Metal wire is an important part of jewellery making and is often one of the first decisions you will need to make when you begin a new design. Wire comes in a wide range of sizes, shapes, hardness and metals. There are so many choices available with each reel of wire having lots of confusing numbers on it. Using the right type of wire will reduce any frustration and of course, will allow you to make beautiful pieces.
Beading wire is not the same as jewellery wire which is a solid strand of wire that is available in different hardness’s and thicknesses. Beading wire actually comprises of a multitude of tiny wire strands that are twisted together to form a strong wire. For this post, we will focus on the qualities of jewellery wire.
There are genuinely two important aspects about the wire that you need to pay attention to; these are the wire gauge and wire hardness. Wire is measured in either mm – which is the UK’s measurement guide, or in gauge – which is America’s measurement guide.
Wire gauge refers to how thick the wire is, and the wire is thicker as the number is smaller. Hardness means how hard the wire is, it mainly includes full hard, half hard and dead soft.
When choosing wire you want to also be aware of differences between manufacturers when it comes to softness. You also need to ascertain how brittle the wire can become as you want to be able to use the wire without any breakages.
DIFFERENT WIRE SHAPES
Wire is available in a few different shapes including round, beaded, d-shaped, square and rectangular. Round wire is the most popular and many jewellers choose to only work with round wire. This is because it is very versatile and comes in the largest variety of sizes.
TYPES OF METAL
FINE SILVER WIRE
Fine silver wire, also known as pure silver, is the most malleable wire. For this reason, fine silver wire can be easily shaped into intricate designs. The wire can also be used for findings, rings and wire wrapping. It can be reshaped if needed and anneals wonderfully.
Fine silver does not get as brittle as sterling silver does. Fine silver also melts easily, creating smooth balls on the tips of the wire.
STERLING SILVER WIRE
Sterling silver wire can be used for making your own jewellery findings and wire wrapping, as well as making rings and soldering to create your own unique jewellery designs. This wire is ideal for use as a base wire when you want a structurally sound base such as a bracelet.
Once you start working with sterling silver wire, it quickly starts to harden, making it difficult to finish intricate details. Sterling silver wire is difficult to reshape after a mistake, doesn’t torch as easily as fine silver does and will become darked in colour if annealed.
Copper wire has a lovely, rich colour. It can be used to wire wrap beads, make jewellery components and much more. Copper wire can be soldered with sterling silver solder or ready fluxed solder paste. You can torch copper and create balls on the tips of the wire, but the balls are pitted. Copper can be annealed just like fine silver and sterling silver, and it oxidizes really quickly.
When purchasing copper wire, you want to make sure it is raw and uncoated without any anti-tarnish coating, or it won’t oxide.
Craft wire tends to break frequently. Use this wire for weaving only if you want to add a vibrant colour to the weaving sections.
If you want to oxidize your pieces, choose “bare copper” instead of “natural copper.”
SILVER PLATED WIRE
Silver plated wire has a copper core which is then plated with final silver. It can be used to wire wrap beads, create jewellery components and much more.
Memory wire is made from carbon steel or stainless steel. It is great for bangles or other loops because it returns to the loop it was made into in the factory. It is also ideal for making beaded wine charms, rings, multi-strand bracelets and chokers. Memory wire cannot be used for any projects that require wire wrapping.
28 (0.32mm)-30 (0.25mm) GAUGE
28-30 gauge wires are the finest, giving them a thread like appearance. Use the wires for coiling, weaving, knitting and wire wrapping very small light beads. The wire can also be used to weave and sew the base wires together, adding stability, strength, cohesiveness and texture to the wire jewellery design. Work with this wire slowly as it can easily become kinked or break. Not suitable as structure wires or used for open loop links.
26 (0.40mm) GAUGE
Still quite fine but is relatively strong. Use for coiling, weaving, wrapping around stones, knitting and crocheting, balled headpins, wire wrapping small beads and briolettes.
24 (0.51mm) GAUGE
24 gauge is very versatile wire that is not recommended for creating open link chains. Use this wire for coiling, weaving, binding, spirals, head pins, small jump rings and wire settings for small stones.
22 (0.65mm) and 21 (0.71mm) GAUGE
These wires can be shaped by, and with the use of, regular jewellery making tools. They are preferred by many for prong settings and earwires.
Use to create wirewrapped links, open chain links, earwires, headpins and eyepins, jump rings, small clasps, frames, spirals and wire settings for small to medium stones.
20 (0.81mm) GAUGE
Good for other delicate handcrafted findings and for creating a variety of techniques and pieces including earwires, hoop earrings, frames, spirals, headpins and eyepins, open link chains, jump rings and split rings, rings, wire setting for medium stones and bails for light stones.
This wire can be shaped by hand and with the use of regular jewellery making tools.
18 (1.02mm) GAUGE
Can be shaped by hand with the use of regular jewellery making tools.
Use for bails, large jump rings, bracelets, rings, and delicate clasps
May be available in either dead soft or hard temper.
It can require heavy duty jewellery making tools for shaping and cutting.
Use for frames and structure wire, clasps, rings, bracelets, cuffs and bangles and thick jump rings.
May require heavy duty making tools for shaping and cutting.
Use for clasps, thick jump rings, rings, bracelets, cuffs and bangles and frames/structure wire.
May require heavy duty making tools for shaping and cutting.
Use for neck collars, bracelets, cuffs and bangles, rings and frames/structure wire.
Choosing the right wires also depends on personal preference. Some jewellers avoid certain types of wires and have their personal favourites.
If you are unsure about which wire is best for your projects or if you have any questions, please get in touch and our knowledgeable staff will happily assist.