Upon the making of Roman Chain

Spools of 18K gold wire after pulling and annealing.
Mandrel whose sole purpose is to form links.
The wire has been wrapped around the mandrel and has been taped to hold it firm.
The wire has been cut into individual links which will now be deburred.
The ends of the links have been deburred and ready for the next step.

You may know it as a Roman Chain, an Etruscan Chain or any one of the ancient names, largely forgotten, once borne by this noble construction. Whatever you wish to call it is, I feel, better than the currently popular moniker of the "Loop-in-Loop" chain. I feel that this is a name devoid of all respect not to mention the wonder which this beautiful expression of the Goldsmith's craft can instill. Based on a deceptively simple pattern, this little wonder was produced by almost every civilization which ever practiced the art of Goldsmithing. When I first learned how to make chain it was called Roman Chain and thus it shall remain.

Before I start with a full technical description of how I make a Roman Chain, let me apologize to the casual reader who might feel sandbagged by too much nuts and bolts detail. I'm sorry to bore you wire in a tight coil. When I reach the business end of the rod I apply a strip of thin masking tape on top of the coil to keep it in place for cutting. The wire must be dead soft for chain-making or else it will uncoil at this stage making uneven links. Then, using a fine saw blade (7/0) I carefully slice the wire down the length of the rod staying within the precut groove. This produces about 40 open rings of wire, all the exact circumference required. I then remove the now delicate assembly of rings leaving the severed tape in place on both sides of the cut. Gently peeling the new edges of tape back to reveal the cut ends of wire, I use a sanding disc to clean the ends of the rings. This facilitates the next process.with the demanding detail of what can generously be described as a tedious task. You might want to just look at the pictures and continue to wonder how such a thing could possibly be made by human hands. With that out of the way let us begin.

In almost all instances I pull my own wire for handmade chain. It starts off the long process of individually producing and weaving numerous small rings of gold into a finished masterpiece with a truly tedious task. I feel that it's best to alloy one's own gold in order to feel fully vested in a fine piece of jewelry which will hopefully not only give the client a lifetime of enjoyment but may wind up in a museum of the future. Let's be honest, refiners of precious metals make a much better wire than I do, I'm just a sucker for taking the long road.

The most important part of this process (note to young craftspeople) is the ratio of the diameter of the wire size you have chosen to the diameter of the rod used to shape the rings which will become the links of the chain. I have seen several different charts for this ratio and they are all different than my preference. I use a 24 gauge wire (.51 mm) and a 9 mm rod for forming the links for a ratio of roughly 18:1. A smaller ratio makes a tight chain which can be very hard on the fingertips and a higher ratio makes what I feel is an overly loose and sloppy link. I was initially taught to use a much higher ratio resulting in six or seven chains which were subsequently melted and replaced in the years since. This ratio only works for what is technically termed a two axis double backed chain. They can be made as a single axis chain either single or double backed which is known as a foxtail chain, or a triple axis single or double backed which is known as a nightmare.

I use a wooden dowel rod hammered into a tight fitting brass tube as my shaping axle. I cut a slit about an inch and a half lengthwise into this rod and then drill a hole offset at the end of this cut. Step 1.This allows me to insert the end of a four foot length of wire into the hole and begin twisting theĀ 

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