle, you have to admit, is a classic shape. It’s got a lot going for it. Continuous, balanced, highly symmetric, the open circle is pleasing to the eye. So are the solid disc and 3D sphere, the circle’s close and closed relations. Each also makes the perfect starting point for a jewelry design departure, as even a tiny bit of distortion can add interest and a contemporary feel. The challenge is in getting the circle right to begin with, wherever you intend to go with it.
ABOVE: Citrine rounds in polished domes of sterling silver are like little suns shining for all their worth. Sparkling in 3D earrings by Sam Patania from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, January/February 2018; photo: Jim Lawson
The stars of the show in Sam Patania’s round earrings above are the brightly colored, faceted citrine rounds in the center of the jewelry design. Pretty all by themselves, and at 12mm easily visible from a distance, the stones are really set up by the polished silver surrounding them. Drilling those discs makes the earrings hang and so move to catch the light. Doming the discs brings the little suns forward.
“I had to experiment for a while with the dapping die to find the correct hole for my discs. The hole must work for both the size of the discs as well as the amount of dome I want them to have,” he says. But he didn’t hesitate for a second on how to create the discs in the first place. “My disc cutter is a tool I cannot live without: hand cutting discs is what I did as an apprentice for many years, but the simplicity of a disc cutter is a life improvement!”
That’s right: the cutting challenge is baked right into that classic shape. You can draw a circle freehand — if you’re a natural or once you’ve practiced really a lot. You can also use a compass or dividers, which gives you the shape mechanically. That ensures the circle is right, but you still have to cut it out, with a jeweler’s saw or maybe shears. Either way, you’re supposed to be in control of that shape. Then there’s that other option, as the very proficient circle cutter Sam has decided — you can use a tool that’s designed to give you perfect metal discs every time.
Jewelry artist Joe Korth is known for his work using the ancient Korean technique of keum boo, applying fine gold foil to silver. Like Sam’s earrings above, Joe’s earrings are silver discs cut out with a disc cutter, drilled at the top for hanging, domed, and embellished with a warm splash of color. But how he gets there and what he does with that basic idea is very different. Joe started by creating the keum boo, creating a linear pattern of gold on a small rectangle of sterling sheet, then selecting the right section for the earring with the help of a circle template. He adds a textured finish and a patina that really bring out the gold in his jewelry design.
Sometimes a commercially available clasp or setting or ear wire works just fine. When it’s highly visible, though, and your jewelry has a highly individual look, you might want to design a finding into the piece as a whole. At the least, you don’t want a finding to detract from your work. Sometimes you want a finding to fit your aesthetic even if no one sees it when the piece is worn, just because.
A toggle clasp can assume various shapes, but the basic idea is a disc with a hole in it and a bar that goes through the opening to secure or release the closure. Cassie Donlen, a talented lampwork beadmaker and jewelry designer, creates silver toggle clasps that can be finished or embellished to relate to jewelry as a whole, or take the lead role. The whimsical samples here include stamped designs, a bit of patina, and her own colorful glass beads.
Dapping a disc adds a bit of 3D and stretches any surface patterning in a way I always find appealing, but an undapped disc also has plenty to offer. In her Moon and Stars pendant design, Karla Rosenbusch concentrates on a divided circle. A larger brass crescent represents the moon, while a smaller copper marquise shape holds a single sparkling star that stands in for innumerable others. The way the two metal shapes nest together also makes me think of the moon and sun or eclipse designs found in Huichol seed bead art. Even though all these bodies are spherical, the pendant’s flat surface better evokes the way we see a bright object sihouetted against a darkened sky.
One of Kieu Pham Gray’s favorite tools, she says, is the disc cutter, which she likes especially because it allows her “to make use of all kinds of scrap, keeping waste and cost to a minimum.” She built this pendant with one intact disc for its “floor,” two partial discs on risers above it, and a small silver disc that backs the cabochon below. Then she adds contrasting shapes and colors. First, she’s placed a slightly off vertical length of square copper wire inside the channel between the disc halves. Then she joins a length of square silver tubing at right angles to the copper at the top of the design.
Think Circles for Jewelry Designs
Circles and parts of them are everywhere. Here are several other jewelry designs drawing on the circle that you can re-create or use as your departure point.
Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.