Jewelry Wire Materials

If you walk into a jewelry supply store, you will find a great variety of metals used for making wire wrapped jewelry. When you begin your own work, you will make mistakes.  Just be sure you make them for cents — not dollars. So start with an inexpensive craft wire, a brass alloy, copper, or plated wire.  Once you get the feel for how the material feels and how to make some of the basic pieces and simple wraps, you can then move on to more expensive silver and gold wires.

Silver-plated or gold-plated wire is made by fusing a microscopically thin layer of silver or gold over a base metal or copper core.  These wires are relatively inexpensive and are fine wires to start with.  The copper is easy to work with and bends easy, but if you have exposed ends or if you overwork the wire by hammering it, the copper or base metal will show through. Plated wire will only accept a limited amount of polishing before the base wire begins to show through.

Like pure gold, pure silver is too soft for most uses.  So sterling silver and Argentium silver are most often used for wire wrapping jewelry because they are both strong easily manipulated and are the favorites for many jewelry lovers.  Sterling silver is 92.5 percent silver, alloyed with copper.  This small amount of copper makes it tarnish quickly.  Argentium silver is silver alloyed with germanium which resists tarnishing and is therefore easier to keep shiny and clean.  But it sometimes costs more than sterling silver and is a bit harder to work with.

Gold wire is available in different karat weights and colors and is considered one of the most visually attractive wire wrap materials.  It resists tarnish and corrosion and is very durable.  When you buy gold wire, it is not pure, 24-karat gold, but rather is alloyed with other metals such as silver or copper.  So 14-karat gold is 58 percent (14/24) gold plus the alloyed metal, 18-karat gold is 75 percent gold, and 24-karat gold is pure gold.

An economical alternative is gold-filled wire, made by using a heat- and pressure- bonding process to coat a brass core with gold.  Gold-filled wire must be at least 20 percent gold by weight, and must also be designated with the karat fineness of the overlay, such as 14-karat gold filled or 12-karat gold filled.  Again this wire is quite easily manipulated, and the inner core does not show through or wear off as it does on the very thin layer of gold plated wire.  The layer of gold makes it resist tarnishing and the end result may be cared for just like the more expensive version.

Relatively new to the jewelry making market is “permanently colored” wire, available in a whole range of colors and qualities.  But don’t try to work with this until you’ve practiced with one of the less expensive wires.  Here’s why. I once made the mistake of buying “permanently colored” wire which I thought would make an interesting wire wrapping frame.  Unfortunately with its copper core, it worked well for wrapping my cabochon.  But when I finished wrapping the wire around the cab and looked the piece over, the “permanent” color chipped off in little bits and the copper core appeared.  So beware of these kinds of wires too, unless you are doing a minimal amount of bending and twisting.