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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About The Wire Used By Jemyl to Make Jewelry

This page contains a glossary and article by Preston Reuther, a skilled jewelry craftsman and wire sculptor.  This information is taken from the online site, a major supplier of jewelry crafing supplies and instruction.  This information will let you know all kinds of things about the wire we use to make jewelry at  Jemyl considers Preston Reuther her teacher and mentor for jewelry making.  This information can also be used to discover the best way to care for the jewelry you purchase from - Jewelry.  It will also guide you in knowing what kind of wire is used and what its properties are for the jewelry you purchase.  Jemyl uses mostly 21 gauge wire for sculpting.  Bead embellishment and some of the sculpting of smaller crosses is also done with 26 gauge wire, mostly round 26 gauge.  Whenever possible gold-filled or anti-tarnish sterling silver wire is used.  When gold tone is listed, it means that the sculpting wire is likely to be gold toned brass, a generally harder, sturdier wire than gold filled.  Gold Tone brass also tends to give an older, darker look to pieces sooner than does either gold filled or gold plated wire.


ALLOY: The combination of metals in set proportions to give the resulting alloy better or different characteristics. For example, pure gold (24K) is much too soft for most jewelry applications, so small amounts of harder metals such as copper, silver or nickel are added.

ALPACA: A silver substitute which is an alloy of approximately 60% copper, 20% nickel, 20% zinc and 5% tin.

ALUMINUM: An inexpensive, lightweight and very malleable metal that is silver-white in color. In the past, it was used for very inexpensive jewelry, but is now the metal of choice for everyday items, from kitchen foil to engine blocks. Aluminum is also used in many alloys to improve malleability.

ANNEAL: The process of heating glass or metal to a specific temperature for a set period of time (depending upon the substance and the intended application), then slowly cooling it to toughen the substance and reduce the brittleness that develops while working it. Small pieces can be heated with a torch; larger items are generally annealed in either a kiln or an annealing oven.

ANODIZE: To produce a controlled oxidation of a metal's surface by means of a chemical (acid) bath through which the positive end or "anode" of an electrical current is passed. A thin protective film is created on the surface by the resultant change in the molecular structure of the top layer only. Anodization can give the metal a lustrous sheen, or even change the coloring of the surface.

AQUA REGIA: A mixture of three parts hydrochloric acid and one part nitric acid used to test the purity of gold and platinum. The mixture is one of the few chemicals that can dissolve those metals.

ASSAY: A test of purity for an alloy to determine the percentage of precious metal content.

BASE METAL: Any metal other than the precious metals, such as lead, bismuth, tin, antimony, copper, etc. Alloys of non-precious metals are also referred to as base metals. Findings made of base metal (silver or gold colored) are the cheapest to buy, and are great for practice for beginning beaders and children. For better pieces, use gold filled (a layer of gold stamped - not electroplated - over a base metal core) or sterling silver findings. Base metal findings are usually made of a nickel alloy material that can cause allergic reactions in some people, especially when used in body piercings. Those people who are sensitive to nickel alloys should use only 14 K (or higher) gold found in quality gold-filled findings. Surgical grade stainless steel findings are also available (usually referred to as Hypoallergenic). Most nickel-sensitive people can also tolerate sterling silver with no problems.

BLACK HILLS GOLD: Jewelry made in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, which frequently has a distinctive three-color (yellow, pink and green gold) vine and leaf pattern. The Black Hills Jewelry Mfg. Co. produced the original designs in three colors in Deadwood, South Dakota in the early 1900s. Many jewelers still make Black Hills jewelry today (usually in 10K gold) but by law they must use Black Hills gold. You can create a nice effect by combining rose gold filled wire, yellow gold filled wire and silver.

BLUE GOLD: 18K Gold alloyed with 25% iron (75% gold), giving a bluish tint to the metal.

BRASS WIRE: Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, sometimes including small amounts of other metals, but usually 67 percent copper and 33 percent zinc. It comes in various shapes and tempers, and is a wonderful product to practice with, although generally much stiffer and more difficult to work with in wire sculpting than sterling silver or gold-filled wire. It takes on a lovely polish, but tarnishes and becomes dull very quickly. Some jewelers work exclusively with brass wire specifically because of these properties. Jewelry made from brass wire can be quite beautiful and salable. To many jewelry artists, brass wire is considered to be practice wire and the outcome costume jewelry, rather than fine jewelry

BRONZE: An alloy containing at least 60% copper plus tin and sometimes other metals.

BRUSHED FINISH: Created by the use of a stiff metal brush along the surface of metallic jewelry to add texture, and to produce a slightly less reflective surface.

CASTING: A process for making metal items that has been used for thousands of years. Molten metal is poured into a mold. There are different methods of casting including centrifugal (or investment), sand casting, and the lost wax process.

CHAIN MAIL or CHAINMAILLE: A way of joining metal rings together to produce metal "fabric." Chain mail was used in medieval times for flexible armor, and is used now to make very striking jewelry.

CHROMIUM: Hard, shiny, gray-white metal that resists corrosion quite well. Sometimes used in costume jewelry as a coating over other metals.

COLD-ROLLING: (See "rolling")

COPPER WIRE: Reddish gold in color, this wonderfully versatile metal was the first metal used by man for tools, implements, weapons and artwork. Copper use predates recorded history, and though it was later replaced by bronze and iron for weapons and tools, its popularity and usefulness has not waned in thousands of years. Copper is malleable and easily worked by chasing, hammering, engraving and even cold-rolling (See Rolling). Copper is very malleable, but not suited for casting in its pure form, although alloys containing a high percentage of copper may be. Copper is quite inexpensive, is great for practice wire, or in two- or three-toned pieces. Copper is said to have healing properties for rheumatic or arthritic conditions. The only real drawback of copper, at least for jewelry applications, is that it oxidizes quite readily, will leave a green or black mark on the skin. To prevent that discoloration, copper jewelry is often coated with a clear protective surface, such as an acrylic, but the coating eventually wears away. Copper wire is a great way to get started in wire sculpting with very little cost.

