Blog

Blue Ribbon First Place chain mail gold silver bracelet

NM Creative Arts – The Last Entry

This is usually about the time when I write a post about another blue ribbon at the NM State Fair Creative Arts Jewelry Competition. I did get the blue ribbon, but I’m sad to say that this will be the last one. 2023 was my last entry in the competition.

Why I Won’t Enter Again

Blue Ribbon First Place chain mail gold silver bracelet
Really? Couldn’t even show the whole bracelet!

First: I have received 8 blue ribbons in a row, every year since my first entry in 2015. That’s enough. I think I’ve adequately demonstrated that I’m pretty good at making this style of jewelry. I’ve also realized that without more competition, I’ll probably keep getting them, whether by merit (which is cool) or by default (which is not cool).

One of my reasons for entering all these years was to show people unfamiliar with chainmaille jewelry just how beautiful it can be. The number of entries and visitors seems to be going down every year, with this year fewer than half the entries as when I first entered in 2015. I don’t think this reason is valid any longer. It certainly hasn’t turned into any sales or even any additional visits to this site or my Etsy shop.

Second: I don’t think the folks in charge actually respect my entries or the work that goes into them. I definitely put a lot of work into creating the new designs and into making the jewelry entries. This year’s entry, for example, took several days to create, with many hours just figuring out the design details. I was quite proud of how it came out.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask, but I expected that the bracelet would have been displayed more attractively. Instead, the bracelet in the display looked like someone just tossed it indifferently into the case. It was even partially covered up by the label. This isn’t the first time my pieces were shown in this manner, and I was somewhat offended. Continue reading “NM Creative Arts – The Last Entry”

New Design Mobius Flowers Bracelet

I’ve been working on my new design for this year’s state fair competition, and I’m pretty pleased with the result. It’s a bracelet in gold fill and sterling silver that features mobius “flowers” captured in a larger ring, with the flowers linked by a small byzantine weave chain. (I really need to think of a better name for this design!)

First, a picture, and then I’ll write about the design.

 

Continue reading “New Design Mobius Flowers Bracelet”

Ultrasonic Cleaning for Chainmaille Jewelry

Chainmaille jewelry is very difficult to clean thoroughly. I always hand wash the jewelry with high-pressure, soapy water, and that does a pretty good job in most cases. Polishing a piece in my tumbler for an hour or so also helps.

Some pieces will be satisfactorily clean with this process, such as the viperscale and helm weaves. For smaller, tighter chains, however, it never quite gets all the oils and grime out from inside the rings. Even my HP bracelet, which I wear nearly every day, doesn’t get as clean as when I first made it. Forget about cleaning the inside of JPL rings!

Solution: Ultrasonic cleaning.

How Ultrasonic Cleaning Works

Transducers attached to the bottom of the tank create sonic waves in the 44 kHz range, which is super-duper high frequency. The sound waves travel through the liquid. This causes microscopic low-pressure bubbles to form and implode, a process called cavitation. As they implode, they blow off anything attached to the surface of the item to be cleaned, which includes dirt, oils, grime, and whatever other substances are making the jewelry look unclean. Just think of millions of tiny gas explosions all around the jewelry

This process, especially when using hot water and a de-greasing agent (I use a good squirt of Dawn soap), does a really great job cleaning chainmaille jewelry, even in those impossible to reach inner areas!

My Ultrasonic Cleaner

Continue reading “Ultrasonic Cleaning for Chainmaille Jewelry”

From Wire to Chain Chainmaille Demonstration

Making chainmaille takes a long time-and I go through a lot of steps (probably more than most chain artisans).

In this 10-minute how-to video demonstration, I show my steps to go from sterling silver wire to chain jewelry.

Steps:

  1. Coiling the wire
  2. Cutting coils into rings
  3. Washing the rings
  4. Preparing the rings: opening and filing
  5. Weaving and welding

Not shown: Washing the chain, removing any residual tarnish, and final polishing – perhaps next time!

