Why Does It Cost So Much?

Many times, people look at handmade jewelry and can’t imagine why it is the price it is. This is especially true if they have done some stringing, maybe with Michael’s or Hobby Lobby components, and achieved a pretty nice-looking result. The idea that a truly handmade item might involve more than assembling components often never occurs to folks. Before anyone bristles, it didn’t ever occur to ME before I began metalsmithing. Both Michael’s and Hobby Lobby sell some nice-looking components, and if I need something fast, in small quantity, and don’t have time to wait for Rio or wherever’s shipping, I will make a quick stop there. The problem, for me, is that I dislike using plated metal. If I do so it will be silver-filled, not plate. Plate simply wears down too fast and looks tacky after a while.

tube1So I thought that I would describe the process of making a particular component — in this case, a tube fitting attached to a jump ring that I use to finish 2mm Greek leather cord. It’s easy to knot Greek leather, but it never seems really neat to me. The ends can be wire wrapped, but I don’t think my skills are good enough to make wire wrapping look neat and professional. So I fell back on standard components. I have tube fittings in sterling, but had never seen them in copper or brass. So I made some.

I began with a thin 1/8″ brass tube, and cut it into short lengths with the jeweler’s saw. After I cut the little weeny bits of tubing, and occasionally muttered something rude under my breath when I dropped one (or when, as happened once, my foster Great Pyrenees wagged his exuberantly plumed tail over my workbench), I carefully filed one end flat, and filed a very faint depression into the other end of the tube. filedagroove I held the tiny tube in my rosary pliers to file it.

A couple of years ago at the Endless Yard Sale I happened to pick up a large amount of brass jump rings for chain maille–from the packaging, quantity, quality, and material I think they were the RingLord’s. I pulled out a number of those. jumpringsreadyThen I set up my soldering brick, fluxed a tube and a jump ring, and laid the tube against the jump ring so that the slight groove fitted snugly against the curve of the jump ring. It is nearly impossible to see in the picture, but I rested the jump ring on a bit of scrap copper, bent to hold the ring off the brick and in place, so that it would solder to the center of the tube. readytosolder

Using a tiny chip of extra-easy solder placed right at the join, I soldered the two pieces together, using a lightweight butane torch — for this job I did not want to pull out my powerful Bernzomatic PowerCell propane torch, lest I melt the brass. soldering My metalsmithing setup is in my spare bedroom, and I don’t want to void my insurance by keeping an oxy-acetylene setup in there, so a hand held cannister propane or butane torch is what I use on my bench. I keep all the extra cannisters outside the house in a locked, vented compartment.

Of course, you have to quench the hot metal and then pickle it to remove firescale. coolitdown By the way, that’s my quenching bowl, not my pickle pot! The water looks faintly blue in the photo — I’ve rinsed off too much pickle and the water needs to be tossed and refreshed :)

Here’s the result — first, some Greek leather cord with just the findings epoxied to each end … curled around the original brass tube that I started work with.

And here is one of the cords in use, a simple pendant made of one of our lampwork beads, a chunky disc that I made bead caps for and cored). finishednecklaceIn this image, the only component that I did not fabricate, besides the actual leather cord, is the small copper bead above the disc. The rest of the components — S-hook clasp, bead caps, core, and of course the bead itself — are all handmade. The clasp took me twenty minutes to make, leaving aside the time it took to tumble it and polish it. The bead caps and coring took an hour. Each cord tube connector took fifteen or twenty minutes. And that is why artisan jewelry costs more … but what you have is a completely unique product.

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