Call it chain maille or call it jump ring jewelry – either way, the technique is easy and the results are stunning! This necklace, based on a Japanese motif, is a great beginner project. It doesn’t take too long to complete, doesn’t involve contortionist positions to make the motifs (we’ll save that brand of fun for another time), yet uses several techniques that you can apply to make lots of different designs. Let’s do it!
Skill Level: Easy – However, results improve with practice, so use an inexpensive wire if this is your first attempt with jump ring jewelry.
Time Required: A few hours – easily started/completed in a day or weekend.
|Wire||Dead Soft (my preference) or half hard. Do not attempt to make jump rings using full hard wire, as they will be very brittle and susceptible to breaking. If desired, you can anneal wire to regain its malleability. Gauges 21, 20, and 18 are most commonly used. I used 20 gauge wire for this project. See this table if you need millimeter equivalents. Used most of a 25-foot package of 20-ga copper wire.|
|Wire Cutters or Jeweler’s (Hack) Saw||If you are using wire cutters, make sure they make a flush cut on at least one side. If you are using a saw, make sure the blade can cut the metal you are using.|
|Mandrel||You can purchase mandrels or use skewers, chopsticks, knitting needles, dowels, or anything else that you can wrap the wire around and then slide off as a coil. Here’s a table of mandrel sizes and the rings that will result. Try rods with different shapes for non-round jump rings.|
|Two sets of smooth and flat jaw pliers||It’s theoretically possible to do it with one pair, but you will save a lot of wear/tear on your fingers if you use two sets instead of fingers for opening/closing j-rings. I can’t open/close the smallest jump rings with my fingers.|
|Clasp||I made my own using 18 gauge wire. It’s best to use a large diameter wire for a clasp, such as 16 or 18.|
Here’s a look at the materials I used for this project. First, buy or make the jump rings. You will need three sizes. I used 20 gauge wire with three sizes of jump rings, with internal diameters of approximately 8 mm, 5.5 mm, and 2.5 mm. You can experiment with different diameter rings (different shapes, if you like!) and different gauges of wire. If you change the wire gauge, remember that as your wire gets thicker, you need to be more careful to check that the smaller rings will accommodate the larger rings. As your wire gets thinner (larger gauge number or smaller millimeter number), the rings will get weaker and more prone to opening or change shape. Once you have the rings, the Japanese motifs are assembled first, then they are attached with a simple jump ring chain to make the desired length. The clasp and dangles (optional) are added last.
First, assemble the Japanese motifs. The motifs use the largest and smallest rings only. Close the largest jump rings. If desired, solder or fuse them closed. You will need 6 large rings for each motif (assuming you make it 3 rings, descending to 2 rings, descending to 1 ring). Open up a lot of the smallest jump rings. They will be used to join closed rings of the other two sizes. I’ve laid out the large rings for a single motif. I like to make the ‘rows’ of the motifs first and join the rows on the diagonal after they have been completed.
Join the rings by holding two closed large rings together with your fingers. Now, pick up an open small ring with either your fingers or your pliers. Close the small ring, but don’t set the rings down. Keep hold of the rings with one hand/set of pliers and pick up a second open small ring. Position it next to the first small ring and close it. Complete this process with the other rings to complete the rows.
Lay the rows out. Connect the first ring in row 1 to the first ring in row 2. Now, connect the second ring in row 1 to the first ring in row 2! There’s a ‘trick’ to doing this easily…
Line up the rings to keep them straight and then insert a thin dowel into the two rings to be connected. Pick up the chain maille by the dowel and insert the tiny jump rings. I used the mandrel for making the small jump rings, but any thin rod or stick will work. If at any time you get confused or lose your place, just lay the rings down to re-arrange them.
Here’s a finished motif. Japanese chain maille is really versatile. You could make any size triangle or even hexagons if desired. Make three of the motifs (or as many as you want for your necklace). Note: I doubled the large bottom ring of each motif to provided extra security for the dangle. Feel free to play with the design. You could use single rings or triple rings. Experiment mixing different colors or wire. Perhaps you want to string beads onto the rings before closing them (size 8 seeds beads work great, as do most magatamas and drops). Explore your options! I attached dangles to the motifs. The dangles on the necklace in the top photo use large freshwater pearls. For them, I used 22 gauge wire, since it was the largest wire that would fit through the holes in the pearls. However, I used coiled wire dangles for the necklace you see in this tutorial.
The hardest part is done! Once you’ve completed your motifs, lay them out and plan your chain. Yes, I made a central motif that was 4-across… I hate making the same style of anything more than once! I went ahead and added my dangles.
Now, you will connect the motifs using the smallest jump rings joining the medium size jump rings (and maybe a few larger ones, added into spice up the design). Go ahead and close your medium-size rings. You may wish to add seed beads or drops to your medium rings before closing them. The simplest type of chain connects two of the medium jump rings with a single small jump ring. That’s great if you plan to solder your links or are using very thick wire, but if you aren’t, I highly recommend using two or three small jump rings to connect the medium rings. I connected the medium rings using two small rings, which is how I connected my motifs. Continue to add a chain to the ends of the joined motifs until you have reached your desired length. I made a simple S-hook clasp by wrapping my wire around my round nose pliers. The hook fits into the medium rings, so I can adjust the length of the chain at will. I added a decorative drop to the end of the chain maille.
Here’s the completed necklace. It kinda has a Goth look to it, don’t you think? I guess that’s what comes from designing and making it while listening to Evanescence’s Fallen album and H.I.M.’s Razorblade Romance. I love to listen to music while making jewelry. Now you have learned several basic skills used to make chain maille jewelry. I’m enjoying my new necklace and had so much fun writing up the tutorial that you’ll be sure to see instructions for more complex chain maille designs in the future. Please feel free to e-mail me photos of any jewelry you make based on these instructions that you would like to show to others so I can include them for further inspiration.