16 gauge "cold-forged" wire bracelets?

I’ve gotten so many answers to questions (sometimes with eerie
synchronicity) just by lurking, that I know how amazing you folks
are. So here are a couple of real newbie question, with which I know
you will be patient.

No longer having access to a workshop (my fabrication skills are
pretty basic anyway), but having access to a customer base, I have
been making wire jewelry in my bedroom. I’ve worked in this medium
for quite a while, but always with smaller gauge dead soft wire (as
low as 30–to me, 18 is heavy and hard to handle and I use it
rarely). I usually “cold-forge” components like clasps, using a small
Pakistani chasing hammer (I also own one good ball peen and a dinky
rawhide) and a doll-sized anvil or bench block.

But I’ve wanted to make forged wire bracelets for so long! I finally
decided to try, for Benicia Open Studios (10 days hence!), so I
purchased the famous stepped oval bracelet mandrel and some dead soft
16 gauge round copper to practice with (I know heavier gauges are
usually recommended–that’s part of the question).

Yesterday, using my limited equipment, I made the bracelet of my
dreams–a simple delicate open oval terminating in two opposing
swirls, hammered flat and “ball textured” (like the first piece of
"real jewelry" I bought, in 1971). Unlike other bracelets, it’s so
light that I don’t notice I’m wearing it. It snugs up without
discomfort and stays put, so I can even wear it while working. I’m
now working on a variation, more like the wire cuff Calder made for
Jeanne Moreau.

Question #1: Will these bracelets last? Will taking one on and off,
and adjusting it, soon cause it to snap? Or to become so springy that
it can no longer be adjusted? Would anybody buy something like this,
or am I really eccentric? I can’t even decide what should I charge
for one, in copper or silver (or brass? gold-filled?). Should I warn
customers that it’s a “throw-away”? If I forced myself to "step up"
to 14 or 12 gauge, would it make a huge difference in appeal and

Question #2: I hammered it directly onto the mandrel, using the
first 2 steps–very awkward, since I don’t even have a bench vise, so
I’m holding it with my knees! If I hammered it flat first–my floor
is (conveniently, at the moment) cement–could I then shape it
without annealing, or is this asking for more trouble? At the
moment, I can’t afford those beautiful shaping pliers, or any other
new tools–unless there’s some really cheap hardware store thing one
of you brilliant folks knows would be just the ticket.

Thank you so much for being such a wonderful and generous group.
Reading Orchid makes me feel hope for the human race.

Lisa in Benicia

Lisa, There is a book by a Native American silversmith named Oscar
Branson. For years, he made beautiful an intricate jewelry and
simple silver hollowware with the most basic tools. He polished a
piece of a railroad tie for an anvil, and a railroad spike into a
nice stake. Armed with just a few pliers and a jewelers saw, he
made incredible rings. The point of this is, you don’t need a large
collection of tools, except for your heart, your eyes and your
hands. Calder’s work was made with love and humor and his bracelets
just didn’t hang from Jeanne’s wrist, they snuggled and caressed
them. It sounds like with just a few basic tools, you are doing the
same. If your enthusiasm from your post carries over to your work,
do it in silver, spend the money for a little gold and you won’t
can’t go wrong. Making them first in copper is a good idea. Brass
is cheap too.

Your bracelets will last just fine.

Karen Christians
10 Walnut St., Woburn MA 01801
Ph. 781 937 3532, Fx. 781 937 3955
Jewelry/Metalarts School & Cooperative Studio
Board Member for the Society of North American Goldsmiths