Before I started making my own handmade metal jewelry, I stalked every art fair, craft festival, and artisan shop, looking for signature pieces that could make an outfit. Then I started working with metal, and realized I could make pretty much anything I wanted—any style, color, shape, design. And no one else would have it!
One of the things I love most about handmade metal jewelry is that it doesn’t take a ton of expensive tools and materials to make something fantastic. Something as simple as wire is extremely versatile and easy to work with, and can become anything you need: a necklace, earrings, bracelet, ring, or pin. Also, the techniques you learn making jewelry can be applied to other areas of mixed-media art, like handmade books and collage.
Recently I needed a necklace to go with a new bohemian-style blouse, and decided to incorporate some techniques from the book Making Metal Jewelry: How to Stamp, Forge, Form and Fold Metal Jewelry Designs, by Jen Cushman. I started with some pre-annealed wire I had leftover from another project. Annealing is simply heating metal with a small torch to a certain temperature to soften it and make it easier to work with. As you work with metal, hammering and bending it, you’re smashing those molecules together, making the material stiffer and more brittle. In jewelry making, that’s called work hardening. Heat loosens up the metal again, allowing you to continue to work with it.
For this project, you can also use regular jewelry wire without annealing it. I cut a 7″ piece of 18-gauge wire and hammered each end with a ball-peen hammer to create a little paddle. This is a great design element and helps to create a smoother end that won’t snag your clothes.
If you still feel some burrs after hammering it, sand the tip of the wire with a flat metal file until all edges are smooth. Always file in one direction, not back and forth.
When both ends were paddled I wrapped the wire around a wooden dowel about 3/8″ in diameter. I did a messy wrap, overlapping the wire as I wrapped it. If you find the wire difficult to bend, grab one end with flat-nose pliers and then wrap. You can also use the pliers to tuck the ends in if they’re sticking up too far.
I slid the coil off the dowel and made two more. I suddenly realized I needed jump rings—the ones I had were too small. Making your own is so easy, and you can create them in any size, in any color of wire. I found another smaller dowel, wrapped the wire around that, slid it off, and cut rings with a flush cutter.
For the pendant, I wire wrapped a pearl and faceted stone, connected it to a jump ring, and then to one of the wrapped coils.
Two more jump rings were attached to the center coil, and chain was attached to the jump rings. Two more messy coils were added, and more chain. Here’s the finished necklace:
Those coils can be used in so many more ways for handmade metal jewelry. I used them as the focal point of a pair of earrings with pearl drops:
I also made another necklace with three more coils. I cut a 2″ piece of the annealed 18-gauge wire and hammered it a little to work harden it. I formed a small loop at one end with round-nose pliers, threaded on three coils and two large beads, and then formed a loop at the other end. After adding jump rings on both ends of the wire, I attached some chain and a closure.
Isn’t it amazing what you can do with just a few feet of wire and some basic tools? I now have a whole new jewelry wardrobe that I made using one simple technique.
These great instructional resources we have on metal jewelry take you through each technique so expertly that you’ll soon feel like a pro. You’ll learn to etch metal, stamp designs, connect pieces, and more. You’ll also quickly discover there’s something so satisfying about making handmade metal jewelry—especially when you get lots of compliments on your designs.
You can create patinas on handmade metal jewelry using items you probably have in your kitchen! Check out this tutorial on making metal patina on copper.