Ring details: Sterling silver rings with 2.5 mm inner diameter, 22 gauge wire

Equipment list: Pepetools Jump Ring Maker, Orion mPulse 30 spot welder, many pairs of pliers (dipped in Tool Magic), file.

NM Expo State Fair 2021 – Another Blue Ribbon

This makes blue ribbon #6.

After a year off with no state fair, I entered my Elfweave bracelet with the Hubei turquoise cabochon in the 2021 state fair. I really love the look of this bracelet, and I felt pretty confident about getting a ribbon (hopefully blue, right?). I received the blue ribbon.

As always, there isn’t enough competition in the Chainmaille-Advanced class section. I’m making my annual plea: Please, if you make chainmaille, enter the competition! Not only will you have the chance to show off your pieces but also people will have the opportunity to see just how beautiful chainmaille jewelry can be.

This Elfweave-Turquoise bracelet is a beautiful piece and quite different from my other jewelry. Most pieces feature the chain itself, but this one features the box clasp and turquoise, with the Elfweave chain as a support. Basically, this bracelet is about the stone, not the chain.

If this one sells, I will make more of this style. However, I think I would like to make similar bracelets with smaller cabochons. This one is very large, nearly 60 carats, and the overall piece is quite heavy.

But wow!

See more images and information my Etsy shop.

Gold and Silver for Daughter’s Birthday

Everyone in my family has a chainmaille bracelet. My daughter calls us the “chain gang.” When we go anywhere together, we always make sure we’re wearing our jewelry.

The Chain Gang

  • Me: Full Persian in sterling silver
  • Wife: JPL (petite) in gold fill, Elfweave in sterling silver, Byzantine in sterling silver with gold fill mobius coils
    (She gets a lot of jewelry…because she’s my wife.)
  • Daughter: JPL in sterling silver with a gold fill byzantine knot
  • Son: JPL in sterling silver (We put it around his ankle because he’s still a baby.)

Birthday Present

My daughter just turned 17 years old. Among other “boring” gifts, such as clothes and girly cosmetic stuff, we wanted to make her something special. My wife and I talked about designs and decided to make a necklace that would make a matching set with her bracelet.

Here’s what we came up with:

(Sorry for the crappy first picture. When highly polished, sterling silver in the sunshine is hard to photograph. It’s just too dang shiny!)

About the Design

The necklace length is just a bit over 16 inches. The main chain is JPL is sterling silver (18 gauge wire, 3 mm inner diameter rings). My wife did that part. The gold accent has two Byzantine knots, which match her bracelet, with a 4-ring mobius coil in the center. I welded the rings around the clasp, rings in the mobius coil, and rings connecting the centerpiece to the chain. It should last a lifetime, and if it doesn’t, I know a guy who can fix it.

A single Byzantine knot, like in her bracelet, didn’t seem to be enough of a centerpiece accent for a necklace, which is why we decided on this design instead.

Here’s an image of the necklace and bracelet together.

Success!

My daughter loves it. (Phew!) She says she will wear it every day, which is about how often she wears the bracelet. She is a fairly petite girl herself, and at 16 inches, the necklace hangs perfectly for her, neither high up against her neck nor dangling down too low–stylish and beautiful without being sexy. Perfect for her.

Happy birthday, daughter!

A Few Pieces for “Live” Sales

Online jewelry sales are a bit slow these days, so I’m trying something new: placing bracelets for sale in a bricks-and-mortar shop. And that meant building up a bit of inventory.

Normally, I keep one of nearly everything. By doing so, I can shorten my processing time because I only need to resize the jewelry for the buyer, rather than making something completely new. To place pieces in a shop, however, I needed to create a handful of pieces, in several sizes each.

Over the last week, I made seven completely new bracelets:

Selection of Jewelry for Shop Sales

Close-up images and details are below. From left to right, the individual pieces are as follows.

