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 wraped 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.
Currently, wire wrapping techniques are not frequently used for mass produced jewelry because of simple economics. Machines can cast jewelry components much faster and cheaper. Artisans or craftsmen are required to make jewelry by hand and in the current mass marketplace machines are less expensive and perhaps more precise. At this time, using the wire wrapping approach to making jewelry is primarily employed by individual craftsmen and women.
The craft of wire wrapping has not been precisely defined and for this reason it is difficult to define unequivocally. The key differences between making jewelry by wire wrapping and other approaches to making jewelry are two-fold;
- Wire wrapped jewelry is made of wire and findings similar to wire (head-pins, jump rings, etc.)
- Wire wrapped jewelry is made using mechanical connections between components and without soldering or other heat treatments.
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.
Given that wire wrapped jewelry is jewelry made of wire with mechanical connections instead of soldered connections. A mechanical connection is simply connecting an open loop to another loop, or connecting a wrapped loop to another loop during fabrication before the wrapped loop was wrapped closed. 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.
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.
Three tools are absolutely mandatory and several other tools are recommended when making wire wrapped jewelry. The mandatory tools are a flush cutter, round 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. Obviously, with a flush cutter, you want the flush end of the cut wire to be on your finished jewelry and the sharp end to be the segment of wire that ends up in the trash can. 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.
The recommended tools used in making wire wrapped jewelry are nylon jaw pliers, a ruler, step jaw pliers, a chasing hammer, an anvil or bench block, a cup bur, loop closing or bent closing pliers and a jewelry making jig.
For making wire wrapped jewelry the basic component is wire. If a person was interested, they could make all the items necessary for making earrings, bracelets and necklaces out of wire. There are several jewelry components that have been pre-made and are sold to help facilitate making jewelry. Most of these 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.