When fabricating jewelry, jewelers use both wire and sheet metal to bring their designs to life. Having wire in the alloy you need, and in a variety of shapes and sizes, can save hours of labor and help you make the most of your time spent at the bench. Rio Grande makes purchasing wire easy and affordable with cut-to-order services and combinable pricing that allows you to combine all forms of the same metal to get the best price break. Wire can be used to create a multitude of items such as jump rings, clasps, ring shanks, bangles and cuffs, chains, ear wires, prong settings, etc. There are many factors to understand and consider when selecting and purchasing wire for your jewelry designs. This reference guides you through the sizes, shapes, alloys and hardnesses of jewelry wire available from Rio Grande to help you select, buy and design efficiently and effectively.
Rio Grande offers a wide variety of jewelry-making metal wire:
With so many alloys to choose from, the design options for your jewelry are as wide as your imagination.
Rio Grande sells wire using the Brown & Sharpe (B&S) Gauge, also known as the American Wire Gauge (AWG). This system of measuring should not be confused with the British Standard Wire Gauge (SWG) system of measurement and is slightly different than the American measurement standard. The Brown & Sharpe system of measurement has been in use for over 150 years and is a stepped, standardized wire gauge system used for measuring the diameters or thickness of wire and sheet metal. Larger gauge numbers indicate smaller wire diameters. Originally, the Brown & Sharpe gauge system derived from the number of times each gauge of wire had to be pulled through a draw plate to achieve the desired thickness. Very thin gauged wire required many more passes through the draw plate than a larger gauge wire did. This handy chart shows Brown & Sharpe gauges and their corresponding millimeter and inch thickness equivalents. Rio Grande offers jewelry wire in gauges from 0 gauge to 34 gauge, depending on the desired metal and shape.
While a jewelers designs are really only limited by their own imagination, there are some gauges of wire that are commonly used for specific things. The heavier the gauge of wire, the more difficult it is to form and shape, but the stronger it is. Thinner gauged wire is easier to work with but does not hold its shape as well, and is not as strong. This chart shows some common uses for specific gauges of metal:
Jewelry wire is made in round, half-round, double half-round, quarter-round, low-dome, square, rectangle, triangle, gallery, bezel, twist, bead, crazy-8, berry and dozens of decorative patterned wire design.
Wire (and sheet) is available in hardnesses from “dead-soft” to “full hard.” These terms refer to the malleability of the metal. It is important to note that metal hardness is relative to each specific metal or alloy. Some metals and metal alloys are naturally more or less malleable than others, and what constitutes “hard” in one metal doesn't behave the same way as “hard” in a different metal. Metal is composed of individual crystals arranged in a pattern. That crystalline structure is affected by working the metal in any way such as rolling, bending, forming, forging, etc. Any working of the metal causes the crystals to compress and therefore harden the metal. The more the metal is manipulated, the harder it becomes. This process is called “work-hardening”. The metal can be made “dead-soft” by a process called “annealing,” in which the metal is heated to a certain temperature. Annealing temperatures are different for different metals. This process relaxes the crystalline structure and makes the metal malleable again. The metal can then continue to be worked and annealed repeatedly as necessary.
When purchasing wire, consider the intended use, and choose a starting hardness that serves that purpose, minimizing the time needed for annealing as much as possible.
Dead-Soft wire is in an annealed state. It is very malleable and easy to work with. It accepts texturing, hammering and shaping with ease. As it is worked (by shaping, bending, etc.), the metal gradually work-hardens. Dead-soft metal is not a good choice for anything that will be subjected to repeated stress (such as hinges, hinge pins, pin stems, ear wires and clasps) unless it will be work-hardened in the fabrication process. Dead-soft metal is an excellent choice for any projects that will be heated or soldered, because the metal will naturally lose any work-hardening in the heating process. Dead-soft metal is also a good choice for any pieces you intend to texture, form, forge, raise, coil, crochet or weave because it is so malleable.
Half-Hard metal has been worked enough to slightly compress the crystalline structure of the metal. It is stiffer than dead-soft metal and is somewhat tougher to shape, hammer and form. It is still possible to bend and work this metal, it just requires more force. Half-hard metal holds its shape under some stress, work-hardens quickly and is therefore a good choice for ear wires, open jump rings and wire-wrapped objects.
Full-Hard metal has been significantly work-hardened. It resists forming but, once formed, holds its shape very well; it is a good choice for clasps and hinges. The harder the metal, the more spring it has, which is why full-hard wire is an excellent choice for pin stems. Something else to keep in mind is that the harder the metal is, the brighter polish it takes when finishing.
Learn more about metal hardness in the Rio Grande guide to hardness.
With a good understanding of the different characteristics of jewelry wire, as well as the different sizes, shapes and hardnesses, you are better equipped to make the best choices when purchasing wire for your own jewelry-making needs. Rio Grande makes selecting and buying wire easy and affordable. With very low or no order minimums, wire can be cut by the inch, the foot, or almost any increment you need, and all forms (sheet, wire, etc.) of the same metal are combined by weight to give you the best overall price break for each metal. The greater the quantity you purchase of each particular metal (regardless of shape or size), the greater the price break you enjoy.