CRAFT WIRE: A permanently color-coated copper-based wire, which is soft and very malleable. Retains its shape moderately well, particularly in the larger gauges.

DRAWPLATE: In metalsmithing, particularly wire jewelry applications, a drawplate is a die plate through which wire is pulled to reduce its diameter. Making your own drawplate is quite simple, using an inch-thick block of hardwood, and drilling a series of holes at least ¼" apart, from 1.5mm to 10mm in diameter in .5 increments.

DUCTILE: A substance is "ductile" if it is easily pulled into a thin wire. The most ductile metal is gold, and it is the easiest wire to pull through a drawplate to reduce the diameter.

dwt: The abbreviation for PennyWeight in the Troy System of Weights.

ELECTROPLATE: (See Plating) Rings, ear hooks or wires, and crimp beads.

FINENESS: Usually expressed in parts per thousand, it is the proportion of silver or gold in a metal alloy. For example, Sterling Silver is .925, meaning that 925 parts per 1000 are silver, and 75/1000 is another metal. Fine Silver is 99.9% pure silver. Gold fineness is measured in Karats.

GAUGE: The measurement of the thickness of an object, particularly wire and sheet metals. Wire gauges for jewelry applications will range from a very thick 4g to a very fine 34g. You must remember that the smaller the gauge, the larger the diameter of the wire. You will find a table of gauges and their corresponding diameters in both metric and standard (U.S.) units at Table 2.

GERMAN SILVER: Also known as NICKEL SILVER, this alloy is actually roughly 60% copper, 20% nickel, and 20% zinc. If approximately 5% of tin is present in this alloy, it is called Alpaca. As you can see, there is no silver in German Silver. German silver wire is very inexpensive and you can create lot's of jewelry for pennies. It should be noted that about 1 person in 20 has a metal allergy to nickel.

GOLD: Gold is one of the most visually attractive of all metals, and because of its unique qualities, is considered the "most precious" metal. It is one of the heaviest of all the metals, does not tarnish or corrode, and is very durable. One of the first metals to attract the attention of man, its durability has been attested to by the discovery of elaborately crafted artifacts of gold in nearly perfect condition from the ancient Egyptian, Etruscan and Assyrian cultures.

Gold occurs in nature in almost pure form, and is the most malleable and ductile of the metals. It is a good conductor of heat and electricity, and in its pure state is very soft. One troy ounce of gold (the size of a sugar cube and equal to about 31 grams) can be hammered into a sheet (called gold leaf) covering 108 square feet or pulled into a thread fifty miles long.

When you buy gold jewelry, it isn't pure gold. The purity or fineness of gold in the jewelry is indicated by its karat number. 24-karat (24K or 24 Kt) gold is as pure as gold for jewelry gets. 24K gold is also called fine gold and it is greater than 99.7% pure gold. Proof gold is even finer, with over 99.95% purity, but it is only used for standardization purposes and is not available for jewelry.

When alloyed with another metal to make it harder, more durable and lest costly, the amount of gold (as in parts per 24) in the alloy must be stated if it is over 10K, which is the minimum legal standard in the U.S. Anything less can not be called gold. Throughout the world, the minimum karat standard varies. In Italy and France, 18K is the minimum; in Canada and England the minimum is only 9K and in Mexico, it's only 8K. Gold articles produced in the U.S. do not have to carry a karat or other quality mark. The exception occurs when a karat mark is applied, then the manufacturer's registered trademark must be stamped near the karat mark and must be accurate in accordance to federal law.

The weight of Gold and other precious metals is measured in Troy Weight, rather than the standard metric system or American pounds and ounces. See Table 3 for conversion of troy ounces to millimeters and pounds.

The various alloys of gold exhibit different colors. See Table 4 for a list gold colors and the proportions of metals used in the alloy.

GOLD FILLED WIRE: Gold-filled wire, sometimes called rolled gold, is a wonderful choice for wire jewelry makers. It is appropriate for all types of jewelry. For most people, it will last their entire lifetime without showing signs of wear. It is made by forming a tube of gold and filling the tube with a base metal, usually jeweler's brass. The gold content is 5% or 1/20 of the total wire. Gold-filled wire for jewelry offers an affordable, durable choice at a fraction of the cost of solid karat gold. It is generally available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and tempers in white, yellow (traditional) and rose gold colors.

A Few Facts About 14Kt Rolled Gold Wire (Gold-Filled Wire)
  • 14/20 Rolled Gold wire creates high fashion jewelry at a fraction of the cost of solid gold and sells extremely well because of the fascination with gold.
  • There is 100 times more gold in 14 kt. Rolled Gold (gold filled) than in gold plate.
  • A 14/20 Rolled Gold pendant is usually considered a lifetime piece of jewelry.
  • 14/20 Rolled Gold is usually used for pendants, pins, collars, bracelets, and small rings.
  • Gold filled wire is available in 10k, 12k, and 14k, being the best quality and most durable. In the symbol 14/20, the 14 stands for the karat of gold used, and the 20 means 1/20.
  • Basically, gold-filled wire is a good metal for a good price. It should always be represented properly and never misrepresented to your customer as solid gold. I collect old wire jewelry pieces and have several with actual dates on them. I show my customer these items to illustrate that gold-filled jewelry can stand the test of time.
Care of 14kt. Rolled Gold Jewelry

Your customer will usually ask, "How do I take care of it?"

It's easy. Just care for it as you would any other jewelry. It is quite durable. A simple inexpensive way to clean rolled gold jewelry (gold fill) is to soak it for a minute or two in a mild solution of ammonia and water or a commercial liquid jewelry cleaner. Rinse the jewelry thoroughly with water afterwards and let dry.

Because of the nature of wire sculpture, give your customer a cotton filled box for storing separately from their other jewelry. This will cut down on tarnish and keep it from being scratched by other jewelry. Plus it reduces the chance of a wire being pulled by being connected to another piece of jewelry. Remember this is NOT gold plate and in many cases is handed down from generation to generation. It is not unusual to find an old gold filled pendant that is nearly 75 years old!