  • 1 x Turkish Round at 7.5″
  • 2 x Viperbasket at 7.0″ and 7.5″
  • 2 x Byzantine with Gold Lovers’ Knots at 7.0″ and 7.5″
  • 2 x JPL with Gold Accent at 7.0″ and 7.5″

Each piece takes around 3.5 to 5 hours to make, from making the rings to dropping the pieces into my tumbler for polishing. You can imagine how long it took to make the whole set!

I dropped off the pieces yesterday to Arts and Crafts, a consignment store at the local shopping mall that features a wide variety of handcrafted products. I signed the sales agreement, and had a good discussion with the owner about the jewelry styles, manufacturing process, and jewelry care and services.

When I browsed through the store previously, I noticed that most of the other items were at the lower end of pricing, somewhere in the $5 to $50 range, without any higher-priced jewelry selections. If (and that’s a big “if”) the pieces sell, the store will take 30% of the revenue.

I selected these pieces because they are at the lower price points, represent a variety of simple and sweet designs, and seemed like good test cases for selling at the store. If they sell, I may add a few of the more complex, higher-priced pieces. Maybe they will sell, maybe they won’t, but it seems worth trying for very little risk.

I’ll check in with the store in a few week and see if any pieces have sold. If so, I’ll replace them and (probably) add a new piece, as well.

Fingers Crossed!

Close Up and Details

Turkish Round
Sterling silver
7.5 inches
End rings welded

Viperbasket
Sterling silver
7.0 inches and 7.5 inches
Larger rings and end rings welded

Byzantine with Gold-fill Lovers’ Knots
Sterling silver and 14K gold fill
7.0 inches and 7.5 inches
End rings welded

JPL Chain with Gold Fill Byzantine Knot
Sterling silver and 14K gold fill
7.0 inches and 7.5 inches
End rings and rings around the center knot welded

Chainmaille Process Videos

Making chainmaille jewelry is a long process. In these three short videos, I’m highlighting the steps.

1. Coiling the sterling silver wire (I usually make 3 – 5 coils at a time, depending on the design)

2. Cutting the coils to make rings

3. Weaving the rings into the chain and welding them shut. (I’ll show just one ring here – visualize this occurring 100+ times.)

FYI: The videos are 15 seconds long and have no sound.

Now, I have left out a few steps, such as washing the lubricant (dish soap) off the cut rings, opening the rings, filing the cut edges (this is the boring part!), getting perfect closures, and cleaning and polishing the final jewelry. Even so, these videos show how I go from the sterling silver wire to weaving a single ring into a piece of chain.

Once I have made the rings, the total time per ring is about 1 minute from opening to welding.

Video one: Coiling the wire

I’m using the Pepe Jump Ring Maker to make wire coils. This is the older version that came with a mounting board. Notice that I use a hand clamp to keep it still while I wind the coil.

Video two: Cutting the coil

I’m also using the Pepe Jump Ring Maker here, as you can see. I put the unit inside a plastic tub to reduce the metal dust flying around. I’ve cut more than 25,000 rings with the Pepe. (See this post for tips on using the Pepe Jump Ring Maker.)

Video three: Weaving and welding a single ring

I use an Orion mPulse 30 for spot welding, which I bought a few months ago. I love, love, love it. If you watch very closely, you’ll see a quick flash – that’s the ring being welded closed.

Tips for Using the Pepe Jump Ring Maker

(Update: The #1 problem people have when using the Pepe is blade binding, in which the blade slows down a lot and even stops completely. All the tips below will help you use the Pepe more easily and produce better rings, but if your main problem is blade binding, skip directly to Tip #4.)

(Update: This is an older post from my original web site – see it here. Pepe has a newer version of the Jump Ring Maker. It’s basically the same, but without the mounting board and a new, better winding crank. All the advice here applies to the new version, as well.)

