Take Notes – Jewelry 101: An Introductory Course

Before I opened ANOMIE, I knew little about the construction and maintenance of jewelry. I owned some sterling silver and brass pieces, but jewelry was never my kryptonite. Over the past 3 years, it’s safe to say that things have changed… dramatically. I’ve greatly expanded my jewelry collection (14k solid gold, diamonds, opals, and more!) and spent a considerable amount of time trying to educate myself — learning, like we all do, through google searches and ultimately taking a long, detailed jewelry making course at Scintillant Studio.

In fielding countless customer questions and talking with Jennifer, our resident wordsmith/#bloglady (more on her later!), we realized a breakdown of the very basics is in order. Jennifer said it best when she wrote to me, “the jewelry we love most at ANOMIE tends to be understated, versatile, a reflection of our ~chill vibes~, and for me at least, that translated to my approach to jewelry care. I assumed my hammered knuckle rings were as low maintenance as I am. Not the case.” Amen, girl, preach.

With the help some of our favorite designers, we’ve compiled a healthy introduction to all things jewelry, from proper maintenance to the intense care that goes into making even the simplest of pieces. And who better to educate us than the women behind the workbenches? Pull out your notebooks, Jewelry 101 is in session.


METALS:

First up, metals. So many choices, so much confusion. Yellow gold? Yup, but it could also be solid, plated, or fill. Is it recycled?! What’s the karat? What does it all mean?! We turned to Kristen Robinson, of Minoux Jewelry, for answers. Kristen is the maker of our all-time best selling piece, the Tiny Bar Necklace, and someone who uses a large range of metals for her collections. It goes without saying, she knows her shit.

FILL, PLATED, OR SOLID?

First stop on the knowledge express: fill vs. plated vs. solid. Kristen explains, “gold fill jewelry is a good option for affordable gold jewelry with a reasonably long life. ‘Gold fill’ is a term regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and gold fill pieces have a solid layer of gold which must make up at least 5% of the total weight of the piece. The gold layer is mechanically bonded using heat and pressure to an interior base metal.” Okay, so a thick layer of gold bonded to metal — but how is that different than plated, I pretend you ask? She continued, “plated jewelry is made with an electro-chemical process which puts a thin layer of gold (measured in microns) over a base metal. This layer is usually from .5 to 3 microns thick, which affects how long the gold layer will last. [W]hen the plating wears through, you can take the piece to a commercial jeweler to have it re-plated.” Thick versus thin. Long lasting versus delicate. Got it.

Because of the metal’s construction, “gold fill will last much longer than gold plated jewelry; but gold is a soft metal, and it will wear down with rubbing, chemical exposure, and even your personal PH. So the most important things you can do to extend the life of your pieces are take your jewelry off at night and avoid wearing them when swimming or in the shower, where they will be exposed to chlorine, saltwater, and chemicals in soaps, etc.”

As you can see from the above explanation, plated can be a temporary way to have a gold look. We like our metals to last, hence why we carry VERY little plated jewelry in the shop. I believe the only pieces that are plated that we carry are the giantLION Cuff Rings — which are vermeil, meaning plated gold on top of sterling silver — because having those as solid yellow or rose gold would cost a fortune. When you buy a gold piece and it fades away to brass, it’s no fun! So we really only like to carry vermeil since the pieces are at least sterling silver once all of the gold is worn away!

If you’ve got expensive taste, deep pockets, or just like to #treatyoself, Kristen recommends “solid metal as a great option for long-lasting durability. Solid metal jewelry, such as sterling silver, 10-18k gold, and brass or bronze, can be polished and cleaned to look shiny and brand new for decades. However, solid gold can be prohibitively expensive, especially for larger styles. For people with metal allergies or sensitive skin, 18k solid gold or higher is recommended. People with more minor sensitivity can sometimes wear 14k solid gold.”

BRASS & BRONZE

When asked about brass and bronze metal, Kristen continued, “brass or bronze are great options for when you want a durable piece in an appealing gold color for an affordable price. You can have large and affordable pieces that last for decades, and are easily polished with a variety of liquid cleaners. The one thing to be aware of with brass and bronze is that both are alloys that contain copper, and copper can oxidize on skin, more for some people than others. You’ll see this most with thick tight rings, where there is no air flow between the metal and the skin, and it can be minimized by taking your jewelry off at night, keeping it clean, and putting a layer of clear nail polish on the inside of rings.” I stand by the nail polish pro tip, it works!

