Jewelry Making Basics

When I began making polymer clay products, I started with mostly miniatures. Miniature food, sculptures, etc. As I started looking for functional uses for my pieces, I began teaching myself how to piece together jewelry (necklaces, in particular). The basics to making jewelry by hand is fairly simple, but it can take time and practice. This guide is aimed to help you avoid the mistakes I made when starting out. I will also go step-by-step, explaining how you would piece together a necklace.

How to use jump-rings

Jump-rings are essential to making jewelry. So what are they? They are bits of wire, shaped in a circle with an opening for stretching it.

These come in a variety of sizes and colors, and should be bought to match whatever chains/other materials you are using. To open them, what I do is take my skinniest pliers, close them, and stick the metal tips through the center of the jump-ring. Gently allow the pliers to extend open, extending the jump-ring. This will allow you to attach the jump-ring to other pieces. When you are ready to close the jump-ring, take a medium size set of pliers and squeeze the sides, until the opening closes again.

How to piece together a necklace

  1. Measure out enough chain for your necklace. You can use exact measurements, or an approximation by putting the chain around your neck at the length you want. To break off the chain, hold the last link between your index fingers, take your skinniest pliers, and pinch the opening. The link should pop right open.
  2. Now you can add the clasps. Pinch open a link at one end of your chain. You can add the clasp in between the link itself, or you may need to attach a jump-ring first. You will do the same for the other end.
  3. To add a pendant or charm, first make sure there is something on the pendant/charm you can attach the necklace to, such as a screw or eye pin (wire with the tip shaped like an open circle). You can attach your pendant/charm in between the chain, or by using a jump-ring. For the jump-ring method, attach the piece to the jump-ring and the very center of the chain, then close.

Types of clasps

Clasps are used to secure the piece of jewelry to the wearer’s body. Below is an overview of the types of clasps (photo credit: Handmade Jewelry Club):

Image result for jewelry clasps types

What I use most often and find the easiest for the wearer are the lobster claw and toggle clasps (with the toggle design being the easiest of the two to use and best for bracelets). What I would not recommend would be the spring-ring clasp, which I find very difficult to use. Make sure you know what type of projects you will be working on before you buy your clasps, or other jewelry making materials. You can get pretty good deals buying in bulk; personally I have had the most luck with Amazon and Wish.

Testing your creations

Before you sell a project (or give as a gift) it is a good idea to test it out first. When I am working on a necklace, I put it on and first see of the charm/pendant lays flat. If it turns to the wrong side, you will want to make adjustments. For example, I was working on a polymer clay charm necklace recently, with a chain connected to both sides of the charm. It looked perfect on my craft table, but when I put it on it would always flip over upside down, because it was heavier on the top. To solve this problem, I added a couple more screws to the charm, connected chains between the original necklace chain and the screws, and viola. Brand new supports that kept the necklace in perfect wearing condition.

The next thing I do is lean forward and back, to see if the charm/pendant flips over when I do so. If it doesn’t, great. If it does, you need to make adjustments.

The same principle applies to other jewelry; wear it yourself to see if there are any issues. If not, you are good to go!

Added Note: about polymer clay and metals

If you are making traditional jewelry this would not apply, but if you are working with polymer clay like me, here are a few extra tips. First, any metal pieces you are concerned about falling out can be reinforced before baking by using bake and seal or liquid clay. Just take a little bit on a toothpick and apply wear you need it. I make a lot of Steampunk pieces with little gears, so this gives me a little extra piece of mind.

Also, you can help seal in metals after baking with glue or gloss. My method for sealing clay recently has been to spray the charm with Krylon matte finishing spray (2-3 coats), let dry, then apply a strong craft glue around anything metal. My glue of choice has been the Scotch craft glue, which truly dries clear without any residue, discoloration, or bubbling that other adhesives can have. A common alternative to both other these products is to use a gloss (like Scupley’s Satin Glaze) to seal in products. Gloss is usually quite thick and shiny. I find gloss works great with a lot of projects, but if your project has texture/pigment (or if you just don’t want the shine), a matte sealant works better.

Last, be sure to add screws/eye pins facing the correct direction. The screw/ eye pin circle should face towards you horizontally (it should face you like this : o). When you add a jump-ring, it will connect vertically. The necklace itself will then connect horizontally to the jump-ring. So long story short, you ultimately want your piece to lay flat on the wearer, so the last thing it connects to should lie horizontal (or across the body).

Thank you for reading! What other jewelry making tips do you have? Let’s talk in the comments below. Also, if you are reading this currently (July 2017), be sure to watch the short video on the side bar of the blog. 

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