How to Keep from Scratching Your Gold-Filled Wire

Diagrams and Tip provided by Richard Stone of Stone's Creations

Take a very
fine tooth metal file and gently round off all eight corners of your flat nose pliers and even the straight edges in the front of the pliers. Be careful when rounding the inside strait edges because these are the two edges that you grab the wire with. Don't round too much off. Make sure all surfaces are polished for a very smooth surface. This should prevent most of your gold filled wire from being scratched.

GOLD PLATED WIRE: Gold-plated metal has a very thin layer of gold on the surface of a base metal, usually applied by the process of electroplating. Plating makes the layer of gold a much thinner layer than Gold Filled, and it is most commonly plated with 10K gold.

HARDEN: The process of manipulating malleable wire so that it will retain its shape and design, and strengthen it so it will bear the weight of other components in a piece. The three most frequent methods of hardening jewelry wire are drawing, manipulating and striking. Simply working soft wire back and forth with the hands will impart some hardness, as will working with nylon jaw pliers. Drawing refers to pulling wire through a smaller hole in a wood plate to reduce its diameter. To harden and flatten a shaped piece at the same time, the piece is put between two pieces of leather which are then placed between two jeweler's blocks. The blocks are then struck by a hammer. You can also use a leather mallet to strike the piece when it is laid on a protected surface that will not mar the metal.

HARDNESS: A measurement of the malleability or temper of a substance. When purchasing raw materials for wire-work, you will find that wire comes in several different levels of hardness, only a few of which are commonly used by jewelers.

In jewelry wire, hardness or malleability is graded soft or dead soft, quarter hard, half-hard, hard, and spring hard. You may also encounter wire or sheet metal hardness that is designated by numbers instead of names. The numbering system, which goes from zero to 10 or more, is based on the number of times wire has been drawn though progressively smaller holes in a drawplate. Each jump in the number designates a doubling of the preceding number. Soft or dead soft has a number of zero, since it isn't drawn through a plate. Quarter hard is drawn through once, half-hard has been drawn twice and hard has been drawn through four times. Spring wire has been drawn eight times through successively smaller holes. The best hardness to use for an application will depend on the intended use of the wire, as shown below:

Dead Soft Wire is extremely malleable and can be bent easily into a myriad of shapes by using the hands. It does not hold its shape in stress situations, such as clasps, until it is hardened. You would use dead soft if the application has several loops and swirls which are more perfectly done with bare hands.

Half-Hard Wire is malleable, but most people will need to use tools or jigs to bend it into shape. Half hard will; however, maintain a fairly intricate shape under moderate stress after it has been work hardened. It is very useful for light weight-bearing parts of wire-wrapped jewelry.

Hard or Full Hard Wire holds its shape for wire-wrapping jewelry and for making clasps and other findings that will likely be stressed. Tools are recommended when bending or manipulating hard wire.

The gauge (thickness) of the wire will also have an effect on its hardness. For example, a piece of 12 gauge wire is relatively thick, and even at dead soft hardness will not bend as easily as 18 gauge wire of the same hardness.

To test for hardness of sheet metals, the Vickers Hardness test (designated HV) is very precise, calculating hardness from the size of the indentation a diamond-shaped pyramid produces under measured pressure. The Knoop Hardness test (HK) is based on the same principle as the Vickers test, but is used on brittle materials such as glass and ceramics using lower pressures. The Mohs Scale of Hardness is a rating system for minerals based on their resistance to scratching by other minerals, on a scale of one to ten. Mohs used ten minerals to determine the degree of hardness, ranking the softest (Talc) as #1 and the hardest (diamond) #10. It is not very precise.

IRON: This metal is very seldom used in jewelry because of its lack of luster and because it is so brittle.

KARAT: The fineness of gold, equal to one part of 24 in gold alloys. (See Gold)

KARATCLAD: A trademark for a very thick gold electroplating process which is approximately 14 times thicker than standard electroplating.

MALLEABLE: This term indicates that a metal or alloy is easily worked by hand or other tools.

MEMORY WIRE: A hardened steel wire that will retain its original shape even after repeated use. Available in a standard and "Cadmium" (silver-colored and rust proof) finish, and in diameters suitable for rings, bracelets and chokers.

MILANESE MESH: Also known as Milanese work or Milanese chain), is an intricate mesh made from spiral wires braided together and used to make necklaces and bracelets. Frequently used in Italian jewelry.

MILLING: The process of cutting metal while it is spinning, usually on a lathe, with symmetrical shapes and patterns.

MOHS SCALE (See Hardness)

MOKUME-GANE: A Japanese metalsmithing technique that results in a wood-like finish by alternating layers of thin, colored metals and laminated together. Designs or patterns are then punched, filed away or hammered into the laminate, producing unique and delicate patterns.

NICKEL SILVER: Not silver at all, except in color, for this alloy contains no silver, but is mostly copper (about 60%), with approximately equal parts of nickel and zinc added. With the addition of a small percentage of tin, the alloy is then called Alpaca. This alloy was first used in the mid-1800s by the Germans as a silver substitute.

NIOBIUM: A lightweight, tough, hypoallergenic refractory metal, usually anodized to produce vivid colors for costume jewelry. Mars easily and cannot be soldered.

NOBLE METALS: A less-frequently used term for the precious metals gold, silver and platinum.

ORMOLU: An alloy of copper, zinc and tin, ormolu is used to imitate gold. The French term for ground gold, "Ormolu" was frequently used for candlesticks, furniture embellishments and picture frames during the Georgian and early Victorian eras. Today, the term is most often applied to any gold-like finish used for intricate decorations.

OXIDATION: The naturally occurring chemical process in which oxygen atoms bond to atoms of another material (such as metal) producing a different chemical compound. We are most familiar with oxidized iron ("rust") and oxidized silver, which is called "tarnish." Copper turns green when oxidized, adding an aesthetically pleasing, aged look to roofs, weathervanes and other outdoor decorations.

