Make Artisan Bracelets That Really Rock–and Roll!

Just because jewelry can be a canvas for ideas doesn’t mean pieces have to lie flat, still, or quiet. Push and pull your metal and it becomes sculptural. Let your jewelry swing, rotate, open, and close, and it will dance. Give it parts that move about freely inside and it will sing. Finish it to make light bounce and it will shine. How? Here’s a jewelry design that does it all: a bracelet with dimension, movement, texture, color, sparkle–even sound! See how bracelets like these evolve and learn how you can make your own jewelry come alive, too.

ABOVE and BELOW: This bangle design by Bill Fretz has it all: 3D, texture, movement, shine, and color. It’s so alive, you can even hear the beads gently moving if you listen closely. Photos: Jim Lawson

Bill Fretz’s 3D Brass Bangle with Onyx Beads, a project that originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist in January/February 2014, is one of many bracelet designs he’s developed over the years that explore form and texture. A bracelet is the perfect kind of jewelry for this. Bracelets are large by jewelry standards, so you can do a lot with one and see the effects from afar. Bracelets have to curve to fit around a wrist, so they’re a natural for greater 3D treatment. And they meet the “I” test–as in, when I’m wearing this, can I see it, too?

bracelets: Bill Fretz 3D brass bangle with onyx beads

Bracelets: A Simple Concept

Bill’s idea for making bracelets is simple. Watch.

Bill Fretz making concave bracelets with movement

Bend a piece of metal sheet into a circle, solder it together, and you have the beginnings of a bangle.

Bill Fretz making concave bracelets with movement

Sink the center and you‘re creating a channel.

Bill Fretz making concave bracelets with movement

Add deep texture to create a sense of movement, not so deep to give it a tactile impression, or both.

Bill Fretz making concave bracelets with movement

Pick out some beads or other little objects in the colors and finishes you like and put them in the channel. Then close up the channel just enough to keep your objects from falling out while they can still slide around inside.

Bill Fretz making concave bracelets with movement

Voilà! You have a bracelet with a life of its own, though it will behave in tandem with you whenever you have it on.

Paper Model for Your Bracelet Blank

Bill likes to begin making bracelets by creating a paper model. Or I should say, paper models, because for him it’s all about exploring the possibilities of a basic idea, right from the start. Here’s what he has to say about why and how he does that, excerpted from the project.

First he shares his love and dedication to the craft. “Watching the metal move under the hammer as a design unfolds puts you in touch with the long history of metalsmithing,” he says, “bringing the magic and mystery of this ancient craft alive beneath your fingers. Each flat shape can evolve into many different forms, and learning how to control that–choosing different tools, sinking the metal to a different depth, folding it over, and so on–is at the heart of mastering the craft.”


bracelets: Bill Fretz handwrought brass bangle

Inspired by this Handwrought Brass Bangle, Bill went on to explore easier ways to make many new designs. Photo: Jim Lawson

“Intrigued with this basic idea,” Bill goes on, “over the years I’ve been developing a series of specialized hammers and stakes to give metalsmiths better control in producing different forms. A bracelet design I made for a Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist project in July 2010 [Handwrought Brass Bangle] made me realize that new stakes designed just for 3D bracelets would both make the whole process easier and open up the ability to make new shapes.

bracelets: Bill Fretz 3D brass bangle with onyx beads

The concave 3D Bangle with Onyx Beads evolved from earlier bangle designs. Photo: Jim Lawson

“The bracelet shown here is one outgrowth of that realization and subsequent creation of new hammers and stakes. Then, while I was working on this piece, which features a concave shape, I was also inspired to design another bangle using the same blank that features a convex shape instead.” (That became the Domed Fluted Bangle, which appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.)

bracelets: Bill Fretz domed fluted bangle

After concave came convex: Bill Fretz’s Domed Fluted Bangle. Photo: Jim Lawson

“As with all metal projects, there are many ways to accomplish a task, and you may make this design with fewer and less specialized tools. In these directions for this version of my bracelet, we explore the use of specialized stakes with curves that are made to create cuffs and bangles with diameters of two inches and larger. Whatever you work with, the sustaining interest in the craft is never about the metal itself, but what you do with it.”

How to Make Bracelets: Create the Pattern

“Designing with paper models is an easy way to visualize three-dimensional shapes such as bracelets,” Bill says. “The basic shape of this design fits into a rectangular piece of paper measuring 9” x 1-1/4” for a large bracelet.

“Cut this shape out and draw a curved pattern that pleases you. Then, tape the ends together and cut with scissors along the drawn lines. Modify the pattern until the shape forms a strong silhouette, while thinking about the future curves that will transform the flat metal into a dramatic handwrought bracelet.”

making bracelets patterns rubber cement

“Apply rubber cement on both the 18ga metal (in this case brass) and the paper pattern.

making bracelets patterns saw blank

“Let both sides dry and then press them together. Cut the shape out with a 2⁄0 saw blade on a large V-block using a deep-throated saw frame.”

With the blank sawn out, Bill is ready to begin forming it into a bracelet. It looks fairly simple, and yet has so much going on and going for it.

Merle White
Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

What’s your favorite way to make your jewelry rock ‘n’ roll? Please leave your comments below!

Bill Fretz, from Bucksport, Maine, began to develop his line of jeweler’s tools in 2001, including miniature stakes and a line of jeweler’s and silversmithing hammers. A graduate of The School for American Craftsmen, Rochester Institute of Technology, he has continued to expand his line of jewelry-making tools. See his specialty collections for making both concave bracelets and convex bracelets in the Interweave Store.

Explore the possibilities of designing and making concave and convex cuff bracelets with Bill Fretz:


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