Studio Notes: Decorative Bezel Wire for Gemstone Settings
For years, Jeff Klein painstakingly cut out details in thin strips of copper, brass, and sterling silver sheet to create overlay borders for his metal jewelry. Then in 2016, a friend suggested he downsize those labor-intensive designs and turn them into decorative bezel wire. Little did Klein know the idea would secure his place as a full-time artist.
Decorative Bezel Wires: How it Happened
Klein, who lives in Phoenix, says he started making jewelry 25 years ago after taking a basic soldering class.
“I was the rebellious kid drawing in notebooks,” he says. Silver was $5 an ounce, so he was able to “practice a lot, using two hammers, a saw, and some pliers. It was very primitive.”
But he persisted.
Another building block for his career was his live-work apartment. Building rules allowed him to turn his living room into a jewelry showplace where clients could drop by. Meanwhile, he worked as a chef in the hospitality industry, preparing food for restaurants and hospitals.
Klein’s jewelry designs were highly detailed and time consuming to make. By hand, it could take him six hours to make a single 12-inch strip of patterned wire. Then one day, while cutting an overlay strip of flames, “a friend working with me suggested I cut it smaller and use it as bezel wire.”
Making Decorative Bezel Wire
To pursue the idea, Klein contacted a manufacturing company in Portland, OR, about duplicating the pattern in flat, 12-inch strips. Using water-jet cutting capabilities and other methods, the company created a prototype for $60, and Klein quickly put in a manufacturing order.
“I started marketing it online right away and had sales before the product was finished two weeks later,” he says. The first run of decorative bezel strips “paid for itself plus,” he says. So, he took the profits and reinvested them into more designs.
These days he offers honeycomb, flame, spiderweb, castellated, and tulip patterns in different sizes and metals. Gauges range from 20g to 24g. Klein sells the strips through his successful 5-star-rated Etsy shop. He ducks advertising costs by posting on social media using hashtags like #FireBezel, #WebBezel, #HoneycombBezel, #FlowerBezel, and #CastellatedBezel. For more exposure, he runs online contests, encouraging his clients to show off their own designs that use his decorative bezel wires.
TIP: Remember that base metal and sterling silver strips are stiffer than fine silver bezel wires. And getting a pattern to match end-to-end may require cutting it slightly shorter than the circumference of your cabochon, soldering it closed, then using a ring mandrel and non-marring mallet to stretch it to fit.
Bezel Wire Innovation
Chances are Klein has flipped the jewelry industry on its head offering his contemporary bezel designs. “That’s what my fans think,” the 52-year-old says. He also knows other companies could jump into the fancy bezel wire sector, because he’s created an exciting new frontier. Other than traditional gallery wire, scalloped, and saw-tooth styles, there hasn’t been much for the artistic jeweler to choose from.
Klein takes this challenge in stride and thinks up new designs every couple of months.
“I may not be the greatest, but I can be the first,” he says. “I’m part of something, but it’s mine.”
Creative Domino Effects
Klein’s innovations seem to inspire a lot of creativity in other metalsmiths. They are telling him about other designs they want to see, such as strips of skulls and palm trees. Other future design ideas include waves, mountains, and trees. Even I leap in with ideas as I interview him. Then I start thinking about using flattened chain as bezel wire; cutting out frogs jumping over each other, or 3D printing more complicated designs.
Klein uses his bezel wire in innovative ways, such as building elaborate ruffs around stones. (A You Tube video at his Etsy site shows how.)
For one pendant (above), he bends and solders rings of tulips around a piece of amber, which he sets in a bezel cup made of his honeycomb wire.
He even places some of his honeycomb wire underneath the transparent stone so that it shows through as another thoughtful detail.
How much do these bezel wires cost? Base metal starts around $7 in 1’ sections, with sterling silver at $45 per 1’ section.
Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.