PALLADIUM: A durable metal related to platinum, palladium has recently been added to the short list of "precious" metals. It is less dense and more malleable than platinum, but has a lower melting point and reacts more readily to acids. Palladium will also develop tarnish when heat is applied. Palladium was first used in jewelry in 1939 as a substitute for platinum, which was being used for the war effort. After the war, it was used rarely because there were difficulties working it. When white gold is alloyed with palladium instead of nickel, a gray-white gold is produced. Because palladium has become very useful in catalytic converters, its price has risen dramatically (per ounce, more than gold or silver), making it an impractical alternative to platinum.

PATINA: A film formed naturally on metals through exposure to the elements for an extended period. Oxidation will turn copper and bronze green, silver black and gold reddish. Patina is generally thought to enrich the value of antiques, but can be artificially produced by the controlled application of acids or electrolytes to newer objects.

PATTERN WIRE: Also called Strip wire. Not wire at all, but strips of either base or precious metal that are stamped, embossed or engraved with a decorative pattern. This is a great wire to make cuff bracelets. See one of our bracelets in our free pattern section.

PEWTER: A soft metal alloy composed mostly of tin, with lead, antimony, bismuth, copper and/or silver added. Polished pewter has a silvery luster. Pewter can be easily worked by several different methods, the most popular being casting of charms, hammering of larger items, and turning on a lathe to produce candlesticks or goblet stems.

PLATING: The process by which one metal is coated with another using electricity. Also known by the terms electroplating and Galvanotechnics - the latter named after the inventor of the process. To produce less costly jewelry components, inexpensive or base metals are coated with a thin layer of precious metal, usually gold or silver. Chromium, copper and rhodium are also electroplated, although rhodium is sometimes used as plate.

PLATINUM: Very strong, very dense, and 60% heavier than gold, Platinum was discovered in Russia in the 18th century. Platinum used in jewelry is usually alloyed with a small percentage of another metal of the platinum group (iridium, osmium, rhodium, ruthenium or palladium) and/or cobalt to increase its malleability. All of the platinum group of metals are rare, with platinum and palladium only slightly more common, and of course they are all expensive.

PINCHBECK: Also known as "false gold," this is an alloy of copper that looks like gold. Pinchbeck was invented by British watchmaker Christopher Pinchbeck (1672-1732) in the early 18th century. Pinchbeck consists of 83% copper and 17% zinc. Ironically, there have been many imitations of Pinchbeck (which itself is an imitation).

PMC®: The registered abbreviation for Precious Metal Clay®. PMC® is just what its name implies, precious metal in the form of clay. It is available in pure silver mixed with water and an organic binder (80% fine silver powder, 20% water and organic binder) and in 24K gold in a similarly compounded base. It can be rolled, cut, shaped and even extruded from a pastry tube, in other words, just like sculpting clay. Once the shape is made, it is fired in a kiln or special oven at temperatures from 1,650ºF for silver and to about 1,830ºF for gold.

POT METAL: An inexpensive metal alloy commonly used for costume jewelry. Not used as frequently as in the past, as it nearly always contains a significant amount of lead.

PRECIOUS METAL: The precious metals are gold, silver and most of the metals from the platinum family. They are all rare, with gold present in only 3.5 parts per billion of the Earth's crust, platinum about 45 parts per billion and silver in 73 parts per billion. All of these metals are strong and heavy because metallic bonding and their closely packed atomic structures.

REFLECTIVITY: This term is used to describe the degree of sheen on a metal.

RHODIUM: One white metal of the platinum family of precious metals. Rhodium is quite expensive, and is often used to plate both precious and base metals giving them a hard, platinum-like sheen.

ROSE GOLD: Rose gold is a gold and copper alloy which is used for special affects in making jewelry due to its reddish color. Rose gold is also known as pink gold and red gold.

ROUGE: An abrasive compound used with a buffing wheel to polish metals. Rouge is graded by the size of the abrasive, from very course to very fine (even though none of the grit is as large as any fine sandpaper), and each of the grades in between have different uses. For cutting down a rough surface (or removing heavy oxidation), Brown Rouge (also called Red Rouge) is considered a semi-aggressive primary compound because it contains large grains of abrasive (even though they are so small they can only barely be felt when rubbing the compound between your fingers). Brown Rouge is used for the first step in the polishing process for unfinished metal. Some metalsmiths only use Brown/Red rouge. Green Rouge is finer yet, and is sometimes used for a second polishing. White rouge contains the very finest abrasive and is used for the final polishing to produce a very high shine.

ROULZ: A metal alloy consisting of copper, nickel and silver, named for the French chemist who invented it in the 1800s.

ROLLED GOLD: A very thin sheet of gold is laminated to a lesser metal, such as brass, then heated under pressure to fuse them together. The fused metal is then rolled into a much thinner sheet and used to make jewelry or other objects, and is marked RGP for Rolled Gold Plate. Rolled gold jewelry wears very well over time.

ROLLING: In metallurgy, this is the most-used method of taking metal from a cast ingot to a sheet or bar, with sheet metal being the most common product. Rolling is done by using either the hot or method. The metal produced by the cold-rolled process will have a much smoother surface and be stronger.

RUSSIAN GOLD FINISH: A finishing technique for jewelry that produces a matte, antique look.

RUTHENIUM: Another of the platinum group of precious metals, it is usually abbreviated Ru or Ruth. Ruthenium in small amounts is added to platinum alloys to strengthen and harden them.

SATIN FINISH: This method of finishing metal produces a semi-gloss finish that is between a matte finish and a brilliant one. It is done by making minute, extremely shallow parallel lines on the surface of the metal, reducing its reflectivity.

