Tim McCreight’s 4 Keys to a Good Jewelry Clasp: Secure, Usable, Attractive, Affordable
Closures Must Close — But That’s Not All
“In a perfect world, a clasp will hold securely, release easily, enhance the [jewelry’s] appearance, and cost almost nothing,” wrote metalsmith, author, teacher and so much more Tim McCreight in Lapidary Journal years ago. Nothing’s changed on that score, and since we still don’t live in a perfect world, his comments are as timely today as ever.
In a short but pithy piece called “Hold Me Tight,” using necklaces as examples, Tim described how different kinds of jewelry clasps measure up to these essential aspects, and how to weigh them against one another to come up with the best choice for a given piece of jewelry. Here are a few of his thoughts on the subject.
1 Make It Secure
“Here’s a sentence you will never hear: ‘I lost my new chain and pendant, but for the 10 minutes I was wearing it, the clasp looked great!’ Hands down, the most important role of a clasp is to hold two parts together securely.”
There’s another aspect of security that Tim points out: “Besides holding well, a good clasp will inspire confidence. It’s possible to make a mechanism that will stand up to normal use but looks or feels too delicate. Sensitivity to this detail will help a jeweler create clasps that extend the pleasure of wearing the piece.”
I’d say that’s more than “extend” wearing. I don’t know about you, but I have pieces I almost never wear because I’m so afraid I’m going to lose them. That brings up yet another point, which is especially important if you sell your jewelry. Before your customer ever gets to wearing the piece she bought from you, she has to buy it. And if your clasp just looks a little inadequate, that could quash the deal right there and then.
A confidence-inspiring clasp can also help bring in commission work you won’t get otherwise. If someone has bought some very expensive gemstones and wants a jewelry artist to work them into a one-off piece for a special occasion, you can bet your bottom dollar that customer will have to have mucho confidence in your ability to make a piece that is every bit as secure as it is a knockout design.
2 Easy to Use
This is another of those “obvious” things that isn’t entirely obvious until someone shines a light on it. What exactly does “easy” mean in this case? “Most benchmade clasps come to life about six inches in front of a talented craftsperson who is using tools and looking through a magnifier,” Tim points out. “In this situation, any clasp is easy to operate. The test is to stand up, reach behind your neck and try to hook and unhook a clasp. If a clasp is too much trouble — or worse, if it can appear closed when it hasn’t really locked — it’s an accident waiting to happen.”
And it’s not just true for necklaces. As I know from personal experience, you’ll never wear your bracelet with the lobster claw that spins around every time you get close to fastening it because that requires such ridiculous one-handed contortions — and getting it off late at night when you’re tired is no picnic, either!
“Anyone who appreciates beautiful jewelry understands that the impact of a piece is not confined to the focal element. The bail, the chain, and the clasp should relate to each other and create an effect that is greater than the sum of the parts.” A continuous look or a dramatic contrast, each can work. You just don’t want to slap on something that looks like an afterthought. “The idea is not that all the parts of a jewelry ensemble should look alike,” he explains, “but rather that all the parts be considered to contribute to the final effect.”
Many times it’s not only simpler but less expensive to buy a finding than make your own, even if you know how to do it and enjoy the process. “We are fortunate to have a huge selection of manufactured clasps available.” Use them as is, suggests Tim, or “take advantage of the low cost of manufactured clasps, but personalize then by adding elements, setting stones, engraving, or coloring to match the work.”
Some clasps are pretty easy to make. “The hook clasp is the obvious place to start, the prototype clasp,” Tim says.
“In their favor, hooks are self-evident. Even a child can understand immediately how they work. When a hook is used with a pendant, gravity pulls the chain tight. This pull keeps the eye anchored in the hook. Other advantages are that hooks are easy to make, use relatively little metal, and can be tightened easily. It’s no wonder hooks have been used in every culture that has a tradition of metalwork.
“On the down side, its simplicity might make a hook inappropriate for sophisticated work. Especially when pendants are lightweight, hooks can come undone when the wearer is putting on a jacket or hailing a cab. Because there is little to hold on to, hooks can be difficult to clasp and unclasp behind your neck. And finally, hooks can be uncomfortable.”
The next level of clasp involves more complex engineering but doesn’t have to be very difficult to construct. The simplest, and the one most metalsmiths learn first, is the box clasp or catch. “Box catches appear in a huge variety of designs, but all share the same mechanism: a tongue of relatively thin metal folded over to make a wedge that compresses to allow the tongue to enter a confined space (the box), then springs upward to lock into position and close the clasp.”
Among the features Tim notes that can make box clasps better are a “smaller box with rounded corners for a more graceful” appearance. He also suggests adding “a secondary clasp. Even if it is not necessary, the increased confidence it provides is worth the extra effort.”
Make Your Very Own Clasps!
If you’re ready to finish your handmade jewelry with the same care to craftsmanship and design as the rest of the piece, you’re in good hands.
Tim McCreight shows you how to make a basic box clasp in this project, “Box Clasp.”
There’s also nothing like seeing a technique in motion. And now you can watch the creation of a box clasp from start to finish with accomplished metalsmith and popular instructor Richard Sweetman in his video Metalsmith Essentials: Make a Box Clasp.
Learn to make box clasps of your own and you will always have the option of adding a secure closure to your next necklace, bracelet, or anklet while also making the clasp a special finishing touch to your design. Sounds like a deal to me!
Make your own clasp with these tutorials and be further inspired by all you’ll find in an issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.