KARATS + RECYCLED METAL

But beyond the simple variants of metals, there can be different forms of the same metals,F02_Winden_Lookbook_201618 as Kristen mentioned. The higher the karat (the number + k before gold) the more concentrated the metal is, with 24k being completely pure gold. The standard amount used by many of our designers is 14k gold. But even then, there are different types of 14k gold. Namely, recycled gold. Rebecca Mapes, of Winden, uses recycled 14k yellow gold (Winden’s Meghan Hoop Earrings shown to the right), telling us “[w]e’ve always made our jewelry in-house, with some help from some small vendors in New York City’s diamond district. In the past year we’ve made a huge effort to make sure that we are proud of the materials that we are sourcing.  We […] started using a company that is a certified recycled metal dealer. The word recycled is often thrown around in the jewelry industry because everyone recycles their gold — nobody would let something so valuable go to waste! It’s finding recycled gold that can be a bit tricky. Gold that is certified as recycled goes through a rigorous certification process; each piece of scrap metal or old jewelry is photographed and documented before being melted down and turned into usable material. We’re really trying to switch over all of our gold and silver items to be made with certified recycled metal. It’s been a difficult process, and we aren’t totally there yet, but it’s so worth it.”

TOOLS + PRODUCTION:

When I took my jewelry making course, I was surprised at just how many tools are needed to produce jewelry. We’ll be sharing a peek inside Claire Kinder‘s studio next week, so you can see for yourself. Rebecca gave us a basic breakdown of the key tools she uses to make Winden pieces:

1. We use lots of different hammers, files, drill bits, and lots and lots of sand paper.

2. Torch/gas tank – We mainly use our torch to solder. Soldering forms a strong bond between two surfaces. The process melts a a tiny piece of solder (an alloy of metal that has a lower melting point than the metal surfaces that are being joined) between the two surfaces, once the metals cool the solder is hard again, thus creating the bond.

 3. Crock pot – Weird, right!? The crock pot is used to heat pickle, which is a chemical used to clean the oxidation off of metal that has been heated or soldered.

 4. Flex shaft – This is a small motor with a flexible “shaft”. We use it for drilling, sanding, and light finishing.

 5. Tumbler – We use a rotary tumbler that is filled with steel shot to work harden pieces that we have heated or soldered and to clean off any residual oxidation from the metal.

 6. Polishing Unit – We use our polishing unit to finish all of our pieces. Our unit has two buffing wheels and a filtration system that sucks in access polishing compound as it works.

 7. Ultrasonic – This piece of equipment removes the polishing compound from finished pieces by gently vibrating them in warm liquid with a soap-like solution.

 8. Jeweler’s Bench – A jeweler’s bench is really essential to making jewelry. It’s significantly taller than most desks or tables so that the jeweler’s eyes can be closer to their work. It also has to easily accommodate a bench pin and a flex shaft. Our new bench was made out of wood from the property that I grew up on, and built by my partner with a little help from me!

 9. A lot of our pieces have cast elements. Because the casting process requires entirely different equipment that would be too big of an investment for our small company; we outsource these elements to a small family run business in New York City’s diamond district.

CASTING

odette_ring_yvesCasting, as Rebecca mentioned, is generally outsourced by our smaller designers due to the amount of heavy duty, expensive equipment required. Odette NY offers an array of beautiful cast pieces; so we asked Jennifer Sarkilahti, designer of Odette NY, to break down the casting process for us. She explained, “[c]asting is a production technique. An original model is carved or formed in wax using various wax carving techniques. I make all of our original wax models at our studio in Brooklyn. (Yves Rings shown to the left) Sometimes I work primarily from sketches and sometimes I am playing around in the wax to explore different techniques. A mold is then made around it, cut into sections, and the [original wax] model is removed. After creating a channel in the mold, molten wax is poured into the cavity where it is left to cool and harden. This process is repeated to create multiples, where they are attached together and placed into a flask to create a second plaster mold. The wax melts away and molten metal is injected either through centrifugal force or vacuum casting. [After a while,] the metal cools and is ready for polishing and finishing. Brass is one of my favorite materials to work with. I love that you can either let it build a beautiful aged patina on the surface over time or polish it back to it’s natural bright state.” Because every piece is cast from the same model, “[e]ach casting is an exact replica and has all the marks and nuances of the original model — this is one of my favorite things about the technique.” Like Winden, Odette NY works with a casting house in New York to cast their pieces.