I love my Pepe Jump Ring maker and couldn’t live without it. Here’s my Pepe set up:

pepe1

The Pepe and Flexishaft Combo costs around $200 (update: more now), and it is worth the price. After buying crappy rings from hobby stores and after using the little wire coiling-thingy from a well-known bead and jewelry supplier, I decided to get serious. Sure, it was a little pricey for me, but I knew it would pay for itself in time and per-ring costs over time.

I have made more than 20,000 rings since purchasing the Jump Ring Maker, and I still love it. Really, really love it. Worth every penny! Continue reading “Tips for Using the Pepe Jump Ring Maker”

Super-fine Chain Bracelet

(Originally posted on my old web site in 2014)

For several months now (in 2014!), I have been wanting to make a micromaille JPL chainmaille bracelet. Micromaille is chainmaille that is typically at or below 3.0 mm inner diameter. It’s little. Very little.

The problem, however, is that I didn’t have any way to coil wire into rings that size. The smallest coiling mandrel on the Pepe Ring Maker is 2.5 mm. I have made some nice JPL pieces in 2.5, but I couldn’t go any smaller.

Problem solved! I am using a 2.0mm knitting needle in my Pepe wire coiler, and a spool of 22 gauge (AWG) wire. I just stick the needle in the crank, load some 22 gauge wire, and start winding coils. I didn’t know if I would be able to cut the coils into rings, but they cut just fine, thus leaving me with a nice pile of micromaille jump rings for a very thin chain. Continue reading “Super-fine Chain Bracelet”

Welding Chainmaille and Heirloom Pricing

I am so excited because I can now weld the rings I use to make jewelry. Welding will solve two problems at the same time

Problem One: Open Rings

Chainmaille jewelry can be very beautiful, but it has a problem. Rings can open when they are stressed, which means they may fall out and the jewelry will need repair. For most designs, this is not a problem except for the rings that hold the clasps. Those are the rings that get the most stress, caused from opening and closing the jewelry.

For example, I have worn my Full Persian bracelet nearly every day for years, and not once has any ring come loose…except at the clasp. I have had to re-close those rings twice. Not too bad considering the thousands of times I have worn the bracelet. Fortunately, it is a very simple fix. A couple of minutes with my needle-nose pliers, and the rings are once again fully closed. Of course, I am a jeweler so it’s not a problem. I made the jewelry and have the tools and expertise to repair it, but what about the person who buys jewelry from me?

For a few of the designs, such as the Viperscale bracelet, ring stress is a bigger problem. The rings are far larger and are, as a result, more susceptible to opening.

Fortunately, designs that feature small, tightly-fitted rings don’t open except under severe stress, such as when the jewelry is caught on something and yanked. For example, with the JPL weave or the Rondo a la Byzantine weaves, the rings are simply not going to open unless yanked hard. Continue reading “Welding Chainmaille and Heirloom Pricing”

2020 Chainmaille Jewelry Gallery

It’s almost impossible to believe. Five years have passed since I last made a video gallery of jewelry on Desert Chains. At the time, this site was “Chain of Beauty.” (Chain of Beauty still exists, by the way, but the website redirects you to here.)

We had a long weekend last weekend, and I took advantage of the time to create the 2020 video gallery. Lots of new pieces and designs.

So, with no further ado, here’s the 2020 Desert Chains jewelry gallery.

Music: “Between Us and Them” by Ulrich Schnauss. Listen to the entire piece on YouTube here.

 

Another Blue Ribbon

Well, I did it again. The judging for the 2018 state fair jewelry competition just finished, and I picked up another blue ribbon. That’s 4 years in a row now. I’ll post a picture of the bracelet with its ribbon once the fair opens and I can take the picture.

The Competition Entry Piece

This year, I entered an original design that combines 2 classic weaves, plus a little bead work. Here’s the piece:

Continue reading “Another Blue Ribbon”

Process for Photoshop Editing Jewelry Models

Now that I have finished taking pictures of my most recent model, it’s time for the hard work: editing with Photoshop. (I highly recommend Photoshop! You can get a subscription to the Adobe Photography plan if you don’t have Photoshop already. It costs about $10 per month, and it is worth it.) Once the images are done, I will create a new model’s gallery and add the images. 

