Chain Maille Metals – What Are Rings Made Of?

In the beginning, when chain maille was armor, iron was the metal of choice.  But now there are myriad choices!  Whether you like precious metals for your chain maille jewelry or if you’d like to experiment with color, rings are made out of metals the originators of maille never dreamed of!

So…how about we discuss some of  the metals that jump rings are made from?  (And if you need a little info and/or refresher on gauging and sizing rings, check out the maille/ring details page.)

Precious Metals

First let’s talk about the precious metals– gold, silver, titanium and niobium.  I know, titanium and niobium aren’t quite in the same class as silver and gold, but as far as maille goes, they are classed as precious.

Silver.  This includes fine, sterling, argentium and the new kid on the block, silver-filled.  One of the biggest pros is the look — silver and maille seem made for each other.  And if you plan to sell your work, you’re more likely to get a larger profit from silver.

The cons for silver include the fact that silver, especially fine silver, can be pretty soft.  In the finer gauges this means that it’s easy to distort the rings when opening and closing.  Another con is price — silver has gotten pretty expensive, so it’s not a metal to use for practicing new weaves!  If you’re sensitive to copper, argentium or fine silver are better choices than sterling.

Gold.  Includes 18k, 14k, 12k and gold-filled.  No doubt about it — gold chain maille jewelry is gorgeous!  And there isn’t a lot of it out on the market, so it’s doubly amazing.

Cons?  Price!  Those with metal allergies will do better with 18k than lower karats.  Gold-filled is a more economical way to get the glorious look, but it’s still expensive.

Titanium.  Known as a hypoallergenic metal, it is naturally a silvery color — somewhat like antiqued silver.  But this wonderful metal also comes in colors!  By a process known as anodizing, titanium can blossom in a variety of beautiful hues.  If you want colorful rings with a high perceived value, do consider titanium.

Cons include that it’s a little tough to work with — the metal is stiff to manipulate, except in the smaller gauges (20 and 22 gauge).  Also, the anodized colors are not all the way through the metal so they can be scratched.  (True of all anodized colors.)

Niobium.  Also known as hypoallergenic, it’s naturally a grayish color.  But like titanium, it can be anodized to a wide variety of shades.   Niobium is better known than titanium as hypoallergenic, so those with metal allergies might want to stick with niobium.  It also has a high perceived value.

Cons include price (less than gold and silver, more than titanium) and like titanium, anodized colors can be scratched.  It’s a stiff metal, but not as stiff as titanium.

Other Metals

When it comes to jewelry from chain maille, there are quite a few choices.  Not all of the ring materials are suitable for jewelry, but many are.  Here’s a run-down on the most commonly used jump ring metals for jewelry.

Copper (including enameled copper).  Copper is a soft metal, so it’s easy to use in he thicker gauges.  Of course, this can also be a con (discussed below).  It’s fairly inexpensive, which means that you can afford to experiment — always a plus!  If you like colorful chain maille, enameled copper is widely available and comes in a rainbow of hues.

Cons include being soft — makes it easy to distort rings in thinner gauges or higher ARs.  Copper also tarnishes very easily, although easily cleaned with lemon juice, baking soda and even catsup!  Enameled copper colors can be scratched as well.

Aluminum.  Light and strong, aluminum is a great material to use.  Just be careful – there are several kinds of aluminum rings, and not all are suitable for jewelry.  Look for anodized or bright aluminum; otherwise you’ll end up with black rub-off.  It’s also quite inexpensive.  Being so light, it is a fantastic material for earrings.  The anodized colors are very bright and clear.

Cons include that many people don’t want to wear it (although it’s been shown to be hard to absorb via the skin), and the fact that it’s so light!  For anyone who equates weight with worth, aluminum will disappoint.  And as with others, anodized colors can be scratched.

Stainless Steel.  Very popular for men’s jewelry, stainless usually well-tolerated by those with metal allergies, providing it doesn’t include much nickel – check with the supplier if metal allergies are an issue.  Quite heavy (also a con), it’s also pretty inexpensive.

Cons include weight (earrings are heavy) and the fact that it’s a very hard metal.  You’ll need heavier-duty pliers to manipulate steel– it’s tough.  Then again, it’s jewelry that will last a lifetime — many lifetimes, actually!

Which Metal is Best?

That is entirely up to you!  I’ve used copper, enameled copper, aluminum, anodized niobium, sterling, argentium and gold-filled with wonderful results.  Up to this point, my tutorials have been done using enameled copper.

I am looking forward to using titanium (regular and anodized) and anodized aluminum.  Not sure about stainless yet, but I’ll probably succumb at some point!

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