Ready for a little history lesson? According to Jennifer, “[l]ost wax casting is an ancient technique that has been around since 3700 BC and for the most part, the process has remained relatively unchanged for thousands of years.” A 5000+ year old method? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

ANATOMY OF A RING:

Claire Kinder, of Claire Kinder, is the queen of dainty lil’ rings at ANOMIE. And rightfully so, as rings have always been her obsession above all other forms of jewelry. Leave it to her to have such a beautiful description of the anatomy of a ring: “A ring is pure poetry in structural and ergonomic terms. It is the purest distillation of a tension-compression system (be still my heart), entirely contained in a single form. This makes a closed ring one of the strongest forms we jewelers work with, which is why it even has the capability to be made deliciously thin and delicate when made out of precious metals.” YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION, GO ON…

“I also consider rings the most personal of all jewelry. They require specific fitting, and for most of us can only be worn in one location for most of our lives. They are on display for the world to see upon one of our most emotive and prominent pieces of anatomy (the hands), and most importantly, they are the only piece of jewelry that we the wearer are constantly forced to look at. I love a good pair of earrings or a necklace, but I’m not going to look in a mirror all day just so I can study them. A well curated hand of rings is like a mobile art collection that goes with us everywhere. They sooth us in times of worry, and open conversations to those whose eyes they catch.” The passion Claire has for jewelry is seeping out of her words, I could read her wax poetic about jewelry for days.

You’ve no doubt drooled over one of her ‘Pip’ rings, the opal and 14k rose variety of which holds a very special place in my heart and a permanent spot on my left hand. These, according to Claire, are “one of the teensiest rings you’ll find with a color stone set in them (diamonds are a harder stone, and thus can be cut smaller). This is possible because we make them of wire each and every time, rather than casting them. Wire has been milled, i.e., shaped into wire by large industrial machines that exert large amounts of pressure on the gold. This makes the wire stable and strong, and able to take a bit of a beating without misshaping.” I can attest to their strength, as I’ve often sat staring at my opal pip wondering how something so tiny can be so damn strong. Like a child doing crossfit. But I digress.

She continued, “[b]ecause it’s a lot of intricate and well honed movements going into one ring, to make the labor more cost effective, we always make them in batches if we can, and go through each step on all the rings at the same time.” Without going into too much detail, to protect what is comparable to a trade secret held safe in their Brooklyn studio, Claire reiterated how much work goes into each ring, explaining, “we make every tiny piece of them one at a time. There is no casting, no purchasing of pre-made components, just wire, fire, and force.”

briarrose-zircon-14ky_1a_1024x1024Lest you think making rings goes quickly just because Claire maximizes her time, don’t be fooled. Making micro channel and pavé rings requires an immense amount of time and skill. Claire hands these highly delicate pieces over to her stone setter in New York’s Jewelry District, a classically trained bench jeweler with 45 years of experience. She confessed, “It would literally take me a life time to get as good at those teensy little settings as him. The most intricate ring I do from beginning to end is the Briar Rose (shown), whose stones I personally set. After we get the casting, cleaning the raw metal, set the stones, then polish and clean again, depending upon whether I get into a good working groove or not, it can take 0.5-1.5 days.” Remember that next time you gawk at the price of fine jewelry! You’re not only paying for materials, but the time, knowledge, and lifetime of skill developed by the jeweler.

BUYING/SIZING:

When it’s time to buy jewelry, figuring out sizing can be so discouraging you abandon allfit_guide attempts and give up. I’ve subscribed to the ‘randomly pick a size and hope it fits’ model, as well as the ‘I know my ring finger is a size 5 so I just keep buying rings in that size’ method. They’ve worked out sort of/not really. Now that I have sizing tools at my disposal, my jewelry all fits a lot better… and a lot more fingers. When asked about necklace lengths, a question we get via email very often, Kristen says “the easiest thing to do is cut a piece of string to the length that you like, then measure the string. We also have the following fit guide [shown to the right] on all of the necklace product pages on minouxjewelry.com that can be helpful.” BONUS: Almost all of the necklaces that we carry in ANOMIE can be custom ordered for your desired necklace length — we’re here to please!

Now rings are the trickiest to nail down the sizing for. Thankfully, Google exists. My favorite ring sizing sites are Ringsizes.co for ring size conversions (we have a lot of internatioanl customers!) and Findmyringsize.com for figuring out your ring size. If you’re trying to get v legit, like us, you can get a gauge sizer or mandrel. Or come on down to the shop and we can size you up ourselves! Knuckle rings are the hardest to determine sizing for, in my opinion. They need to be snug or else they will fall off, but some people hate the look of pinched in skin. Insecurities about sausages fingers aside, people! Ready for a fun fact about knuckle rings (by way of Claire) that you can tell your boyfriend, grandma, and everyone else who asks why you bought a ring that is too small for you: “[f]irst knuckle rings have been dated back to the Roman Empire. It was a common practice among aristocratic families to gift a baby ring to a new member of the family. Having a piece of jewelry made, as well as sized, was a expensive undertaking, and most likely quite the time consuming process as well. Rather than go through the trouble of getting their rings sized to wear as adults, they would wear them wherever they could make them fit, i.e., the very tips of their fingers.” TAKE THAT, KNUCKLE HATERS!