In the 6 step-by-step videos below, I demonstrate all the steps I go through for Photoshop editing of jewelry models. Each video demonstrates a set of tasks, and I explain how I do them. If you are creating images for your website, these are some typical editing tasks you will likely need to know.

The list of videos and Photoshop editing tasks

Video 1: Replacing the ugly background with a white background (10:36)
Video 2: Removing facial acne and smoothing the skin (17:16)
Video 3: General clean up, removing a tattoo and skin blemishes (11:20)
Video 4: Re-coloring the purple halo around the silver bracelet (4:19)
Video 5: Painting fingernails and replacing the light sheen on top (22:38)
Video 6: Resizing, cropping, adding a watermark, and exporting (10:32)

Here are the Before and After images. The videos show I get from before to after.

Continue reading “Process for Photoshop Editing Jewelry Models”

Dragonscale for the 2017 State Jewelry Competition

I have my bracelet ready for the 2017 State jewelry competition, which will be held during the state fair. So far, I’m 2 for 2 with blue ribbons.

This year, I’m submitting a fantastic bracelet featuring the dragonscale/ mermaid weave. This advanced design has larger rings on the outside that face one direction and smaller rings on the INSIDE that face in the opposite direction, creating the appearance of fish (or dragon) scales.

  • For the outside rings, I used sterling silver (18 gauge, 6 mm inner diameter) rings. 
  • For the inside rings, I used 14k gold fill (20 gauge, 4 mm inner diameter) rings.

The final result is absolutely stunning! I’m really pleased with how the gold inside rings complement the brighter silver rings and give the entire piece a deeper, richer appearance.

I will submit the bracelet on August 26th and find out the results a couple of weeks later.

Wish me luck! I feel really good about this bracelet, and it would be nice to pick up another ribbon.

(One thing I want to do before submitting is to get my models back so I can take a few pictures.)

On a side note, I have a little of the gold fill wire left over. I’m thinking about making another lovers’ knots bracelet to use it up. It might make a nice Christmas present for my niece.

Hardening Silver Wire

When we were kids, we would open paper clips, bend them back and forth, and see how long it took for the paper clip to break. We thought that by bending the wire repeatedly, we were making it soft enough to break. Actually, though, the opposite was true. When metal is repeatedly hit, twisted, or bent it becomes harder, which makes it brittle enough to break.

This is important to understand when working with silver wire. Pure silver has all of its atoms in a lattice structure, much like crystals. With all the atoms lined up in straight rows and columns, the silver is very flexible and soft. This is why, for example, fine silver (99.9% silver) is not a good material for chainmaille. The rings won’t hold their shape and will open, causing the chain to fall apart.

Continue reading “Hardening Silver Wire”

2015 NM State Fair Blue Ribbon Bracelet

Entry in the NM State Fair Jewelry / Chain Maille Competition

In 2014, my girlfriend at the time and I visited the Creative Arts pavilion at the NM State Fair and checked out the bead work and jewelry competition. She is an amazing artist with bead weaving, as good as or better than anything we saw at the competition. I encouraged her to enter in the following year (this year, now).

And then I saw the chainmaille competition pieces. The blue ribbon winner was a pretty and sweet bracelet in the helm maille weave. It’s a nice design, but it’s definitely a beginner’s chain maille weave. I thought I would like to enter the competition, too.

Continue reading “2015 NM State Fair Blue Ribbon Bracelet”

Using Tool Magic – Video

Before starting work on sterling silver chain mail, I always dip my pliers in Tool Magic. The plastic coating prevents the pliers from marring the silver. It also helps me keep a good grip on the rings so they don’t shoot out from the pliers. The Tool Magic coating gets raggedy after a while and needs to be reapplied-as seen in this video.

Tool Magic only costs a few bucks, and it’s worth it.