Of all my many craft loves, my love of jewelry making is my oldest and most enduring. I've been making jewelry for nearly 20 years (and, yes, that does make me feel old). From the first package of headpins and carefully chosen beads I brought home, I was hooked. As with all of my favorite craft forms, I love the idea that things we all too often take for granted as being manufactured in some far-off place by a machine or a nameless worker can be made athom with a little skills, a few supplies, and two willing hands.
This necklace, based on the one I wore to my sister's wedding last month, takes that idea a step further. As you are probably aware, the world's coral reefs are threatened by ocean warming and other man-made perils. So, while I love the color and movement of natural coral, I avoid it in my work. Instead, a simple technique, combined with beautifully colored beads, makes it possible to capture the spirit of that nature-made wonder with more eco-friendly materials.
If you've never made jewelry before, you may need to review some fabrication basics before starting. If you have questions, leave them in the comments section, and I'll try to answer them for everyone. This is a very simple technique--don't be afraid to change it up and make it your own--use different colors (opaque white coral? very chic!), make short branches of coral and connect them together using lengths of chain, make a multi-strand bracelet, or dangle a branch or two from earwires for a real statement.
1) MATERIALS. You will need the following:
- chain-nose pliers
- crimping pliers (optional -- you can use the chain-nose pliers to flatten the crimp beads, but the effect will not be as polished as if you use the crimping pliers)
- flush wire cutter
- 2 crimp beads
- multi-strand beading wire (I used a high-quality product that is plated in 24K gold--you can also get this wire in silver-plate, stainless steel, and sterling silver varieties. Usually, the higher the number of the beading wire, the higher the quality)
- jump ring or chain with large (1/8" or larger) links
- Czech fire-polish beads (I used a color called "persimmon")
- coral and/or red briolettes (I used two sizes for variety, but this is not necessary--any size briolette will work so long as you like it--see below for some suggested online sources)
2) Start by cutting a length of beading wire 4 inches longer than you want your necklace to be. Some of this length will be lost to the kinking caused by the briolettes, and the rest will be needed to pull the necklace taut. Thread a crimp bead onto your wire. Then pass the same end of the wire through your jump ring (or chain--if you want an adjustable necklace, pre-made chain works like a charm). Thread the wire back through your crimp bead, creating a loop around the jump ring. Push the crimp bead flush with the jump ring, and pull the beading wire taut, leaving about a 1.25" tail. Flatten the crimp bead in place with your crimping pliers.
3) Begin threading your fire-polish beads onto the wire, making sure to pass the first 3 beads over the tail you created in step 2.
4) Add a briolette. Then add three more beads. You will alternate three round beads, followed by a briolette for the entire necklace. Leave the remaining 1/2" or so of the tail exposed as you continue to bead.
5) Continue the pattern of three round beads, followed by one briolette, stopping occasionally to push the beads tightly against one another. This tension is necessary to create the kink that gives this necklace its organic feel.
6) When you have about 1.5-2" of beading wire remaining, thread your wire with a crimp bead, followed by your clasp. Loop the wire back through the crimp bead loosely, and then pass it through 3-5 more beads. Grasping the end of your wire with your chain nose pliers, pull the wire very taut. Flatten the crimp bead in place with your crimping pliers. Trim the exposed wires with your flush cutters, et voilà!
[SOURCES: I must confess I have not been able to find online briolettes identical to the ones I used here. But looking around on Etsy, I did find several that should do the trick just right: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. My finished necklace is about 22" long and required 37 briolettes. Unlike the briolettes, fire-polish beads are plentiful online and in most bead shops, though the persimmon color I used does not seem all that popular. It's always fun to go to a show or a shop and see the beads you're going to use close-up, but if that's not possible, I'd say any opaque red or orange faceted round should work just fine.]