Metalsmithing Details: Design Better Pendants with Interesting Bails (and Speaking French) with Lexi Erickson

patina-heart-pendant-LexiErickson

These highly polished bails are a stark contrast to the heavily patinated foreground, and they accent the high polished metal of the background. (Canyon of Remembering from Lexi’s Conversations with Harold Series)

By Lexi Erickson

I love teaching. This year I am devoting all year to teaching classes and workshops, writing and doing metalsmithing DVDs for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, and writing for Jewelry Making Daily. Except for playing with my grandson, these are my very favorite things to do, and I’m truly fortunate to be able to do all of these things often.

But sometimes teaching has its . . . shall we say . . . delicate moments. Such as when a student brings me a delightful design, and we talk about it, and we both get excited, and then I ask, “What will the bail look like?” and I get a blank stare. “Oh, I’ll just put a jump ring on it.”

artisan-bails-Shaman-bail-LexiErickson

If you can make the back a bit more detailed, reflecting the spirit of the piece or the design on the front, it makes the back more interesting. Here I used a Native American sign as an extension of the bail on my Star Shaman pendant.

Au contraire, Pierre,” as all those worldly people say. That answer from my student stops me cold. The smile fades, the fangs grow, and the student shakes in fear. Well, not really, but that’s what happens in my mind.

As Robert Von Neumann states in the textbook I use, The Design and Creation of Jewelry, “Simply drilling a hole at the top of the pendant through which a link is placed is too raw and insensitive for a well-designed object. The intrusion of the hole and link breaks the unity of the design.”

Combine his advice with my motto, “The back of the piece should be as interesting as the front of the piece,” and you have the basis for a delightful array of design ideas. Therefore, the bail can be a richly designed little secret treasure that only the wearer knows about. That’s not always the case, as it seems like anytime anyone looks at one of my pendants, the first thing they do is turn it over and look at the back. So I like to make the back interesting and beautiful, too.

artisan-bails-StarShaman-LexiErickson

Left: This beautiful little bail is a back plate and simple pliers-made bail, with a tiny ball soldered onto the bail. It’s very elegant, and the tiny ball could be replaced with a small tube-set stone. Right: The back of this piece, Under the Ancient Sky, reflects the front with the small stars. Notice the shape of the bail and the width of the bail in proportion to the pendant. This keeps it from flipping over or turning sideways during wearing.

Metalsmithing Details: Add Interest to Pendants

Add interest to your pendants by thinking of a few things. First consider the shape of the pendant and the parameters of working within an enclosed design. Fill that space with something beautiful.

Think about the proportions of the design and the shape restrictions. Remember that one of the principles of design is repetition, so if there is some way to replicate the shape, think about using that as a back plate and placing the actual bail on top of that. The bail should not distract but enhance the entire design of the pendant.

Sometimes you want to use the principle of repetition in a design. Here the bail replicates the shapes found in the stone. Even though the sides of the bail are deliberately uneven, the necklace hangs straight and even.

Sometimes you want to use the principle of repetition in a design. Here the bail replicates the shapes found in the stone. Even though the sides of the bail are deliberately uneven, the necklace hangs straight and even.

Make a Quick and Easy Custom Bail

Making a unique bail is really quite easy. I take a piece of scrap metal and, depending on the size of the pendant, cut about an inch- to an inch-and-a-half-long strip, and not too narrow, maybe a quarter of an inch wide, and bend it a couple of times with what I call “bail-making pliers”–which are often used by wire wrappers and called looping pliers to them. Just a few twists of the wrists and voila! (There I go again, being worldly!) You have a perfectly beautiful bail.

Next, file the edges of the bail and burnish them with a burnisher. This creates a “soft” edge, and it won’t wear down a chain or fray a cord or leather. Locate the bail on the top quarter of the piece, so the pendant won’t flip over or turn sideways when it’s worn. When you solder this bail to the back of your pendant, just use easy solder.

Now you can get as fancy as you want, such as adding texture, but make sure it relates to any texture you might have used on the front of the piece. You can also add a tiny bezel, and a small round tube-set sapphire makes a nice accent and adds that touch of elegance and piece de resistance--just plain ol’ class!

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The Love Story pendant (above) features a custom but easily designed bail (made by rolling a long triangular piece of scrap metal on the looping pliers and soldering it together, then soldering it to the top of the pendant) and a back that wasn’t forgotten but is designed to be nearly as beautiful as the front.

So think about the details the next time you are designing a pendant. Just a jump ring on the top of it is the least imaginative solution. Design that bail with all the joie de vivre that you designed the front. It will make you say, “Je suis très bonheur!”

Hugs,
Lexi

Learn more about making artisan bails to improve your pendants and give them a bail they deserve with Lexi’s Artisan Bails video workshop DVD or instant download video.

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