From Plain to Pretty: How to Jazz Up Ordinary Jewelry Findings
An excerpt from Unexpected Findings: 50+ Clever Jewelry Designs Featuring Everyday Components, by Michelle Mach
Just because you buy a plain jewelry finding doesn’t mean you’re stuck using it as is. Any mixed-media technique, from rubber-stamping to resin can add a unique touch to a finding. Try these low-tech options that don’t require specialized metalsmithing materials, such as a torch or jeweler’s saw:
Use a hard-boiled egg, liver of sulfur, or a commercial blackening agent to darken bright metals such as sterling silver and copper. For brass or copper, a mix of salt water and vinegar potato chips, plus extra white vinegar, produces pretty greens overnight. After darkening your metals, you can use a polishing cloth or fine steel wool to highlight the raised areas on your metal. Rustic Wrappings by Kerry Bogert (Interweave 2012) contains several patina recipes. No matter which recipe you try, use a clean metal item without any sealants for better results.
Just because a finding arrives flat or curved doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. Using your hands or pliers (flat-nose or bail-making, depending on your goal), you can unbend rings or bead caps to use as flat connectors or bend pieces of filigree into clasps and bails. Curve a long piece of metal to make a comfortable bracelet connector or simply to add a little flare to an ordinary design.
Breaking or Cutting
It’s easy to accidentally break thin filigree, so why not do it on purpose? Bend filigree back and forth until it breaks to create smaller shapes from a large piece. Wear thin work gloves to protect from cuts and use your flat-nose pliers to bend the piece. File the sharp edges of the filigree before using it in your jewelry. Alternatively, you may be able to cut metal with shears from the hardware store.
Embellishing with Wire, Ribbon, Beads, and More
Simple wire wrapping with or without beads can add beauty to a simple clasp or other finding and make your component an integral part of your design. Ribbon or cord adds a touch of softness. Finish with a knot or use a combination of ribbon and beads.
Hammering and Metal Stamping
Hammer your metal for texture using the round end of an ordinary ball-peen hammer or a specialized texturing hammer. Metal stamping allows you to add messages and symbols to your design. It’s amazing how just changing a surface from smooth to bumpy gives the pieces a completely different feel.
If the material is thin enough, you can use a metal hole punch to add holes, turning a charm into a two-hole connector or chandelier drop. You can add holes for functional reasons, such as wrapping two solid pieces together or turning a solid object into a charm. Holes can also be added purely for decoration, turning a plain bead cap into a whimsical polka-dot creation.
Mixing and Matching
Just because you buy a toggle clasp doesn’t mean you’re obligated to use the ring and bar together. Mix up parts from different sets or create your own. Anything with a ring, such as a washer or a round connector, could be a toggle ring; a bar could be created with a heavy-gauge eye pin or piece of wire that is strong enough to bear the weight of the jewelry. Lobster clasps normally close with a jump ring, but anything with a large-enough hole (a piece of filigree, a chandelier finding, a connector) will work, too. Make your own loop bail by combining a wrapped loop with a filigree tube.
Gilder’s Paste adds a metallic sheen, while solid colorants, such as Swellegant or Vintaj patinas, add blocks of color. Alcohol inks run together, creating a tie-dye or watercolor effect. Model paint also works well. You will need to seal the paint with a clear coat of Permalac, Krylon, or other clear sealant. You may need to use a paintbrush for sealing; spray paints can cause some colorants, such as alcohol inks, to run.
Editorial Director, Books