SETTING: The base or section of a piece of jewelry that holds the stone or gem. If a setting has metal behind the stone, it is referred to as a closed setting. Where there is no metal behind the stone, the setting is considered "open." There are many different styles and types of settings, including:

SILVER WIRE: A fine, naturally-occurring precious metal with an almost white sheen that is used for many purposes, including jewelry. Pure silver is usually alloyed with other metals, such as copper, for use in jewelry and hollowware. Silver tarnishes after exposure to air, which forms a thin layer of silver-oxide on the surface. Silver often occurs near copper lodes.

SILVER 800: Silver alloy which contains 800 parts per 1000 (80%) silver and 200 parts per thousand (20%) copper, and is used primarily for casting.

SOLDER: A metal alloy used to join other metals by applying heat that melts the solder but not the metals being soldered. Available in gold and silver as well as base metal, solder also comes in different grades and required temps. Not all solder melts at the same temperature, and it is crucial that solder be of a grade that melts at lower temperature than the metals to be joined.

STEEL: An alloy of iron and carbon where the content of the carbon ranges up to 2%. When the alloy contains more than 2% carbon, it's defined as cast iron. Steel is very seldom used for jewelry:

STERLING SILVER: Silver with a fineness of 925 parts per 1000 (92.5%) silver and 75 parts per thousand (7.5%) copper, which increases the silver's hardness. Sterling is quite malleable and ductile.

SURGICAL or SURGICAL STAINLESS STEEL: Any one of a family of low carbon alloy steels usually containing 10-30% chromium. The chromium provides exceptional resistance to corrosion and heat. Other elements may be added to increase corrosion resistance to specific environments, enhance oxidation resistance and impart special characteristics. In jewelry, which is sometimes labeled "hypoallergenic," we see it in a few findings, such as ear wires or posts.

TEMPER: The temper of wire is often referred to in terms of hardness or softness. The temper or hardness of the wire indicates the malleability of the wire to hold its shape and to bend fluidly. It can range from dead soft (which bends with no resistance sort of like a wet noodle), at one end of the spectrum to extra spring hard (which is very resistant to bending) on the other. And very difficult to work with I may say.

The shape of the wire is achieved by forming the wire to the correct shape by drawing through a draw plate. The temper increases each time that the wire is drawn through the draw plate. To get dead soft wire, the wire is then fully annealed. To anneal wire is to use heat to relieve stresses in the wire, which causes a more flexible alignment of the wire molecules, thereby producing dead soft wire.

Wire temper or hardness is often referred to by using numbers. For example, "one number hard" means that the wire has been drawn through a draw plate one time, and so on. Most of these operations are technical methods that only the dealers and mills perform. And, yes, you can do it all yourself with a small rolling mill, a torch and lots of muscle. But, frankly, 99.9% of all wire sculptors buy it already prepared and ready to go. That way you can spend more time on perfecting your craft rather than preparing your wire. But you are going to have to know the different types and harnesses of wire so let's take a look at the following table.

Dead soft Fully annealed
Quarter hard 1 number hard
Half hard 2 numbers hard
Full hard 4 numbers hard
Extra hard 6 numbers hard
Spring hard 8 numbers hard
Extra spring hard 10 numbers hard

Different tempers are appropriate for different applications in making wire jewelry. The most commonly used tempers in wire jewelry are dead soft, soft, half hard, and spring hard. We shall consider dead soft and soft to be the same since they are so very close in temper and can be used in many of the same ways.

Let's take a look at the best choice for the job.

Note: To sculpt anything using Master Wire Sculptor Preston Reuther's methods, you must use soft wire. And the best wire to use is gold filled -- hands down

Temper Wire Sculpting Border Wire Wrap Binding Wire Bundles Pin Backs
Dead Soft X      
Half hard   X X  
Spring hard       X

A process to strengthen or harden metal or glass by heating an object then letting it air cool, or, by heating then suddenly cooling by immersion in cold water. Visualize a smithy in the old west hammering out a red-hot horseshoe then plunging it into a bucket of water. Hard-tempered metals are stronger and more springy than soft-tempered, but the hardness also makes them more brittle, causing them to break when bent too far.

TENSILE STRENGTH (psi): The maximum load a material can support without fracturing when it is stretched, divided by the original cross-sectional area of the material. Tensile strength is often expressed in psi, or pounds per square inch.

TORSADE: A necklace made of several strands that have been twisted together.

TROY WEIGHT: The system of units of mass customarily used for weighing precious metals and gemstones. It derives from the troy system of mass, which dates back to before the time o William the Conqueror. Its name comes from the city of Troyes, in France, an important trading city in the Middle Ages. The system is based on the troy pound of 5760 grains. The pound was divided into 12 ounces (480 grains) each containing 20 pennyweight (24 grains). (See Table 3)

VERMEIL: Gold-plated silver; or occasionally, gold-plated bronze. Vermeil has a very rich gold color, usually darker than high-karat gold.

WELD: A process that joins two pieces of metal using very high heat. Rolled gold is formed in this method. Welding is not use in wire sculpting it's all done by hand with small hand tools and no torch is used.

WHITE GOLD: Gold that has been alloyed with a mixture of copper, manganese, nickel, tin and zinc, and sometimes palladium), giving it the look of platinum. White gold was originally developed during WW II to imitate platinum, which was at the time considered a strategic material for military applications.

YELLOW GOLD: An alloy of gold with a mixture containing 50/50 copper and silver.


Let me explain about twisting wire either with a pin vise or an automatic wire twister. When wire is twisted, it creates a filigree look that your customers will love. You can buy twisted wire at some supply houses or you can twist your own. I've always preferred to twist my own for several reasons:

Reason #1: Usually pre-twisted wire cost about 20% more to purchase and it never looks that great.

Reason #2: By twisting my own wire, I can put the twisted portion of wire where I want the twist and can actually do a better job than the mill does.


Twisting this hard and half hard wire, although not difficult, is much trickier than twisting soft wire. Each piece needs to be twisted only an inch or two at a time or it will twist unevenly. And it always seems that each company prepares their wire just a little different and thus the twisting will be a little different for each wire. That holds true for both gold and silver. Usually hard wire is twisted with a small pin vise.


