Hand-crafted Knot Jewelry:
Decorative Marlingspike Seamanship rendered in precious metal.
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Wire:
Sometimes I make my own wire, all the way from the pure metal, through the processes of alloying it with the proper mixture for the desired colors, casting ingots, rolling out to square stock in a hand-cranked mill, to the actual "drawing" process, in which the material is forced through a series of smaller and smaller holes. Even when I buy gold other than 24 karat, as wire, I will almost always have to draw it down from a larger size, to be proportional to the size or shape of the piece that I'm making.
Why would I go to that much time and effort? Well, a few reasons come to mind. When I'm making a ring, I have to select a wire gage that suits the dimensions of the finished piece, and if I had to keep coils of wire around in every possible gage, I'd go broke in short order. Even though I primarily charge for the labor and design costs of the jewelry, the intrinsic value of the gold would become a significant investment, and I just don't want to keep that much of it around. Another reason is the fabrication costs for someone else to make raw metal into wire for me; it is a little cheaper for me to buy small quantities of pure or alloyed gold and draw it myself. More importantly, though, is the fact that I enjoy the idea of making something "from scratch", and there is an almost sensual pleasure in drawing precious wire through a too-small hole in a hardened steel plate.
Colored alloys:
I sometimes mix my own alloys, purchasing 24K (pure gold) and various mixtures of base metals that will create certain colors when mixed with the gold. For example, there is a lot of copper in pink gold, but also some silver and zinc. In fact there are quite a few different colors you can achieve with just a little change in the proportions of those three "base" metals. There are some very special colors, however, which are like secret recipes, jealously guarded by the owners. One of these is "Peach Gold", a patented color available only from Hoover & Strong. I can't get just the mixing alloy, to use as needed, but have to buy 18K gold mixed by them. (To their no doubt exacting standards, of course) When I buy karat gold in this way, it is a little bit more expensive, and I don't get to play with it. On the other hand, I don't risk setting the place on fire or inhaling toxic fumes to as large an extent, so that balances out.
Twisted strands:
Solid strands are pretty, but one of the most common requests made is for a twisted strand in the center, between either the same or contrasting colored solid strands. I have seen some twisted wire jewelry that appears to me to be two strands twisted together, but since my background in knots is intimately tied in with the sort of rope that is used on boats, I just naturally gravitated to a three-strand pattern. I feel, in addition, that there are some advantages to this, in strength and appearance. For a tripled strand the completed length is slightly less than one third of the original material, and the diameter is approximately twice the original, while for a two-strand twist the material is merely doubled and the completed length is somewhat less than half the original, and the diameter is approximately twice the original. Yes, I can hear the gears in your head going around and around: the same diameter for either, so it would be much cheaper to use the double-strand. Why "waste" half-again as much material? Because it's much prettier, much stronger, and suits my esthetic sense. It also feels better: when you're handling it, a two-strand twist will feel rougher to the touch than would a three-strand. If you were to make a clean cut across the twisted strand and examine it closely, you would see that the two-strand material has a cross-section that looks like an infinity sign, or figure eight, depending upon your perspective, and if you were to draw a circle around it you would find that the area of the two strands was considerably smaller than the area of the circle, half, actually. However, doing the same thing with the three-strand material, and drawing a circle around that cross-section, the proportion of material to empty space is much larger. The calculations are a little more complicated than with the two strand, but it works out to approximately three-quarters.

If you are interested, I have included some illustrations, showing how I make twisted strands.

I've been experimenting with smaller wire, twisted in multiples of three. The successive stages have to be laid in the opposite directions, i.e., left-handed twist components are required to make a right-handed strand, and if that strand is incorporated in another stage, that stage is laid in a left-handed direction. Click here for a ring made with some nine-stranded cable.
Update, late 2001:
Health concerns have forced me to cut back on smelting my own alloys, and to be very cautious any time I melt or even heat metal in the lab, so I have been buying made-up wire recently. I still end up drawing it to the size I need, generally, but the pressures of scheduling and the sensitivity of my lungs prevent me from spending as much effort on the creation of wire from scratch as I used to.

There's still no other source for twisted wire, so even if I wanted to, I could not escape the necessity for those procedures.
Update, August 2003:
Due to a very serious back problem (herniated disks, one of which required surgery) I am no longer at liberty to draw my own wire, at least in the way that I was accustomed to do it in the past. Until I can acquire or construct a good drawbench with an easily operated winch, I'll be forced to buy my wire "made up" from the refinery. This doesn't mean my work is any less "hand made" under the legal definition of the term, but I'm a little unhappy to have to let go of this important stage in the process, even temporarily. As far as the effect on my rings, pendants, chains, etc, there will be none whatsoever, as they will continue to be made by hand by the same methods I've been using and developing since I taught myself how to do this, 23 years ago.

(This site last updated on 12-11-2017)

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