Chains of love

Women in the Passage are revisiting their jewellery collections, often because of lifestyle changes. Once you've pruned, one item to look for is a precious-metal chain. They are pretty too in horn, acrylic, wood—but if you want a piece to last, choose solid metal.

Today, in the Passage's windows, handmade chains in various metals and lengths. All prices in $US.

Size and scale

Young women look wafty and lovely in fine 1.5-2mm chains, but the look, like ruffled sleeves and ditsy florals, tops out once your kids (or your friends' kids) are borrowing your clothes. If you have a delicate gold chain that is long enough on you now, it can still be worn by adding a pendant.

I especially like two lengths: the 17-to-18 inch that sits just at or below the collarbone, and the 35-inch or longer that can also be worn doubled.

The hand of the maker

Chain fabrication typically starts with either metal wire which is machine or hand-formed into links, or with the casting of links or other elements. Nearly all link-style chains sold at department store jewellery counters, even at places like Neiman's or Saks, are machine-made. Many are handsome, but just like the difference between a genuine pearl and an imitation, a handmade chain has character, while manufactured ones are rather soulless.

Handmade chains are not easy to find. Be wary of the "handcrafted" description, ask questions. A maker can assemble machine-made jump rings into chain, but this is hand-crafted or hand-finishednot handmade, chain. The links on handmade chain are usually more open than machined chain, but you can find pieces with small links. The piece should be well-finished, with no rough spots, and a strong clasp.

Watch this short video (1 min. 30 sec.) to see Australian artist Simone Walsh hand make a silver chain, finicky work which explains why prices are higher.  Many jewellers don't make them, because their profit margin is too low after they factor in their labour.

Silver standouts

Left: Simone Walsh minimalist, handmade chain, price, $US 88 (on sale, limited quantity) for 20 in./50 cm; also available in 31.5in./80cm length. Can be clasped anywhere, including the option to make a lariat style from the longer length.

Top right: Lisa Nortz of Silver Bench Jewelry specializes in silver chains, and you can order any size! Shown, the hammered link chain, 35in.; price, $315. Lisa Nortz makes at least four chains I would love to wear!

Bottom right: Pam Springhall's handmade chain necklace uses carved, then cast elements, to to create heavier, chunkier links. This is more 'necklace' than chain, with definite presence. She can make this in any length for $28/in. The price for the 20in. necklace is $615.

When it's time to clean your silver chain, the dip method works best; applying a silver cloth to each link is slow work and it's too easy to tug hard on the links and break the piece. You can make your own inexpensive, effective dip to use with the silver foil method. (Not safe for plated metal.)

Gold: Luxe links

Gold means a serious outlay, but you can sometimes find good values on the resale market. Most artists working with silver will also make the same chain in gold, so if you prefer that, inquire.

Left: Chains have a millenia-deep history among Italian jewellers, and in Italy the artisan tradition remains a point of pride. This Torrini 18k hammered gold drop necklace delivers more than a simple chain; if building a minimalist wardrobe of a few good pieces, here's a serious contender. Chain is 16.5 in./42cm.; pendant is 2 in./5cm. ) Price, $3, 532 at For more handmade gold pieces and a chic cast silver chain, see the Torrini Firenze site.

Top right: Laura Bicego of Nanis makes an intriguing design, the Transformista, whose handmade links fit closely together as a bracelet, or pull apart with a simple twist to lengthen into a necklace. The price for the model shown is $14, 485 on the Jewellery Editor site.  (Yes; this is why my friend Eliane asked for a gold chain instead of an engagement ring, when she remarried.) The entire line can be seen on Bicego's Nanis site.

Bottom right: Israeli jeweller Eli Halili makes a high-carat, handmade chain of quiet luxury. Shown, a 21in. double-linked rolo loop chain in (fan me!) 22k gold. The wearer,  to whom I spoke in a New York bookstore, told me she was offered a "milestone gift", and chose the chain over a gemstone. Price, $12, 000 at Barney's.

I have a newish handmade chain that was way more affordable. When I met LauraH for lunch last spring, we stopped by Galerie Noel Guyomarch'h, and I cracked for a handmade silver chain by Vivienne Jones. In the summer heat, this featherweight piece was just enough on a tee or linen shirt.

A classic or contemporary handmade chain belongs in every jewellery wardrobe, and would be my #1 pick for a special gift—in silver, brass and copper, and if you are up for the freight, gold is very beautiful too.



LauraH said…
Such a varied and gorgeous collection. The versatile clasp on the Simone Walsh chain is genius. Thanks to you I'm learning to appreciate these details:-) As always your jewellery posts are an education. I never paid much attention to chains until I saw the amazing transformation when you put on that Vivienne Jones piece...the difference between lying in the showcase and being around your neck was an eye opener.
sandra said…
I have several necklaces made by Lisa Ridout, based in Toronto... handmade, sterling silver, beautiful work.
Mardel said…
I love the chains you have selected here, and have been thinking for a while that I need something interesting in silver, both short to wear with a shirt, or long that can be doubled. Or both. As always your jewelry posts are inspiring.

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