Jewelry Nomenclature: Gem Bracelets and Necklaces
Bracelets and necklaces share much of their terminology. Learn the names and functions of the different parts of these popular types of jewelry pieces.
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Basic Terminology for Bracelets and Necklaces
The principal parts of these jewelry pieces are:
- Metal chains or fabric cords that form their foundations.
- Clasps or fasteners used to secure them.
- Ornaments used for decoration, such as pendants.
There are two main styles of bracelets and necklaces: metal chains and strings of gemstones or beads. Typically, metal chains are made of silver or gold. However, stainless steel, titanium, and other novel metals are becoming increasingly popular, especially for men's jewelry. Bracelets and necklaces made of strings of gemstones or beads feature them in rows or singly, set in prongs or with a string running through their centers.
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This article is also a part of our Professional Gemologist Certification Course, in the unit An Introduction to Gemology.
Chains and Cords for Bracelets and Necklaces
Chain style jewelry pieces come in a variety of different styles. Dainty styles include box or rope chains. Rugged styles include double rope or curb chains. A series of interlinking pieces form the actual chain. One end has a clasp. The other end has a simple ring that slips inside the clasp to secure the item.
Normally, three factors describe metal chains for bracelets and necklaces: metal type, chain style, and chain width. For example, you can order a seven millimeter curb chain in 14 karat gold or sterling silver. The style and thickness of the chain would be the same. The only difference is the metal.
You can purchase metal chains in bulk or as finished pieces with clasps and rings already attached.
Jewelry makers often use cords to string beads, pearls, and other stones for necklaces and bracelets. Although silk is the traditional thread for beaded necklaces, modern polyesters are now more popular due to their longer lifespans. Tiger tail, a plastic coated wire, is used with heavy beads. Other popular cord materials are leather, velvet, and hemp.
To accommodate beads and stones of various sizes, cords of varying thickness are available. Before buying cord for jewelry making, measure the diameter of the holes drilled through your beads. For the beads to slide on easily, these holes should be slightly larger than the diameter of the cord.
Bead makers frequently utilize pearls, various gems, metal, wood, plastic, and shells. Traditionally, bracelet and necklace styles feature a single type of bead (like the classic pearl necklace, for example). However, more eclectic styles can combine two or more bead materials.
When buying beads, look closely at these three things: bead material, bead shape, and bead size. For example, you may want to order 12 millimeter rose quartz lentil-shaped beads. Or, you may prefer eight millimeter yellow topaz round beads.
Metal beads can be solid, plated, filled, or even filigreed. They can be strung together to create all-metal bracelets or necklaces, used as spacers between other types of beads, or as centerpieces.
Rondelles are fancy spacer beads, usually (but not always) round, cylindrical, or disk shaped. Often textured and sometimes set with gemstones, they accent the primary beads in bracelets and necklaces.
Clasps for Bracelets and Necklaces
Although some bracelets and necklaces are tied together, most include fasteners. Clasps make it easier to wear these jewelry pieces. Without clasps, putting on a necklace could be difficult. You'd need either an elastic or fairly long cord just to get it over your head.
There are nearly as many styles of clasps as there are jewelry styles. The size and quality of the clasp should complement the bracelet or necklace. In other words, fine jewelry pieces should typically feature fancy clasps made of gold or other fine metals. Many incorporate filigree, and some even feature precious gems. More utilitarian jewelry styles may feature stainless steel clasps with plainer designs.
The lobster or lobster claw clasp is the strongest type of clasp. For maximum strength, they contain massive amounts of metal.
Spring Ring Clasp
The spring ring clasp is lightweight and inexpensive. Although popular, it's not as strong as a lobster clasp. Occasionally, the spring mechanism may stick, resulting in the loss of the jewelry item.
Hook and Eye
The simplest type of clasp is a just a hook and eye made from wire. Usually handmade and quite strong, they complement jewelry designs nicely. However, these clasps aren't recommended for bracelets because they may unclasp during wear.
Pendants are decorative items that hang from a chain, cord, or beaded necklace. They may hold gems or be decorative objects in themselves. Although pendants come in different types, larger pendants with single bails are referred to simply as pendants.
You can clip a pearl enhancer pendant onto a chain, cord, or beaded necklace. As the name implies, they can enhance a string of pearls as well as many other types of necklaces. These pendants make versatile additions to any jewelry wardrobe.
Typically, you can thread a necklace through the two openings on the back of a slide pendant. As the name implies, these pendants can slide freely from side to side as the chain or cord moves. However, they won't slide on beaded necklaces.
Smaller, single bail pendants are often called charms. Although charms are commonly worn on bracelets, some people like the look of several charms hanging from a single chain necklace.
The part of the pendant that goes over the chain is called the bail or bale. This holds the piece to the chain. Jewelers typically attach bails to metal pendants. However, some bails connect directly to gemstones.
Peg bails are glued into holes in the tops of inexpensive, tumbled stones.
Similar to bails, bell caps are glued onto the ends of crystals. These are ideal for stones you don't want to drill, such as amber.
Other Ornaments for Bracelets and Necklaces
A locket is a special type of pendant with a hinge that can be opened. What goes inside depends on the wearer. Typically, lockets contain small photographs, engravings, or personal tokens, such as a lock of hair. Jewelers often make lockets from precious metals, such as gold or silver. However, these pieces can have any style, from plain to ornate. Although just about any shape is possible, jewelry makers commonly create them as hearts.
Larger lockets are designed to be worn on chain or cord necklaces. Smaller lockets can be worn on bracelets or on children's jewelry.
Some jewelry pieces feature fancy centerpieces called festoons. They come in a wide range of styles and materials.
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