This wire is the easiest to twist and the twists always seems to come out uniform. Plus you can actually take 25 to 50 feet of dead soft gold filled or sterling wire, stretch it across your backyard, anchor it on something strong, start twisting with a dremel or drill on the other end, and get an even twist all the way across. Then you can roll it up into a coil and cut a section off as you need it. What a time saver!

In addition to achieving a filigree beaded look to your wire, you can increase the temper of wire by twisting it. Whether you use a small pin vise or a wire twister, the results will be the same. Twisting wire will increase the temper of the wire and make it harder. The more we twist, the more we increase the temper. If we twist too much, the wire will become brittle and break. You can do the same thing with round wire that may be too soft for the job. Simply attach one end of the wire into a pin vise and hold the other end with a pair of pliers. Twist until the wire is the desired temper or hardness you want.

*** Note: When you twist round wire, it will not change shape; it will stay round.

When we start sculpting with dead soft wire, it is important to realize that rubbing the wire along its length in a polishing cloth or in our fingers will also add temper or add strength to the wire. Even when sculpting, it is desirable to give the wire just a little body. The more we "rub it out", the more temper the wire will gain. As you construct a piece of jewelry, you will also add a certain amount of hardness or temper to the wire simply by handling it and manipulating it. This process is known as "work hardening". And you can actually rub it out too much and it becomes very difficult to work with. Soft wire is much like clay on the potter's wheel. You can't use it too hard nor too soft. Experience will help you determine the exact temper that you prefer to work with.


First, let's make sure we understand the term polish-------it means to make brighter------to make glossy. Cleaning is not polishing and visa versa. To neglect to finish your jewelry properly is to leave your jewelry uncompleted. Let's look at some simple techniques for polishing your wire. HAND POLISHING This is a very simple method of using a cloth (an old 100% cotton T-shirt will do) with a dab of red rouge. If you are running the wire through a polishing cloth with red rouge on it before building your project, you can get a pretty good glow to your gold or silver wire. But you should also rub your finished project briskly with the same cloth after it is completed. This method will work out fine and does not require any expensive equipment.


This is a very professional way to polish your jewelry and the cost can be moderate about $30 total for a good rotary tool. Use a small buffing wheel made with the hole in the center. Usually the wider the buffing pad, the less problem you will have with the wire getting caught in the jewelry wires. Use a soft buffing wheel about the size of a quarter. Remember at 10,000 rpms you're going to have red rouge flying everywhere so make sure it's in a place where you won't ruin the new drapes. Red rouge turns into a fine dust that will be easily inhaled if you don't have some type of face mask -- even a very cheap one will help. All these cleaning agents are rather toxic so be careful when polishing and buffing. You should do it outside if you can or inside with lots of ventilation.


The cleaning process which one would think would appear to be a simple chore can sometimes be a little difficult to do properly. All wire jewelry needs to be cleaned properly after polishing. Just remember, if there is a small speck of goo hidden between the wires that you cannot see, it will eventually melt due to the heat of the human body and perspiration. When this happens, it will appear that the gold ring or bracelet is tarnishing. So with this in mind you should not take this process lightly.


For bench jewelers who work with 14k gold and platinum sonic cleaners are by far the most popular, most efficient, and fastest cleaning method to use but for wire jewelers who work mostly with gold filled, you should probably re-evaluate using sonic cleaners for several big reasons. A sonic cleaner can break an opal, emerald, or other gemstone. If the stone has a hairline crack, the sonic cleaner can break it right along the fracture line. This crack or fracture could be invisible to the human eye. If your customer gives you a valuable stone to set and it breaks in a sonic cleaner, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE! Choose wisely.


If you're just starting out, all the fancy equipment might be a bit much financially so let's talk about good ole' fashion hand cleaning. Just fix up a solution of VERY WEAK ammonia and warm water. Soak the polished jewelry for only about 2 or 3 minutes. Note: I do stress ONLY for a very short time. If left overnight, it could destroy your gold-filled wire. After soaking, take a soft bristle toothbrush and scrub thoroughly. Rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly.


If you have the cash and want the fastest and safest way to clean your wire jewelry, you might consider getting an ionic cleaner. These cleaners work on an entirely different method than a sonic cleaner and will not break a stone, that means cracked ones, opals, pearls, whatever. As compared to Sonic they are less expensive. There are no potentially damaging sound waves with ionic cleaners, which use a chemical reaction by passing a mild electrical current through the ionic cleaning solution. This method will actually remove polishing residue from between the wire and will PULL it completely out. When it's working, it looks something like a bubbling Alka Seltzer. The ionic cleaners come in several different models.
  • The mini ionic cleaner is the least expensive. This unit runs on batteries and, frankly, I think it's fine for a personal cleaner that's used 3 or 4 times a year but not for wire artists. I just don't think it's got the power for a commercial cleaner and I would not recommend it as a commercial cleaner.
  • The shop model is about 9 inches long and about 5 inches wide and can hold lots of jewelry connected by a wire that comes with the unit. All the units come with commercial cleaning solution called gem sparkle. This is the unit I use in my home studio and am quite pleased with it. Cleaning time for $50,000 of retail jewelry used to be about two days. After we purchased the shop model, cleaning time for the jewelry went to about 2 hours. .I purchased the shop model years ago and love the way it works. Several months into ownership my unit broke and I sent it into the factory-------they rebuilt it at NO CHARGE. I was so impressed with the unit and the service, we are now dealers for the company. The shop model is approximately $132.00.
  • There is another unit called the counter model that is round like the mini model but just as powerful as the large unit and is great to bring on the road to gem shows, etc. It is big enough to hold a big bracelet and maybe a couple of pendants. For my money the counter model or the shop model would work out for any wire artist. The only difference is the size. The power and motor is exactly the same. It uses the same Gem Sparkle solution--- just a little less. The counter model sells for approximately $96. Whatever you decide, make sure your wire jewelry is polished and well cleaned. It's the difference between a professional and an amateur.

