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Wire wrapping is one of the oldest techniques for making handmade jewelry. This technique is done with some jewelry wire and findings similar to wire (for example, head-pins) to make components. Wire components are then connected to one another using mechanical techniques with no soldering or heating of the wire. Frequently, in this approach, a wire is bent into a loop or other decorative shape and then the wire is wrapped around itself to finish the wire component. This makes the loop or decorative shape permanent. The technique of wrapping wire around itself gives this craft its name of wire wrapping.
Examples of wire and beaded jewelry made using wire wrapping techniques date back to thousands of years BC. The British Museum has samples of jewelry from the Sumerian Dynasty, found in the cemetery of Ur that contain spiraled wire components. This jewelry is dated at approximately 2000 BC. Other samples of jewelry from Ancient Rome show wire wrapped loops (one of the important techniques in making wire wrapped jewelry). This Roman jewelry is dated to approximately 2000 years ago. In the manufacture of this early jewelry the techniques for soldering did not exist. Later, as the technique for soldering developed, the wire wrapping approach continued because it was an economical and quick way to make jewelry components out of wire.
Wire wrapping techniques are not frequently used for mass-produced jewelry because machines can cast (mold) jewelry components faster, more cheaply, and more precisely. At this time, the wire wrapping approach to making jewelry is primarily employed by individual craftspeople.
Wire wrapped jewelry is jewelry made of wire with mechanical connections instead of soldered connections. The key differences between making jewelry by wire wrapping and other approaches to making jewelry are two-fold;
A key element in wire wrapped jewelry is a loop made in a segment of wire. In general, loops in wire are connected to one another to make the mechanical connections between components. A loop can be something as simple as bending the end of a piece of wire until the very end of the wire is bent far enough that it touches the wire itself. This simple form of a loop is called a “P” loop. A “P” loop is a loop in the wire in the shape of the letter “P”. Another form of a loop is an eye loop. An eye loop is a more complex loop with a full circle of wire centered over the stem of wire just like a lollipop.
In their basic form, P loops and eye loops are “open” loops. This means that the loop can be opened mechanically to allow it to connect to another component. The opposite of an open loop is a closed loop. In a closed loop, the end of the wire is wrapped around the stem of the loop so that the loop is permanent and can't be opened. A closed loop is also called a wrapped loop and it is this technique that resulted in this approach to making jewelry being called wire wrapping. A connection between two wrapped loops must be performed BEFORE the second loop is wrapped closed.
Frequently when making a wire wrapped bracelet or necklace, one would use wrapped loops to connect the components into a chain. For bracelets and necklaces, wrapped loops are recommended because open loops could be pulled apart if the chain were to snag.
In the simplest example of hand made wire wrapped jewelry, a bead is threaded onto a jewelry making finding called a head–pin. The bead is held in place by the “head” on the head pin. The portion of the head pin coming out of the opposite side of the bead is essentially wire. This wire is bent into a loop using hand tools and the excess wire is cut off. The resulting bead hanging from a loop is called a “bead dangle”. To complete a simple earring, the loop in the bead dangle is connected to the loop at the end of an ear wire finding leaving a completed earring.
Four tools are essential and several other tools are useful in the construction of wire wrapped jewelry. The basic tools are a flush cutter, round nose pliers, flat nose pliers and chain nose or bent chain nose pliers. A flush cutter is a special type of cutter that leaves one end of the cut wire flush or flat, while the opposite end of the cut wire is sharp or pointed. Round nose pliers are pliers with conical jaws and are used for making loops in wire. Chain nose or bent chain nose pliers have flat smooth jaws and are used for gripping and holding wire and for bending wire. Flat nose pliers are just what the name implies...they are flat on both inside surfaces and are used to keep areas flat or to make 90-degree bends in your wire.
Other useful tools used in making wire wrapped jewelry are nylon jaw pliers, a ruler, step jaw pliers, a pin vise to twist the wire, a chasing hammer, an anvil or bench block, a cup bur, loop closing or bent closing pliers and a jewelry making jig.
Wire is available is various shapes, such as round, square, half-round and patterns, such as flat and pre-twisted. It is also available in a variety of materials. Copper and brass wire are easy to shape and manipulate. Copper wire can be hammered quite thin. Brass wire is a little stiffer than copper, but it can be manipulated very easily. Sterling silver is soft enough to manipulate, but holds its shape well once it has been formed. Gold-filled wire is made by fusing a layer of 12-or 14-karat gold to a supporting material. Silver-filled wire is made in the same manner. The bond between the two materials is permanent.
Wire is measured by diameter, which is indicated by gauge numbers. The lower the gauge, the thicker the wire. A 12 or 14-gauge wire is fairly heavy, but ideal for making bangles and chokers. 10-gauge wire is very thick and stiff, while 26-gauge wire is very fine, almost as thin as hair. This thin wire is well-suited for coiling embellishments. 16-gauge wire is good for making jump rings and links for necklaces and bracelets, and 18-gauge wire is good to use for adding embellishments and making finer links.
Precious Metal Wire also comes in three hardnesses, dead soft, half-hard and full hard.
For making wire wrapped jewelry, the basic component is wire. Using just wire and wire working tools, a craftsperson can construct whatever jewelry component is required, including eye pins, jump rings, ear wires, clasps, bezels and bails. Hand-made custom components enhance the design, strength, and uniqueness of the finished jewelry.
A craftsperson can also choose to purchase pre-made components instead of making them himself. There are several pre-made jewelry components available that are sold to help facilitate making jewelry. Most pre-made components come under the generic name findings. The most important findings used in making jewelry are ear wires, clasps, head pins, and jump rings.