A Jewellery Makers Frustration Part 1

Do you know?  Jewellery making can be so damned frustrating!!  Just ask any jewellery maker and they will probably say the same.  There is just too much choice!  To start with, the massive array and choice of beads is just so overwhelming.  A jewellery maker going to a bead shop or fair is just like a child going into a sweet shop filled to the brim with tantalising jars and trays of sweets in various colours, shapes, sizes etc.  I remember my first bead fair, it was amazing, I had never seen so many beads and findings in just one place,  I just wanted everything even though I had gone in there with a budget and a list!  The list stayed in my pocket and the budget was blown, I just bought and bought, to this day I can’t believe how much I spent in just over one hour on small round coloured bits of glass and metal findings!

The next frustration is there are just too many different aspects of jewellery making to choose from and for someone who can get bored quite easily, this is a good thing, but on the negative side it’s so damned expensive if you want to try each new technique you come across.  Take this morning for instance, I got up, went downstairs and put the kettle on and whilst I was waiting for it to boil I had a quick look at a supplement which had been with the jewellery magazine I had bought the day before.  It was on the art of using knot and macramé designs to make jewellery.  An hour later I was still pouring over the design projects and instructions and thinking I’ve got to try this! (Oh, not another method to try and more materials and tools to buy!)

If you are not a jewellery maker or crafter, you probably won’t understand and are wondering what I am babbling on about.  Well let me explain a little and start with the basics of jewellery making and the choices I have to make.  The aim of this is not to teach you the techniques but to give you an insight into them.  I want you to see the complexities of choice and sometimes the costs that a jewellery maker has had, to make and design a piece of jewellery.

First you have to choose what you want to make?

Necklaces, bracelets, anklets, earrings, watches, brooches, rings, hair slides, hair clips, head bands, tiaras, key chains, mobile phone charms, book markers, childrens jewellery, mens accessories & jewellery – tie pins, cuff links and there’s probably something I’ve missed!

You will find a lot of jewellery makers tend to have favourite items they like to make, I particularly like making necklaces.

Then the expense starts:

Basic Tool Box:

Flat Nosed Pliers, Round Nosed Pliers, Side cutters, beading mat.

Choice 1: What type of beads do you choose?  Acrylic, Glass, Lampwork, Indian, Metal, Paper, Felt, Fabric, Clay, Semi precious gemstones, Pearls…. Not to mention the colour!

Simple beaded necklaces and bracelets

  • When I say simple this means, purchasing some beads (don’t get me started on the alarming choice of beads (Choice 1)), choosing beading wire/elastic/cord, buying split rings, crimp beads and clasps.  Then you have to thread the beads onto the wire/elastic/cord in your desired pattern/design and finish them off using the above tools, attaching a jump ring and clasp if on wire or knotting the end of elastic/cord and Hey presto you have made a necklace or bracelet, easy, eh!

Choice 2:  Which wire do you work with?  Silver plated, copper, brass, gold plated, antique bronze, coloured aluminium wire or do you go straight for the expensive option of Sterling Silver Wire?

Simple Wirework

  • Purchasing head pins, eye pins and various gauges of wire (as per Choice 2) and understanding which size is best for what you are doing, along with the beads as above and learning to manipulate the wire to make simple plain loops, wrapped loops to attach beads together, spirals and other shapes, then ‘designing/ assembling’ them all to form a piece of jewellery.  Not as easy!

Adding to your Basic Tool Box:

Chain Nosed Pliers, Long Nosed Pliers, Flat Nosed Pliers, Crimping Pliers, Nylon Jaw Pliers, Flush Cutters, mandrel, Thing a ma jig (which I had to have and I’ve used once!), ring mandrel, Gismo tool and you convince yourself you need a beading board (which I hardly every use) Also, by now you will need storage boxes for all the beads you keep buying!

More Complex Wirework

  • Expanding on your knowledge of the simple wirework techniques and using the wire to form more intricate shapes, wrapping and caging beads and cabochons (beads without holes), making wire beads,  making rings, Tiaras and whatever you choose to make with the wire form.
  • Learning the complexities and the intricate art of chain maille(mail) (linking metal rings to form chains and patterns) takes hours of patience and concentration and is very fiddly.
  • Knitting/weaving with wire (using knitting needles!) (Not something I’ve tried yet!)

Adding to your Tool Box:

Steel Bench Block, Chasing/Plenishing repouse ball pein Hammer

  • Having these tools will enable you to hammer and flatten the metal wire, to strengthen it and to give it some texture, something you may consider doing if you want to make your own clasps to finish off your jewellery or to make stronger links.  (I’ve been there, bought them!)

Working with Sterling Silver Wire

  • This is something you really shouldn’t do until you have mastered the art of wirework, you don’t want to ‘practice’ with sterling silver wire as it is so expensive to buy.  This also comes in various gauges and forms, ie. round, half round, square
  • Some jewellery makers move on to working with Sterling Silver wire when they become more confident in their jewellery making techniques and if they want to work more with semi-precious gemstones or handmade lampwork beads.  This increases the cost of the jewellery pieces and becomes more than just fashion/costume jewellery, but the skills to make are no different.


This is a craft which takes years to learn and to perfect and needs lots of practice.  You can learn as an apprentice to a silversmith or through going on a College or University Course. (Very difficult!)

Tool Box:

Work Bench, Piercing saw and various grades of blades,  Various files, Various hammers, Soldering tool, Torch for Annealing, Pickling bath, pickling salts/acid, Pumice Stone, Mandrels, Vice,  Wet and dry papers of differing grades, Drill with a polishing mop, Polishing Soap Solution,  (and probably much more too!)

Just looking at the tools required you can probably appreciate how much work is involved.  So next time you look at a handmade sterling silver piece of jewellery and see the costs, please bear in mind the training, tools, materials, the design element and time involved in making it. (Although I would love to try this technique, it is something I can only dream off, unless I won the lottery of course!).

Working with PMC (Precious Metal Clay)

Tool Box Requirements:

Spacers, Roller, Moulds, wire mesh, stainless steel brush, metal burnisher, butane torch, work mat, sanding pads, badger balm, rubber block, paint brush, pin, knife.

So as an alternative option, if you still would like to work with Silver but haven’t the money or time to go through the extensive training,  working with PMC is a compromise, although still not easy or cheap!  Metal clay is a crafting medium which contains very small particles of metal, this could be silver, gold or copper which is mixed with an organic binder and water to enable you to work with it as you would soft clay.  Once it has dried, it can be fired either in a kiln, with a gas torch or on a gas stove.  The binder burns away and leaves the pure metal, which then has to be polished etc.  This is definitely on my to do list at some point this year!

Well that’s kind of exhausted what you can do with just beads and wire, unless I also mention that you can also include buying various sizes of metal chain and plain and fancy rings to use in your jewellery designs, but I’ll leave it at that!

So, let’s say you fancy introducing something new, maybe you want to try working with some other materials/techniques, make your own beads, work with polymer clay, resin, fabrics, do knots.  There is also one thing  I haven’t mentioned yet, it’s the books and magazines that you are tempted to buy, well that’s for another day….

Part 2 to follow soon….


7 thoughts on “A Jewellery Makers Frustration Part 1

  1. My daughter makes quite a bit of jewellery and I know what you mean about “a child in a sweet shop”. We’ve spent hours in the bead shop in Nottingham. It’s wonderful. Thanks for following by the way.

    • Jewellery making is very addictive and visiting Bead Shops and Fairs always leave me broke. I have to justify it to myself that I’m buying them in order to make something to sell, but a lot of the times I keep things for myself! Lx

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