Table 1
Fineness of Gold in Karats
United States Markings Parts Gold Gold % European Markings
24K 24/24 100% 1000 or 999
22K 22/24 91.7% 916 or 917
18K 18/24 75.0% 750
14K 14/24 58.3% 583 or 585
10K 10/24 41.7% 417

Table 2
Conversion Table - Gauge to Inches and Millimeters
Gauge Size 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30
Diameter in inches .1019 .0808 .0641 .0403 .0508 .0320 .0253 .0201 .0159 .0125 .0100
Diameter in mm 2.588 2.05 1.63 1.29 1.02 .813 .643 .511 .404 .320 .254

Table 3
Conversion From Troy Weight To Avoirdupois (U.S.) To Metric Weight
Pound (lb t) 1 lb t 0.8229 lb 0.3732 kg
Ounce (oz t) 12 oz t 13.1657 oz 373.2422 gm
Pennyweight (dwt) 240 dwt 210.6514 dr 373241.7216 mg
Grains 5760 grains 5760 gr  

Table 4
Alloy Composition of Gold Colors
Color Alloy % Color Alloy %
Yellow Gold (22K) Gold 91.67%
Silver 5%
Copper 2%
Zinc 1.33%
Deep Green Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Silver 15%
Copper 6%
Cadmium 4%
White Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Palladium 10%
Nickel 10%
Zinc 5%
Pink Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Copper 20%
Silver 5%
Green Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Silver 20%
Copper 5%
Light Green Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Copper 23%
Cadmium 2%
Gray-White Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Iron 17%
Copper 8%
Rose Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Copper 22.25%
>Silver 2.75%
Soft Green Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Silver 25%
Red Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Copper 25%
White Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Platinum 25% or Palladium 25%
Blue-White or Blue Gold (18K) Gold 75%
Iron 25%
Purple Gold Gold 80%
Aluminum 20%

Table 5
Suggested Necklace, Bracelet and Anklet Lengths
Type of Jewelry Average Adult Length How to Measure for Extra Large or Small Sizes
Bib Multi-Stranded 12-13 up to 20"-23" The first strand is usually choker length, and each strand below it longer by approx. 1"-2"
Collar Multi stranded (all strands same length) 12"-13" Neck Circumference + 1"
Choker 14" to 16" Neck Circumference + 1.5" to 2.5"
Princess Length 17" to 19" Adjust to fit customer; usually worn with higher necklines
Graduated strand 17" to 19" Largest bead in center of necklace, gradually decreasing in size toward clasp.
Matinee 20" to 23 Adjust to fit customer; usually worn for casual daytime wear
Eyeglass necklace 27" Adjust to fit customer preference
Opera 30" to 35" Adjust to fit customer; sometimes doubled to be worn as a choker
Rope 40" -45" Adjust to fit customer preference
Lariat Both ends left unattached, or one end with a dangle and the other with a loop At least 48" Customer preference - no set standard
Bracelet, Closed Bangle Standard: Approx. 6.5 mm ID
Approx. 21mm circumference
Designed to slip over a slender adult hand; adjust for size by measuring the circumference of the hand at the widest point when hand is held in the position for putting the bangle on, add 10mm.
Cuff Bracelet, Hinged Bangle Standard: Approx. 6 mm ID Measure the wrist at the widest point where the cuff will rest, add about 5mm for comfort, unless the wearer wants it snug.
Strung Bracelet 7.5" Designed for a slender adult hand. Measure circumference of wrist where bracelet will be worn, add 5-10mm for comfort
Anklet Sm.: 6.5"
Med.: 8"
Lg. 9.5"
Measure circumference of ankle and add approx. ½ inch.


Recommended Metal Gauge (Thickness)
It is recommended that sterling silver materials should be approximately 10% to 25% thicker than the same materials in14K gold to get comparable strength characteristics.
For Use
Rings and wedding bands 16 gauge for women's rings
14 gauge for men's rings
Bezel material 32, 30, 28 gauge
Ear wires 22, 20 gauge
Bracelets 18, 16, 14 gauge
Repoussé 24, 22 gauge
Jump rings 22, 20, 18 gauge

Brown & Sharpe Gauge for Thickness in Inches and Millimeters
Gauge Inches Millimeters   Gauge Inches Millimeters
0 .325 8.26   20 .032 .81
2 .257 6.54   21 .028 .71
4 .204 5.19   22 .025 .64
6 .162 4.12   23 .023 .58
8 .128 3.26   24 .020 .51
10 .102 2.59   25 .0179 .455
12 .081 2.06   26 .0159 .404
13 .082 1.83   27 .0142 .361
14 .064 1.63   28 .0126 .320
15 .057 1.45   29 .0113 .287
16 .052 1.32   30 .010 .25
18 .040 1.02   32 .008 .20
19 .036 .091   34 .0063 .160

Guide to Wire Hardness
This chart is a relative measure for the workability of different alloys for wire wrapping. Approximate Ultimate Tensile Strength (psi shown in thousands)
14Kt Yellow Gold Yellow gold-filled (12/20 & 14/20) Sterling Silver Fine Silver Rich Low Brass Pure Copper Common Term Brown & Sharpe Numbers Reduction in Area of Wire
69 40 40.5 26 37 33 Soft (annealed) 0 0%
88 50 48.5 33 49 40 1/4-hard 1 21%
98 60 54 41 56 45 1/2-hard 2 37%
110 70 60 43 62 50 3/4-hard 3 50%
124 75 66.5 45 68 55 Full hard 4 60%
145 90 89 51 82 66 Spring hard 8 84%

