Let's talk about ear wires

In a previous post, I mentioned I would be discussing the very important subject of ear wires! For those who have been at the edge of your seats, please sit back, relax and read.

Ok. Ear wires are probably the most intimate component of the jewelry I make. You wear them in part of your body, not on it. It's important to get them right.

Sterling silver ear wires.

When I first started making jewelry (stringing beads and such), I would purchase my ear wires -- always sterling silver, to reduce the risk of reactions. On the grand scheme of things, they weren't too expensive and easy to use. The problem was that if I ran out of ear wires, then I could not make any more earrings.

Once I started in metalwork, I learned how to make ear wires myself. It's better this way, for a few reasons. First, I'll never run out, unless I run out of wire, and if that happens I'm really in trouble!

Also, I can make a pair of ear wires specifically for the earrings, complementing the design or adjusting the size at the request of a customer. Most importantly, if I'm hand fabricating the earring components, I don't want to put them on a mass-produced ear wire. I want the earrings to be made by me exclusively.

So how do I make them? For the most part, I make one pair at a time to ensure they're well matched. I start out with two equal lengths of 20g sterling silver wire. The gauge small enough to fit through pierced ears, and sturdy enough to hold up to regular wear.

I start out by marking where I want the loops and curves to go with a Sharpie. I make the round loops at one end, then curve them over a bail-making pliers, then use a flat nose plier to add a little kick at the bottom. I hammer the curve to work-harden, then file and finish off with a bur cup.

Voila! Ear wires!

Work In Progress: Copper and Sterling Earrings

At top, earrings and rings in progress; below, finished earrings.

At top, earrings and rings in progress; below, finished earrings.

I love earrings, which is probably why I love to make earrings! Here are a few I made last weekend.

First are the copper drops with sterling buttons. I made the sterling buttons first, melting scrap sterling silver ("scrap" is what we call mistakes, second guesses or practice pieces) into balls. Then the balls were cleaned up and hammered into nice round buttons. The copper wires were hammered for texture, and then I soldered on the silver buttons.

For the other earrings, I punched out the small discs then used a centering die to make washers (or hoops). I drilled holes for the ear wire and disc. Each hoop and disc was hammered or hand stamped, then domed in my dapping block.

There are also a couple of rings in the “before” photo — an experiment.

In the "after" photos are all of the earrings with their hand-forged ear wires attached (Look for a post about ear wires soon), finished appropriately in the tumbler or with patina.

You may say that these were not hard for me to make -- and you'd be right. It wasn't hard, because I've made a LOT of earrings and over time, with a lot of trial and error. I figured out the best materials to use and and have accumulated the tools I need to make them efficiently. Add to that my artistic point of view and you have a unique piece of wearable art.

When you buy handcrafted jewelry from the maker, you are benefitting from the time, experience, tools and artistic vision that all come together.

Thank you to all of you who admire and buy our work!

— Tracy

Jewelry is personal

Jewelry is very personal. You wear it on your skin. Jewelry is often imbued with meaning. Rings symbolize love and commitment. Heirlooms have family history. Jewelry may bring on sentimental feelings and overwhelming emotion. A piece of jewelry can make the wearer feel happy, powerful, beautiful or just normal. As a jewelry artist, I consider all of this.

A few years ago, two women came into On The Hill Gallery during an event. One of the women -- I'll call her Joan -- admired a pair of earrings I made, but did not buy them. They were a simple construction of lapis nevada stones and sterling silver, priced at $30. Her friend secretly purchased them as a gift, and she was happy to receive them.

A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from Joan. She had lost one of the earrings. She felt terrible that she had lost something her friend had given her. Could I make another?

Now, to make the one earring is not, let's say, a lucrative endeavor. Finding a matching stone and recreating the wire work, packaging it up and going to the post office....the time I would spend would not cover what I could reasonably charge.

I did it anyway. I wanted the PAIR of earrings to remind Joan of the generosity of her friend, rather than a single earring remind her of the loss.

Lapis nevada and sterling silver earrings

Lapis nevada and sterling silver earrings