CLEANING + CARE:

Once you’ve figured out what metal you want and you’ve spent the big bucks, it’s time to take care of your investment. Proper cleaning and maintenance is important for the appearance and integrity of your metals. Rebecca, of Winden, cautions that “[m]etal can be very malleable, but the more it is bent the closer the molecules get to each other and this starts to make the metal very brittle. The lesson here is this: if you have a cuff that you love, don’t bend it to get it on and off because eventually it will SNAP!” Key takeaway: be gentle!

Claire agrees — her best jewelry maintenance tip? “Be aware.” With seven (rigorous) years of jewelry sale experience behind her, Claire cautions, “If you’re wearing delicate jewelry, and rings in particular, their longevity will greatly depend upon how you treat them. The people who go through teensy or thin rings regularly are the ones who decide to wear their thinnest rings to places like the gym. Simply being mindful how you use your hands in day to day life and learning when it is best to take them off will add YEARS of mileage to your rings.”

Even if you treat your rings like the precious lil’ queens they are, you still need to clean them! If you’re not shelling out the big bucks for solid gold, oxidization or tarnish is ALWAYS a possibility. ALWAYS. Low price and low maintenance don’t really go together when it comes to jewelry. Typically gold fill should not tarnish, but it can. Brass and bronze can and will oxidize and patina. Gold plate or vermeil will rub off with wear. Sterling silver will oxidize, especially when let to sit. Rebecca let us know that “wearing your sterling silver jewelry will keep it from tarnishing too much. As you wear it, you basically rub off any oxidation that has formed throughout the day.” When we asked Caroline Young, maker of our best selling bar studs and designer of giantLION, for her best jewelry cleaning pro tip, she exclaimed “learn to use a polishing cloth!” Bonus: we sell a great one in the shop for $10. We don’t keep them out on display, but ask Jenna, Sierra, or myself if you’re interested!

Kristen reiterated the above points, stating, “for any gold jewelry, whether solid, fill or plated, it’s important to remember that gold is a very soft metal and should be treated with care. Gentle soap and water, or a jewelry polishing cloth work well. I also like ammonia-free liquid cleaners like this one or this even more gentle version for costume jewelry. Sterling silver jewelry can also be cleaned with a polishing cloth, although you’ll get best results with a cleaner like the one above. Brass and bronze are very durable and can be cleaned with almost any metal cleaner, as long as it’s not abrasive. Polishing cloths generally won’t be strong enough for these metals. A great natural way to clean bronze is with lemon juice and baking soda.”

So, we’ve established that jewelry needs to be cleaned. But how often? Caroline says, “[s]tuds you wear every day should be cleaned every few days, but necklaces that don’t really touch your skin don’t have to be cleaned until they lose luster and you want them looking like new again. Solid gold jewelry is usually fine to shower with if it is well taken care of on a daily basis, but I still don’t recommend it. Definitely don’t shower with any jewelry with stones, especially delicate stones like opals and turquoise. I personally don’t shower in any of my jewelry- not even my bling! On top of that, jewelry that is not in use should be stored properly, preferably in an air tight bag, away from moisture and sunlight (ie. not your bathroom).” When asked what should avoid contact with jewelry at all times, Caroline let us know that lotion, perfume, hair products, dish soaps are no-gos. This is especially true for very fine jewelry with delicate stones.

So, not only did we ask Caroline for some jewelry cleanings tips, we asked the weird question you feel kinda gross asking anyone but your best friend, Google. We’re all guilty of this. So, can you leave your earrings in for months or is that unsanitary? Caroline, who didn’t flinch at our questionably/definitely gross habits, recommended you give your earrings a break every once in a while, saying “it is usually fine to leave solid gold studs in for a long time, but I do recommend taking them out every few days to give them a good cleaning — even if you’re just going to put them right back in!”


And that’s it folks, a TON of information you may forget in five minutes.. but that’s why bookmarks were invented. Save this page and refer back to it if you have any questions or confusion. Now let’s end class with an interesting/hair raising (har har har!) fact about jewelry from the Victorian Era that Kristen told me, “jewelry made with human hair was quite popular, and worn by men and women.” According to Victorian Gothic:

“Husbands went to work wearing watch fobs fashioned of their wives’ hair. Locks from the dearly departed were mounted into rings and brooches. Ladies filled their autograph books with snippets from their friends. At a time of rising commercialism, sentimental hairwork became a way both to signal one’s sincerity and, paradoxically, to stay in style.”

I’ve now found something to do with all the extra hair in the shower drain, s’cuse me… time to craft! 😉

Comments

  1. Thank you for the article! This was so interesting and super helpful! I have had most of these questions at one point or another so this was really cool to read!

    Like

  2. I really enjoyed this Chelsea! I’m pretty blown away by the obvious research and time that went into writing this article. I recently asked my parents to buy me an expensive ring as a grad present; they obliged, but not without first gawking at the seemingly exorbitant price. Next time around, I’ll be sure to forward them this article 😏

    Like

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