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Hammered Nu Gold Link Chain Necklace - Detail

The History of Chain Making in Jewelry Design

Hammered Nu Gold Chain Link Necklace
Hammered Nu Gold Chain Link Necklace

Among scores of volumes written and authoritative reports on the history of the use of metal in fashioning jewelry throughout the centuries, the information surprisingly reveals little on the development and use of chain.

Bead stringing, out of which chain certainly evolved, in contrast, was a highly-developed art, for example, among the Egyptians as long ago as 5000 years B.C. It is among the examples of the remarkable gold jewelry work of these people that the use of rope chain is first noted. This first use, as far as we can determine, did not come until centuries later, about 1990 B.C.

Hammered Nu Gold Link Chain Necklace - Detail
Hammered Nu Gold Link Chain Necklace – Detail

In the intervening years, however, the skill in the use of twisted gold wire in making links for use in bracelets, necklaces, belts, and pectorals in Egypt, displays a constant degree of higher skill and craftsmanship. It seems logical that as more elaborate jewelry developed, the first examples of chain (at least in Egypt) evolved. This was found to be in excavations made about 1895 in Egypt, which proved to be the tomb of a princess which historical records indicate lived almost 2000 years before the time of Christ. Numerous examples of finely-detailed gold and gemstone necklaces were found — and these were most noteworthy for the use of a perfect “foxtail” type rope chain. There would appear to be a relation here to the use of solder, as the beautifully symmetrical design is formed with soldered joints. The jewelry referred to is displayed in the Cairo museum. This museum visit is a “must” for anyone visiting Egypt.

Amazonite Sterling Silver Chain Maille Necklace
Amazonite Sterling Silver Chain Maille Necklace

In the centuries following, numerous examples of chain — from elaborate link-type to elaborate rope-types are displayed in the museums throughout the world. The Louvre in Paris has good examples dating from the 3rd-4th century AD. Many of these are in Roman style jewelry, interspersed with some examples believed to be from eastern nations.

In the intervening centuries the use of chain has become so universal in jewelry-making that, for the most part, few of us give little attention to the endless variety and sizes of chains available. Obviously, the machine age, in which manufactured chain, from the most inexpensive to the finest quality in silver and gold, literally spout from automatic machines, is the reason we take it all for granted.

Chased Gold Chandelier Chain Link Earrings
Chased Gold Chandelier Chain Link Earrings

But chain making, as it was done thousands of years ago, link by link, by the patient and keen-sighted artists is not a lost art. In fact, there may have been more original designs and patterns created in the past generation than at any comparable time in history. Many more are doing it for the challenge it offers as an art form. It requires both determination and patience. Reward? The knowledge that your handmade chain has no exact duplicate.

Even more so, if it is an original pattern, or one that cannot be machine made it has more value — and there are some patterns so complex that machines cannot duplicate them. At many of the gem and jewelry shows sponsored by local clubs, you will find chain-making a part of the “how-to-do-it” demonstrations. There is no age barrier or requirements in making chain. Children easily learn the simple patterns, and with nimble hands, and sharp eyes, make excellent progress. On the opposite extreme (and not excluding anyone between) the older people find it a fascinating challenge requiring few materials and tools. It is a hobby that must be near the ultimate in a way to make surplus time pass so quickly it literally goes unnoticed.

Chased Stainless Steel Chain Link Necklace
Chased Stainless Steel Chain Link Necklace

Because chain-making is a subject about which little has been written, we can find little more than a few paragraphs, or at most, brief chapters in books relating to the subject. The reason for the lack of information would become obvious if you were to go beyond making some very simple chain and attempt to write instructions on how to do rope chains.

Chain making just seems to be a craft where written (or event illustrated) instructions do not completely fill the need. Person-to-person direction is by far the best way to teach and learn.

To find out more about making chains, the obvious source is to talk to one who has had countless hours of experience in making chain, and as a demonstrator at gem shows has had background of teaching what he knows to others.