Precious Metals Weight Comparison Chart
Using Platinum as the Base Standard of 1.00
  Pt. FG 22K 18K 14K 10K 9K FS SS
Pt 1.00 0.90 0.82 0.70 0.60 0.53 0.53 0.49 0.48
FG 1.11 1.00 0.91 0.78 0.67 0.59 0.58 0.54 0.54
22K 1.22 1.10 1.00 0.86 0.73 0.65 0.65 0.60 0.59
18K 1.42 1.28 1.16 1.00 0.85 0.76 0.75 0.69 0.68
14K 1.66 1.50 1.36 1.17 1.00 0.89 0.88 0.81 0.80
10K 1.88 1.69 1.54 1.34 1.14 1.01 1.00 0.93 0.92
9K 1.90 1.71 1.56 1.34 1.14 1.01 1.00 0.93 0.92
FS 2.04 1.84 1.68 1.44 1.23 1.09 1.08 1.00 0.99
SS 2.07 1.87 1.70 1.46 1.25 1.11 1.09 1.01 1.00

Abbreviations used in above Chart
Pt Platinum
FG Fine Gold
22K 22 Karat Gold
18K 18Karat Gold
14K 14Karat Gold
10K 10Karat Gold
9K 9Karat Gold
FS Fine Silver
SS Sterling Silver

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Sterling Silver Round Wire
Gauge Width Ft./In. per Oz Oz per Ft
26 .015 75.0'  
24 .020 48.0' .021
22 .025 31.0' .033
21 .028 24.0' .042
20 .032 19.0' .053
18 .040 12.0' .084
16 .051 7.5' .133
14 .064 4.66' .212
12 .081 3.0' .337
10 .102 22.0" .536
8 .128 14.5" .852
6 .162 9.0" 1.333
4 .204 5.5" 2.182

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Sterling Silver Half Round Wire
Gauge Width Ft./In. per Oz Oz per Ft
24 .020 96.00' .010
22 .025 62.00' .016
21 .028 50.00' .020
20 .032 38.00' .026
18 .040 24.00' .042
16 .051 15.00' .061
14 .064 9.50' .106
12 .081 6.00' .168
10 .102 3.75' .280
8 .128 2.33' .424
6 .162 1.50' .667
4 .204 11.0" 1.090
2 .257 7.0" 1.714

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Sterling Silver Square Wire
Gauge Width Ft./In. per Oz Oz per Ft
24 .002 36.0' .028
22 .025 22.0' .045
21 .028 20.0' .053
20 .032 14.0' .071
18 .040 9.5' .107
16 .051 7.5' .133
14 .064 4.66' .212
12 .081 3.00' .337
10 .102 22.0" .536
8 .128 14.5" .852
6 .162 9.0" 1.333
4 .204 5.5" 2.182

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Sterling Silver Triangle Wire
Size Base x Height Length per Oz Oz per Ft
1 .380" x .225" 3.75" 3.160
1.5 .325" x .200" 4 5/8" 2.590
2 .258" x .160" 7 5/16" 1.640
3 .215" x .097" 1' 3" 0.796
4 .175" x .090" 1' 7" 0.644
5 .156" x .111" 1' 5" 0.705
6 .122" x .095" 1' 11" 0.519
7 .103" x .081" 2' 6" 0.399
8 .080" x .064" 4' 1" 0.245

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Sterling Silver Double Half Round Wire
Gauge Height x Width 1/1000" Length per Oz
14 .033"x.173" 3.42 ft.
12 .040"x.162" 2.77 ft.
10 .051"x.204" 1.83 ft.
6 .081"x.257" 10.5 in.

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Sterling Silver Low Dome Wire
Number Base x Height 1/1000" Length per Oz Oz per Foot
5 .170"x.040" 33.0" 0.39
4 .232"x.072" 13.75" 0.90
3 .412"x.062" 9.50" 1.15
2 .515"x.072" 7.0" 1.75
1 .608"x.077" 6.0" 2.00

Gauge Width Feet Per Ounce
18 .040 13.96
20 .032 21.68
21 .028 28.06
22 .025 35.55
24 .020 56.33

Gauge Width Feet Per Ounce
18 .040 27.91
20 .032 42.87
21 .028 59.82
22 .025 66.79
24 .020 112.66

Gauge Width Oz/Foot Length/Oz
14 .064 .232 51 3/4"
16 .051 .136 88"
18 .040 .092 128"
20 .040 .058 207"
21 .028 .044 273"
22 .025 .036 331"
24 .020 .024 504"

Gauge Width Ounce/Foot Inch/Oz
30 1/8" .069 74"

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Copper Round Wire Copper wire is relatively inexpensive and is usually sold in coils or rolls of a specified length.
Gauge Width Feet per Pound
12 .081 50'
14 .064 80'
16 .051 126'
18 .040 199'
20 .032 315'
22 .025 501'
24 .020 793'

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Bronze Square Wire (soft)
Gauge Feet Per Pound
10 25.20'
12 40.16'
14 66.14'
16 108.66'
18 169.29'
20 264.57'
22 433.86'

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Bronze Round Wire (soft)
Gauge Feet Per Pound
8 20'
10 32'
12 51'
14 84'
16 138'
18 215'
20 336'
22 551'

Gauge Feet Per Pound
8ga 20'
10ga 32'
12ga 51'
14ga 84'
16ga 138'
18ga 215'
20ga 336'
22ga 551'

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Brass Square Wire (soft)
Gauge Feet Per Pound
10 25.20
12 40.16
14 66.14
16 108.66
18 169.29
20 264.57
21 395.00
22 433.86
24 750.00

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Nickel Silver Round Wire (soft)
Gauge Feet Per Pound
8 20'
10 32'
12 51'
14 84'
16 138'
18 215'
20 336'
22 551'

WIRE LENGTH PER OUNCE and WEIGHT PER FOOT - Nickel Silver Square Wire (soft)
Gauge Feet Per Pound
10 25.20'
12 40.16'
14 66.14'
16 108.66'
18 169.29'
20 264.57'
22 433.86'

No matter how you shape it, wire sculpted jewelry is here to stay. The more you know about your medium of choice, wire, the better your work will become.

Preston J. Reuther
Master Wire Sculptor"


Copyright  - Ellen L "jemyl:" Johnson, 108 Ash Street, Hawthorne, Florida 32640-5625 - Phone: 352-481-4423 - Email: