Frequently Asked Questions

About Our Rings

Cuts and Kerfs

All of our rings are saw cut using hand guided power tools. The kerf is tiny and the ends have a mirror finish.

Our Metals

We make rings from half hard sterling silver (SS), Argentium sterling (AG), palladium sterling (PDS), platinum sterling (PTS), yellow gold filled (GFY), rose gold filled (GFR), silver filled (SF) and 18K gold in yellow, red, pink, green and palladium white.

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is an alloy of at least 92.5% pure silver with no more than 7.5% something else. Our sterling (and sterling from any reputable US supplier) is made with copper as the something else. We work primarily in sterling and make rings in a wide range of sizes in seven wire shapes (round, square, diamond, twisted, half round, half flat and multistrand). We make and stock many round ring sizes and the most popular shaped ring sizes and make the other sizes to order.

Argentium Sterling

Argentium sterling is a proprietary sterling alloy in which a small amount of the copper has been replaced with germanium, a member of the silicon family. It's identical to traditional sterling in appearance when polished but Argentium resists tarnish far longer than traditional sterling and will fuse. It has all the desirable properties of fine silver but with the strength and hardness of traditional sterling. Argentium's tarnish resistant properties can be maximized by baking it at a low heat in a home oven and it can be hardened significantly by baking at a high heat, again, in a home oven.

For further information on Argentium, you might want to read:

Road Testing Argentium Sterling by Cynthia Eid

Palladium Sterling

Palladium is a member of the platinum family and 30 times rarer than gold. It's whiter than platinum and is naturally tarnish resistant. When alloyed with sterling, the color has a slight grey cast and is 'richer' than sterling - it almost looks like Mercury. Our Palladium sterling is an alloy of 92.5% pure silver (that percentage is what defines sterling as sterling), 4.5% copper and 3% palladium. Palladium sterling is a little harder and stronger than traditional sterling and because of its finer, harder surface, it shines more brilliantly.

Both Palladium Sterling and Platinum Sterling are an excellent way to increase the value of your work.

Platinum Sterling

Platinum sterling is an alloy of 92.5% pure silver (that percentage is what defines sterling as sterling), 6.5% copper and 1% pure platinum. Our Platinum sterling is a little bit harder and stronger than traditional sterling and Palladium Sterling. While it still has somewhat of grey tint from the Platinum, and because it has a finer, harder surface, it shines more brilliantly than traditional sterling.

Both Palladium Sterling and Platinum Sterling are an excellent way to increase the value of your work.

Gold Filled Yellow, Rose and White

We currently offer Yellow Gold-Filled and Rose Gold-Filled rings. We hope to offer White Gold-Filled in the near future.

Our Gold-Filled rings are 14/20 Gold-Fill, which means that 14k Gold composes 1/20th of the weight of the material. The 14k Gold is bonded to a red brass alloy (CD 220) core. The value of our Gold-Filled materials is greater than plated materials because there is an actual layer of precious metal versus the microscopic layer of plating.

The gold-filled round rings are an almost exact match to our sterling round rings. The gold-filled shaped rings (square, diamond, twisted, half round) are a slightly different shape than our precious metal shaped wire - please contact us for more information if you intend to mix filled and precious metal materials. Gold-filled and silver-filled shaped wire are an exact match.

Our gold-filled material is not guaranteed to be 100% nickel free but the content is very low. Gold-filled, or gold overlay, is made by heat- and pressure-bonding a thin layer of 14K gold to a brass core. This is the global standard practice for the manufacture of gold-filled and silver-filled materials.

The brass core in our material is CDA 220. The Materials Safety Data Sheet for CDA (Copper Development Association) 220 designates that the alloy must contain less than 0.05% (one half of one percent) nickle [Ni] and is compliant with European Union nickel content laws.

Silver Filled

Our silver-filled rings are 1/10 silver fill, which means that silver composes 1/10th of the weight of the material. The silver is bonded to a red brass alloy (CD 220) core. The value of our silver-filled materials is greater than plated materials because there is an actual layer of the precious metal versus a microscopic layer of plating.

The silver-filled round rings are an almost exact match to our sterling round rings. The silver-filled shaped rings (square, diamond, twisted, half round) are a slightly different shape than our precious metal shaped wire. Please contact us for more information if you intend to mix filled and precious metal materials. Gold-Filled and silver-filled shaped wire are an exact match.

Our silver-filled material is not guaranteed to be 100% nickel free but the content is very low - Silver-filled, or silver overlay, is made by heat- and pressure-bonding a thin layer of fine silver to a brass core. This is the global standard practice for the manufacture of gold-filled and silver-filled materials.

The brass core in our material is CDA 220. The Materials Safety Data Sheet for CDA (Copper Development Association) 220 designates that the alloy must contain less than 0.05% (one half of one percent) Nickle [Ni] and is compliant with European Union nickel content laws.


We use pure copper (99.9% which is as pure as copper gets) and we harden it for strength. The finished rings are a little bit softer than our sterling rings, but not much. We make a wide range of sizes (26g/1.0mm to 8g/20.0mm in 1/8mm increments) in seven wire shapes (round, square, diamond, twisted, half round, half flat and multistrand) and keep most cut, polished and in stock at all times.


Now you can test new designs and work out all of your sizing requirements before making an investment in sterling and other precious metals.

Urban Maille's Bronze is a custom alloy that has been specifically designed for color, hardness and ease of processing into wire. There is no industry standard for Bronze alloy composition like there is for Sterling - (i.e. .925). The temper of this wire was custom designed to match the temper of our precious metal rings, which makes them ideal for testing new patterns and designs.

The rings are a tiny bit stiffer, but not any more difficult to close. People who have worked with it say it's equivalent to about 1 gauge difference. i.e. 18g feels like 16g, 20g feels like 18g, etc... But size wise, the round wire rings are very close in measurement (usually within 1/10th of a mm) to our sterling and other precious metal rings.

The shaped wire rings and round rings 22g and smaller have more variance in temper and other characteristics and size adjustments may be required. Please contact us for more information if you intend to mix Bronze with other metals or to verify sizing for shaped rings.

18K Yellow, Red, Pink, Green and Palladium White Gold

We make solid 18K gold rings by custom order and they are priced by the ring, rather than by troy ounces. Minimum order quantities apply to some sizes. In general the order minimums are:

  • 16g: 20 rings
  • 18g: 25 rings
  • 20g: 30 rings
  • 22g: 35 rings
  • 24g: 40 rings 

Our production process, which was specifically developed to harden relatively soft precious metals in order to produce very durable butted maille, hardens gold so much that 14K gold rings and 18K gold rings heavier than 16 gauge are too rigid to work with smooth jawed pliers. For this reason, we currently produce only high karat gold rings no heavier than 16 gauge. If you're interested in a custom order, please click on the "Contact Us" link and request a quote.

Fine Silver and 24K Gold

Fine silver (.999 silver) and 24K gold aren't suitable for butted maille because they're too soft in their unalloyed state. There are people who disagree with that assessment and use fine silver to make butted maille. For us, though, durability is of primary importance and, no matter what you do to it, fine silver won't get harder than half hard sterling. Our sterling rings start out as half hard wire but the process we put it through hardens the finished rings far beyond that point. That same process hardens 18K gold to the point that 16g rings are a workout to close and 14K gold becomes so stiff it's not even workable with smooth jawed pliers. (Which is why we don't make 14K gold rings.) That degree of strength might not be a requirement for every project but as we're making rings, we're well aware that any piece of jewelry made from them could become an heirloom, passed down from generation to generation, and those rings have to be strong. So we make every ring to those standards.

The advantages to using fine silver rather than sterling are the slow tarnish rate and the fact that it can be fused rather than soldered. Argentium provides both of those advantages without any sacrifice of strength so that's what we recommend for those times when fine silver might otherwise be appealing.

Fine silver and 24K gold are perfect for making loop-in-loop chains, however, because not only can the pure metals be fused, as opposed to soldered, which results in closed rings strong enough for stretching, shaping and drawing, but it remains soft and workable which is what's needed for that particular application. So we make those rings by custom order, though we do not yet offer them fused. Request a quote if you'd like some of those rings.

Wire Shapes

We make rings from wire that is round (RD), square (SQ), diamond (DI), twisted (TW), half round (HR), half flat (HF), and multistrand (MS).

AWG Gauges

We make rings in even AWG gauges ranging from 26g (0.4049mm in round wire) through 8g (3.2636mm in round wire).

Mandrels (ID)

We wind our rings on mandrels in these sizes:

1.0mm, 1.125mm, 1.25mm, 1.375mm, 1.5mm, 1.625mm, 1.75mm, 1.875mm, 2.0mm, 2.125mm, 2.25mm, 2.375mm, 2.5mm, 2.625mm, 2.75mm, 2.875mm, 3.0mm, 3.25mm, 3.5mm, 3.75mm, 4.0mm, 4.25mm, 4.5mm, 4.75mm, 5.0mm, 5.25mm, 5.5mm, 5.75mm, 6.0mm, 6.5mm, 7.0mm, 7.5mm, 8.0mm, 8.5mm, 9.0mm, 9.5mm, 10.0mm, 12.0mm, 14.0mm, 16.0mm, and 20.0mm

MTO - Make to Order

Most orders for stock items ship in about a week; larger orders and complex orders can take a bit longer.

MTO (Make To Order) items can take up to 10 business days to ship. Normally we're a bit faster but that's why we classify them as MTO because sometimes production does take longer. MTO literally means we don't make the rings until we have an order for them.

Urban Maille is a factory, not a warehouse. We make over 30,000 unique rings, every possible permutation of shape, gauge, metal and mandrel.

Because we're a little factory, we produce different items on different days. The production setup for making 12g/7.0mm sterling rings is quite different than making 26g/1.125mm gold filled rings. And some metals are run at different production times to avoid mixing with other metals.

Most of the fills as well as the more exotic sterlings and all of the shapes (squares, diamonds, half rounds, etc.) are classified as MTO. In general, you can expect most MTOs to take at least 5 days. If you would like your stock items shipped more quickly than the MTO items, place two separate orders. A second shipping charge is all that's required to split the MTOs from an existing order.

You're always welcome to write to us before placing an MTO order to get an estimate of when the order will ship. If you have a deadline to meet, we'll do what we can to prioritize your order and get it out to you faster.

Converting Imperial Sizes to Metric

inches mm mm (.00)
1 64 0.015625 0.396875 0.4
1 32 0.03125 0.79375 0.79
3 64 0.046875 1.190625 1.19
1 16 0.0625 1.5875 1.59
5 64 0.078125 1.984375 1.98
3 32 0.09375 2.38125 2.38
7 64 0.109375 2.778125 2.78
1 8 0.125 3.175 3.18
9 64 0.140625 3.571875 3.57
5 32 0.15625 3.96875 3.97
11 64 0.171875 4.365625 4.37
3 16 0.1875 4.7625 4.76
13 64 0.203125 5.159375 5.16
7 32 0.21875 5.55625 5.56
15 64 0.234375 5.953125 5.95
1 4 0.25 6.35 6.35
17 64 0.265625 6.746875 6.75
9 32 0.28125 7.14375 7.14
19 64 0.296875 7.540625 7.54
5 16 0.3125 7.9375 7.94
21 64 0.328125 8.334375 8.33
11 32 0.34375 8.73125 8.73
23 64 0.359375 9.128125 9.13
3 8 0.375 9.525 9.53
25 64 0.390625 9.921875 9.92
13 32 0.40625 10.31875 10.32
27 64 0.421875 10.715625 10.72
7 16 0.4375 11.1125 11.11
29 64 0.453125 11.509375 11.51
15 32 0.46875 11.90625 11.91
31 64 0.484375 12.303125 12.3
1 2 0.5 12.7 12.7
33 64 0.515625 13.096875 13.1
17 32 0.53125 13.49375 13.49
35 64 0.546875 13.890625 13.89
9 16 0.5625 14.2875 14.29
37 64 0.578125 14.684375 14.68
19 32 0.59375 15.08125 15.08
39 64 0.609375 15.478125 15.48
5 8 0.625 15.875 15.88
41 64 0.640625 16.271875 16.27
21 32 0.65625 16.66875 16.67
43 64 0.671875 17.065625 17.07
11 16 0.6875 17.4625 17.46
45 64 0.703125 17.859375 17.86
23 32 0.71875 18.25625 18.26
47 64 0.734375 18.653125 18.65
3 4 0.75 19.05 19.05
49 64 0.765625 19.446875 19.45
25 32 0.78125 19.84375 19.84
51 64 0.796875 20.240625 20.24
13 16 0.8125 20.6375 20.64
53 64 0.828125 21.034375 21.03
27 32 0.84375 21.43125 21.43
55 64 0.859375 21.828125 21.93
7 8 0.875 22.225 22.23
57 64 0.890625 22.621875 22.62
29 32 0.90625 23.01875 23.02
59 64 0.921875 23.415625 23.42
15 16 0.9375 23.8125 23.81
61 64 0.953125 24.209375 24.21
31 32 0.96875 24.60625 24.61
63 64 0.984375 25.003125 25.0
1 1 1 25.4 25.4

Converting SWG to AWG

Ferrous metals are usually gauged in SWG. Precious metals are usually gauged like ours, in AWG. To use our rings with a maille pattern developed on SWG rings, you'll need to do some conversions.












































































The Role of Aspect Ratio in Design

The two rings on the left have the same inner diameter but wildly different aspect ratios. The top ring, which is thin and spindly like a hula hoop, has a high aspect ratio. The bottom ring, which is fat like a donut, has a low aspect ratio. The two rings on the right are the same aspect ratio. Any weave that works with one will work equally well with the other.

An aspect ratio of 3 or less indicates a fat ring with a small inner diameter (ID), like a donut. The smaller the ID, the stronger the ring; the fatter the wire, the stronger the ring... so a small aspect ratio means a very strong ring. A large aspect ratio of 5 or more indicates a big, skinny ring that isn't going to be all that strong. Such rings should only be used when the weight of the piece will be distributed over many rings. Never leave a ring with a large aspect ratio to take stress on its own.

Any time your design requires just one ring to take the stress alone, you must either use a ring with a small aspect ratio, or solder the ring closed in order to maintain the necessary strength. If a larger aspect ratio is required and you don't want to solder, then you must alter the design to allow the use of multiple rings in that spot to share the stress. Using 2, 3 or even 5 rings, side by side, instead of just one ring alone can be a really beautiful design element and often looks much better than one ring would anyway, so it's no great hardship to make these adjustments and design for strength rather than resorting to solder.

Butted maille -- meaning chain that's made with butted rings rather than rings that are fused, soldered or riveted closed -- requires more skill of the designer than closed ring chains do. Even an unbalanced and poorly designed chain will stay together if every ring is soldered closed, so when speaking of closed ring chains, strength and design skill bear little relationship to one another.

With butted maille, however, strength is all about materials and design. If you're using stainless steel rings, you don't have to be a very skilled designer to make strong maille. Stainless steel is very hard and strong which makes it unforgiving to your hands, but very forgiving of design errors. *s*

Though our ring making process hardens the metal considerably, sterling and most other precious metals will never be hard enough to cover for poor design. To make really strong butted maille from precious metals, it's necessary to understand aspect ratio and how to use it to your advantage. The rewards of this knowledge are great and well worth the time spent acquiring it. Not only does it enable you to make strong and beautiful jewelry from pure, smooth precious metals and nothing else, but it teaches you how to *design* as opposed to just making stuff... and you can't put a price on the value that brings to your work. *s*

Table of Aspect Ratios

Not sure how to use this information? Read all about it!

  8g AR 10g AR 12g AR 14g AR 16g AR
3.000 1.29 2.33
3.250 1.29 2.52
3.500 1.29 2.71
3.750 1.29 2.91
4.000 1.63 2.45 1.29 3.1
4.250 1.63 2.61 1.29 3.29
4.500 1.63 2.76 1.29 3.49
4.750 1.63 2.91 1.29 3.68
5.000 2.05 2.44 1.63 3.07 1.29 3.88
5.250 2.05 2.56 1.63 3.22 1.29 4.07
5.500 2.05 2.68 1.63 3.37 1.29 4.26
5.750 2.05 2.8 1.63 3.53 1.29 4.46
6.000 2.54 2.36 2.05 2.93 1.63 3.68 1.29 4.65
6.500 2.54 2.56 2.05 3.17 1.63 3.99 1.29 5.04
7.000 3.25 2.15 2.54 2.76 2.05 3.41 1.63 4.29 1.29 5.43
7.500 3.25 2.31 2.54 2.95 2.05 3.66 1.63 4.6 1.29 5.81
8.000 3.25 2.46 2.54 3.15 2.05 3.9 1.63 4.91 1.29 6.2
8.500 3.25 2.62 2.54 3.35 2.05 4.15 1.63 5.21 1.29 6.59
9.000 3.25 2.77 2.54 3.54 2.05 4.39 1.63 5.52 1.29 6.98
9.500 3.25 2.92 2.54 3.74 2.05 4.63 1.63 5.83 1.29 7.36
10.0 3.25 3.08 2.54 3.94 2.05 4.88 1.63 6.13 1.29 7.75
11.0 3.25 3.38 2.54 4.33 2.05 5.37 1.63 6.75 1.29 8.53
12.0 3.25 3.69 2.54 4.72 2.05 5.85 1.63 7.36 1.29 9.3
14.0 3.25 4.31 2.54 5.51 2.05 6.83 1.63 8.59 1.29 10.85
16.0 3.25 4.92 2.54 6.3 2.05 7.8 1.63 9.82 1.29 12.4
8 10 12 14 16


  18g AR 20g AR 22g AR 24g AR 26g AR
1.000 0.64 1.56 0.51 1.96 0.40
1.125 0.64 1.76 0.51 2.21 0.40
1.250 0.64 1.95 0.51 2.45 0.40
1.375 0.64 2.15 0.51 2.7 0.40
1.500 0.81 1.85 0.64 2.34 0.51 2.94 0.40
1.625 0.81 2.01 0.64 2.54 0.51 3.19 0.40
1.750 0.81 2.16 0.64 2.73 0.51 3.43 0.40
1.875 0.81 2.31 0.64 2.93 0.51 3.68 0.40
2.000 1.02 1.96 0.81 2.47 0.64 3.13 0.51 3.92 0.40
2.125 1.02 2.08 0.81 2.62 0.64 3.32 0.51 4.17 0.40
2.250 1.02 2.21 0.81 2.78 0.64 3.52 0.51 4.41 0.40
2.375 1.02 2.33 0.81 2.93 0.64 3.71 0.51 4.66 0.40
2.500 1.02 2.45 0.81 3.09 0.64 3.91 0.51 4.9 0.40
2.625 1.02 2.57 0.81 3.24 0.64 4.10 0.51 5.15 0.40
2.750 1.02 2.70 0.81 3.40 0.64 4.30 0.51 5.39 0.40
2.875 1.02 2.82 0.81 3.55 0.64 4.49 0.51 5.64 0.40
3.000 1.02 2.94 0.81 3.70 0.64 4.69 0.51 5.88 0.40
3.250 1.02 3.19 0.81 4.01 0.64 5.08 0.51 6.37 0.40
3.500 1.02 3.43 0.81 4.32 0.64 5.47 0.51 6.86 0.40
3.750 1.02 3.68 0.81 4.63 0.64 5.86 0.51 7.35 0.40
4.000 1.02 3.92 0.81 4.94 0.64 6.25 0.51 7.84 0.40
4.250 1.02 4.17 0.81 5.25 0.64 6.64 0.51 8.33 0.40
4.500 1.02 4.41 0.81 5.56 0.64 7.03 0.51 8.82 0.40
4.750 1.02 4.66 0.81 5.86 0.64 7.42 0.51 9.31 0.40
5.000 1.02 4.90 0.81 6.17 0.64 7.81 0.51 9.8 0.40
5.250 1.02 5.15 0.81 6.48 0.64 8.20 0.51 10.29 0.40
5.500 1.02 5.39 0.81 6.79 0.64 8.59 0.51 10.78 0.40
5.750 1.02 5.64 0.81 7.10 0.64 8.98 0.51 11.27 0.40
6.000 1.02 5.88 0.81 7.41 0.64 9.38 0.51 11.76 0.40
6.500 1.02 6.37 0.81 8.02 0.64 10.16 0.51 12.75 0.40
7.000 1.02 6.86 0.81 8.64 0.64 10.94 0.51 13.73 0.40
7.500 1.02 7.35 0.81 9.26 0.64 11.72 0.51 14.71 0.40
8.000 1.02 7.84 0.81 9.88 0.64 12.50 0.51 15.69 0.40
8.500 1.02 8.33 0.81 10.49 0.64 13.28 0.51 16.67 0.40
9.000 1.02 8.82 0.81 11.11 0.64 14.06 0.51 17.65 0.40
9.500 1.02 9.31 0.81 11.73 0.64 14.84 0.51 18.63 0.40
10.0 1.02 9.80 0.81 12.35 0.64 15.63 0.51 19.61 0.40
11.0 1.02 10.78 0.81 13.58 0.64 17.19 0.51 21.57 0.40
12.0 1.02 11.76 0.81 14.81 0.64 18.75 0.51 23.53 0.40
14.0 1.02 13.73 0.81 17.28 0.64 21.88 0.51 27.45 0.40
16.0 1.02 15.69 0.81 19.75 0.64 25.0 0.51 31.37 0.40
18 20 22 24 26

Tumble Polishing

We highly recommend the use of a rock tumbler and stainless steel shot for cleaning and polishing jewelry. We favor that method so much that most of this page and all the photos are devoted to explaining in detail exactly how to do it, despite the fact that we don't sell tumblers or any supplies for them. We hope you find the information helpful and delight in the relentless shine of the finished product as much as we do.

Until you get a tumbler, or for those times when it isn't convenient to use one, have a look at our page on Other Polishing Methods.

This series of photos with notations details, step by step, how to use a tumbler to polish jewelry. They illustrate everything you need to know to put your new tumbler to good use. Click the first photo and use the side arrows to view the rest.

What Does It Do?

Tumbling with steel shot will shine your jewelry like nothing you've ever seen before. That's not an exaggeration. However high your expectations, you'll still be shocked at the shine the first time and every time for a good long while. You'll wonder how you lived without a tumbler. Everyone does once they see the results.

We tumble all our metals, sterling, Argentium, copper, bronze, palladium and platinum sterling, 18K gold and gold filled. Our normal process keeps the rings separated by metal type, but I often mix metals in my jewelry and so know that all these metals can be tumbled together. Care must be taken, however, in choosing which gemstones to tumble together. Very hard stones could cause damage to very soft stones in the tumbling process. When in doubt, tumble separately.

How Does It Work?

Burnishing is the technical term for what the tumbler does to your jewelry. It's as though your jewelry is being pounded millions of times by tiny little hammers. Although you're likely to hear rumors to the contrary, tumbling is not abrasive and does not remove any material from the surface of the metal. It does not damage metal in any way at all. It will knock off minor burrs if you have them (you won't if you're using our rings *s*) leaving behind something that looks like glitter, and it will burnish away mild scratches. It will not remove gouges, though it will smooth them and make them very shiny. Like all forms of burnishing, tumbling hardens the outer layer of the metal. The net effect can be significant hardening if the metal is very thin, such as headpins, but less dramatic with heavier metals. Although it doesn't seem as though it would be, tumbling is very gentle. Even the most delicate pieces will emerge brilliantly polished and completely unmangled... unless tangling occurs. Even thin headpins will emerge still straight, as long as they don't get tangled with something else and bent as a result. For this reason, you'll want to be careful what sorts of items you tumble together. You'll learn best about that with experience.

What Do I Need?

There are rotary tumblers and vibratory tumblers. We don't use vibratory tumblers (actually, we do now... I'll add an update), but I understand that they work faster than rotary tumblers but also require more shot and are loud and tend to 'walk' with the vibration. We have eight rotary tumblers of two different brands, Lortone and Thumler. Rotary tumblers sound soothing, like a waterfall, they don't walk around and we're not in too much of a hurry to appreciate that. You'll need to choose according to your own needs and preferences, of course, but the information here all relates to the rotary type.

The Lortone 3A is a good tumbler in a good size for jewelry. Search for the best prices, but it will probably cost around $60. The double barreled tumbler is the Lortone 33B. The barrels are identical and interchangeable and the double barreled 33B can run just fine with only one barrel loaded.

You'll need about two pounds of mixed, stainless steel shot to go in it. One pound will work, it just takes longer to get the shine. More than two pounds is likely to bog down the motor because of the weight. Stainless steel shot costs more than carbon steel, but it doesn't rust and become ruined in the absence of perfect caretaking so it's worth the extra investment.

It's not a good idea to use just one shape of shot because no matter which shape you get, that one shape won't touch every tiny nook and cranny of your jewelry pieces the way using all the shapes together will. You can, however, live without pins, so get the shot without pins, if you can find it. They don't hurt the jewelry, but they're a pain to pick out of chain and hollow beads and you don't need them. The purpose of pins is to get into very deep areas, so you might want them if you're doing something unusual such as tumbling Bali silver with the intention of removing every bit of the color from the crevices to leave them totally bright and shiny. The darkness in the crevices is what brings out the detail in Bali silver, though, so removing all of the color will generally leave it looking pretty bland. Tumbling Bali silver without pins definitely lightens it and brings up the shine on the high spots, but it leaves enough darkness in the low places to keep the detail.

I've read that pins can leave ping marks on flat, polished expanses of sterling and copper. I haven't personally experienced this, but I felt I should mention the possibility just in case. If you can't find mixed shot without pins, you can always pick them out or, better yet, use a sieve with holes big enough to let them pass through and shake your new shot around in it til they all fall out. In addition to the tumbler and the shot, all you need is Dawn dishwashing liquid.

Dawn is a degreasing dishwashing liquid commonly available in the US. Original blue Dawn or Dawn Ultra (also blue) both work well in tumblers. If Dawn is not available where you live, look for a degreasing dishwashing liquid that does not contain bleach, moisturizers or other additives. We've heard that Fairy Liquid and Simple Green both work well, though we have not tested either of them ourselves.

What Do I Do With It?

There are as many 'recipes' for tumbling as there are people who do it and much of the advice people give is conflicting. In addition to the several hundred troy ounces of sterling rings we tumble every week, I've tumbled every piece of jewelry I've ever made and the shine speaks for itself. This is the way we do it and what we recommend.

Run a new tumbler for a couple of hours with nothing but the shot, enough water to cover it and a couple of healthy squirts of Dawn the first time. Rinse the tumbler and shot well afterward, then you're ready to go.

With the clean shot in the tumbler, add the jewelry (you can polish multiple pieces together, but fine chains will tangle and earring wires will tangle with chain, as well), a healthy squirt of Dawn and enough water to cover everything. Put the lid on snugly and tumble from half an hour to overnight. As long as you put the lid on correctly, you don't need to worry about it sudsing up and blowing off. There have been times we've used more Dawn than any sane person ever would and the only time we've had even a minor bubble leak was when we didn't put the lid on well. Despite hundreds of hours of tumbling in multiple tumblers and running through many cases of Dawn, we've never had a single leak that amounted to more than a tablespoon of suds... so no worries.

Some stones require special care. Amber can be ruined in a tumbler because it can't stand to be soaked in water. Soft stones such as turquoise and malachite can lose their polish and become dull. Brittle stones such as opal can shatter, pearls can have their nacre damaged, emeralds can seep oily resin and make a mess of everything else, as well as themselves... so you polish all beads and gems at your own risk. It's always better to test tumble a lone bead or two than to take the chance of ruining a finished piece. Having said all that, though, I have to also say I've never had anything ruined in the tumbler and I tumble everything. (Except amber; I've never tumbled that because I ruined some once just soaking it in water.) Your mileage might vary, of course, so always test tumble a single bead if you are at all unsure. As mentioned before, mixing soft stones with hard stones can result in damage to the soft stones. (Compare stones on the Mohs Scale if you aren't sure of their relative hardness.) Any time you feel worried, tumble an item alone; it's always the safest tumbling option.

Use great caution when draining your shot into the sink. Always use a good sieve that can take the weight. If you drop even one piece of shot down the drain on the garbage disposal side, get it out by any means necessary before the disposal is turned on. It only takes one piece of shot to ruin a garbage disposal. (Update... sometime after posting this page, someone told me about getting a bit of shot out of the disposal by holding a wadded up piece of bread with a pair of tongs and pressing the shot into it while holding a flashlight to see down the disposal. You might want to keep that method in mind, just in case.)

If you ever open your tumbler and find everything in there has turned mysteriously dark, don't panic. Although people often insist you need only one drop of Dawn, there is a limit to how much crud -- for lack of a more technical term -- can be held in suspension by one drop of Dawn. If your jewelry has turned uniformly dark, it simply means that the crud removed has overloaded the amount of Dawn you used and been uniformly redeposited onto your jewelry. Rinse out the black water, put in fresh water and considerably more Dawn and tumble again. The answer to the mysterious darkness is always more Dawn.

The Mysterious Darkness

In our own experience, the mysterious darkness is always caused by overloading the Dawn (which is a degreasing dishwashing liquid) with more than it can hold in suspension. Dirty shot, base metal contaminants and even hard water can all contribute to what has to be held in suspension. If the problem is very bad, the shot and jewelry will need to be cleaned separately prior to tumbling again. See the follow up below for information on how to do that.

There is, evidently, a second type of jewelry darkening, though, related to using a tumbler barrel made of a lower quality rubber. A really bad smell appears to be a clue to that problem. See the follow up and be sure to read the comments for more information from our customers on how to deal with that problem.

Traditional Jewelers' Methods

Given all the benefits of tumble polishing and all the risks of using traditional jewelers' polishing methods, especially for chain, it makes no sense at all to polish chain by traditional methods. A tumbler will remove minor burrs, burnish and harden the metal, deliver an absolutely breathtaking shine and all while you're off doing something else productive with your time. A tumbler is an inexpensive investment, it does not produce nasty dust for you to breathe and it will never, ever snatch off one of your fingers. Just don't polish chains by traditional methods anymore; it's not healthy and it's not smart. Just the facts, no offense intended. Please keep in mind that we don't sell tumblers, shot or Dawn and we don't recommend any particular vendor who does. We include this detailed information on tumble polishing purely as a service to our customers, because it results in the best shine for the least effort, it's absolutely safe and environmentally friendly. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Just the Faqs, Ma'am

Hello! I came to your site to purchase sterling rings but in browsing I came across your recommendations regarding tumble-polishing. I have a question and I've searched high and low without finding a suitable answer. Since you seem very knowlegable, I hope you can help! Can you safely tumble jewelry made using Swarovski crystal beads? What about glass beads?

The answers are yes and yes. It's always possible that something could have a flaw in it, like a crack in a crystal or a lampwork glass bead that wasn't annealed properly, and the tiny pinging in the tumbler could make that flaw show itself... but if that happens, the flaw was already there and the bead would have broken sooner or later anyway. Better it happens while you still have it then after you've sent it off to a customer. Still, though, in all my years of tumbling every thing I make, including plenty of Swarovski and glass, I've never had a casualty, so you're pretty safe. Anytime you're in doubt, though, just sacrifice a bead and tumble it alone. *s*

Note: It's generally not a good idea to tumble anything with a coating on it. I don't use the Swarovski crystals with coatings myself, but I've heard tumbling can dull the shine. Just FYI.

More on Tumbling

We get a lot of questions about tumble polishing jewelry so consider this part 2.

Vibratory versus Rotary

We've added a couple of vibratory tumblers since the tumbling page was written so I can now offer some comparative information. The vibratory definitely works faster. Some people claim the vibratory is more gentle and maybe it is, since everything in it shuffles around on top of the shot rather than rolling in it, but since I've never had anything, even the most delicate wire earrings or stones, damaged in a rotary, I don't know that more gentle is of any actual benefit. The vibratory is quite loud and requires a good deal more shot. Since the shot can cost more than a tumbler, this can be a bad thing. Gary prefers the vibratory tumblers because they hold a lot and they're faster but he's tumbling massive numbers of rings. I still prefer the rotary tumblers for jewelry because I'm never tumbling great quantities at once, I'm never in a huge hurry and it makes a soothing, swishy sound that isn't annoying.

Hardening: Fact or Myth?

Some people say that tumbling doesn't actually harden the metal. I know otherwise because of an experiment we did when we got our first vibratory.

Gary wanted to know how long we should tumble rings in the vibratory in order for them to match the hardness of the rings tumbled in the rotary. He tumbled four batches of 16g/4.5mm rings in increments, increasing by a half hour each time, and put cryptic labels on them so I wouldn't know which was which. I made a bit of chain using our normal rotary tumbled rings in the same size, then I worked with each of the mystery batches of rings to find the one that most closely matched the stiffness of our usual rings. I picked out the match, but I also put the mystery batches in order from the least time tumbled to the greatest, based on how hard the rings were. If the rings weren't hardened by the tumbling, I don't see how it would have been possible to order them as I did. The difference was significant enough that it was quite easy to order them correctly.

Stones and Glass

I still tumble everything I make and I still haven't had any damage... except for one small thing. I tumbled some pink mystic topaz which is actually white topaz with a coating on it that makes it pink. I forgot it was in the tumbler, left it all night, and it was white topaz when I took it out. So again, tumbling anything with a coating is risky business. It could probably tolerate a short tumble but not all night. I recommend test tumbling a single bead when it's important. I wish I'd taken my own advice on that because those earrings were really nice when they were pink. ~wry smile~

If you tumble a dyed stone, it's very likely to lose its dye. The answer to that, of course, is don't use dyed stones. They're going to bleed on your customers' skin anyway so it's better to just avoid them altogether.

Gun Stores

Evidently, vibratory tumblers are used to polish shells for reloading and so are available in gun stores and at a better price. Be aware that weight is an issue with tumblers and stainless steel shot is very heavy. If the tumbler is intended for use with ground walnut shells, rice or some other weightless tumbling media, steel shot is likely to overload the motor's capacity. Also, some of those tumblers are meant for dry media only and can't take the water and soap used with stainless steel shot. So if you shop for a tumbler at a gun store or some other alternative outlet, ask about the weight capacity and ask about using water in it.

Note: The stainless steel shot used for tumbling jewelry is not the same thing as shot used in shotgun shells. Don't buy gun shot for tumbling jewelry.

Yellowed Silver

If you've read our tumble polishing jewelry page, you've seen the bit about the mysterious darkness. Yellowing is the first stage of that darkness, just like it's the first stage of tarnishing. If you get yellow, brown, grey or black on your metal and you've followed the directions for rinsing the tumbler and shot, adding clean water and a lot more Dawn, given it another tumble and it still hasn't gone away, you need to do two things.

First clean your jewelry using the aluminum foil method (below).

Once your jewelry is clean, you have to figure out what contaminated your tumbler. Base metal of any sort is usually the culprit. Some people say that black comes off the inside of the tumbler barrel and gets on the jewelry but I've never known that to be the case and we've done more tumbling than most people will in a lifetime. Of course, we only use Dawn in ours so it's possible that people using some other cleaning compound, perhaps something that damages rubber, would have different experiences. We have worn out tumblers to the point that the metal barrel was peeking through the rubber inside and contaminating the sterling, though, so watch for that if your tumbler barrel is metal and you've used it a lot or the rubber has been damaged in some way.

Tumble scrap sterling to test your tumbler so you don't risk jewelry while you're cleaning it up. If Dawn isn't working to get the black out, put a lot of baking soda in your tumbler with the shot and water and tumble it overnight. Rinse the shot and tumbler really thoroughly because baking soda is slightly abrasive. Then test tumble some scrap sterling with Dawn and water again. I've never seen a case of an undamaged barrel that wasn't cleaned by this method.

Aluminum Foil Method

Line the bottom of a glass pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Boil water. Lay the jewelry on the foil (it must be touching aluminum) and sprinkle it with a generous amount of washing soda*. Let the boiling water cool a bit and pour it in the pan to cover the jewelry. Bear in mind that some stones are sensitive to heat. I cracked some fluorite doing this but that's been my only casualty. You'll see bubbles forming. Very quickly, the tarnish will jump off the jewelry and get on the aluminum. It just takes a minute, then you can remove and rinse the jewelry and it'll look nice again.

* Washing soda is an old fashioned laundry additive that might be difficult to find locally. Fortunately, you can easily make washing soda out of baking soda. Baking soda will work in this process but it doesn't work as well as washing soda.

Where to Buy Stainless Steel Shot

There are many places to get it but it's hard to buy something you've never seen before, so here's a link: 

Stainless Steel Shot

I would recommend two of those with a 3lb. Lortone tumbler but 1 pound will work, it just takes longer.

If you have tumbler questions, please feel free to post them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

Stones: To Tumble or Not?

Here's a question from the mailbag that I thought might make a good topic of discussion. Please feel free to comment with your own experiences and we might just create the requested resource ourselves.

"Do you know of a resource that tells you which gems/semi-precious that can/can't be tumble polished with stainless steel? I am looking for a general resource, but specifically moonstone."

I don't know of a definitive resource and I don't really see how there could be one because a lot depends on the quality of the stone. Low quality stones that have cracks and fissures or are chalky aren't as likely to take the millions of tiny pings of tumbling as well as higher quality, more solid stones. And that's just one example of a difference... any stone could have a flaw that doesn't show itself until it's tumbled. The way I see it, though, that flaw is going to show itself sooner or later and I'd rather see it while I still have it then after its gone to a customer.

If you're concerned, the best thing to do, in my opinion, is sacrifice the least appealing stone in the strand and tumble it alone. There's usually at least one stone that's a little wonky so throw it in the tumbler overnight, examine it closely the next morning and you'll know what to expect. As for moonstone, I've tumbled it dozens of times and never had a casualty so you're probably pretty safe with that one.

Polishing: Other Methods

If you've ever polished the family silver, you've had your introduction to cleaning sterling by means of chemical compounds. There are sprays and dips intended for use on jewelry, as well, but because we prefer to keep our chemical use to a minimum, we have no experience with them. These are the methods we've used.

Polishing Cloths

Polishing cloths are portable and easy to use. The brand we carry, Sunshine Polishing Cloths, are generally most favored because they do an excellent job of cleaning and removing tarnish without the mess of rouge impregnated polishing cloths. They're recommended for all precious metals and can be used until the cloth is completely black on both sides. They are not washable and should be thrown away at that point.

Baking Soda Paste

Before I had a tumbler, I cleaned and polished my sterling using a paste of baking soda and water and an old toothbrush. It really brings out the shine and I recommend this method whenever a tumbler isn't available. To clean deeply tarnished sterling, the piece can be covered with the paste in a bowl and left to soak overnight. I ruined some amber that way once, though, so use caution and don't leave any questionably soft gems to soak.

Aluminum Foil & Washing Soda

Line the bottom of a glass pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Boil water. Lay the jewelry on the foil (it must be touching aluminum) and sprinkle it with a generous amount of washing soda*. Let the boiling water cool a bit and pour it in the pan to cover the jewelry. Bear in mind that the water must be very hot and some stones are sensitive to heat. I cracked some fluorite doing this but that's been my only casualty. You'll see bubbles forming. Very quickly, the tarnish will jump off the jewelry and get on the aluminum. It just takes a minute, then you can remove and rinse the jewelry and it'll be bright again.

You know those kits sometimes advertised on tv that are said to remove tarnish like magic? This is how they work. They come with an aluminum plate but otherwise this is the same method. If you use this method frequently, you might consider getting such a kit because the plate is convenient and reusable but try it this way first to make sure you like it.

This method is particularly good for removing tarnish from coils and other tight places. It leaves sterling and argentium very white but not necessarily shiny. If you find that your now very clean jewelry still needs a shine, you can use a tumbler, a polishing cloth, or the mild abrasive action of the baking soda paste method, as described above.

* Washing soda is an old fashioned laundry additive that might be difficult to find locally. Fortunately, you can easily make washing soda out of baking soda. Baking soda will work in this process but it doesn't work as well as washing soda.

Cleaning and Polishing Copper

A mixture of lemon juice and salt or white vinegar and salt is a very effective solution for cleaning copper. You might have seen half a lemon salted and used to scrub copper bottom pots. For jewelry, dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a cup of lemon juice or vinegar (measurements are fairly arbitrary and can be adjusted as you see fit) and keep the mixture in a jar with a lid. Drop the jewelry in the jar, swish it around for a moment, then remove, rinse, rub it all over with baking soda to neutralize it, then rinse it again. However mild, lemon juice and vinegar are still acids and you don't want to leave acid sitting on your jewelry. If it isn't neutralized, it will form microscopic pits in the metal, increasing the surface area so that even more tarnish can develop. (Thanks to Kate for that tip!) You can clean copper this way as often as you like. When the mixture begins to dry up, just add water to reconstitute it. (In a pinch you can also use ketchup to clean copper. It's messy but it works because it's quite acidic and contains a lot of salt.)

If you find that your copper turns out pink and clean but looks a bit matte, polish while you neutralize by making a paste of baking soda and water and using an old toothbrush to gently scrub the copper chain in the palm of your hand. It will have the most beautiful, rich gleam afterward, different from the blinding shine of the tumbler, more of a deep understated glow.

This method can also be used for jewelry that contains both copper and sterling. The acid and salt solution doesn't appear to do much to the sterling but the baking soda paste on a toothbrush will, so at the end of that process, both metals will be gleaming.

Will Copper Make My Skin Turn Green?

Copper oxidizes by darkening and then turning green, just as sterling does so by tarnishing and iron does so by rusting. It's a natural process and the environment determines how quickly it happens. It happens faster in high humidity, but the speed of oxidation is also affected by the body chemistry of different people. Some people wear copper every day and it never turns green and some people wear it and it turns in one day. Some people can turn sterling dark in one day, too. We're all different in that way. You can seal your copper jewelry so that it can't turn. That's not something I do, but I've read recommendations for something called Renaissance Wax, Krylon clear acrylic spray paint and something you can buy at music stores intended for use on brass instruments. Before you decide to use something to seal your copper, though, at least consider the possible therapeutic benefits of leaving it natural. We make no claims for copper because we don't know, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest it might be helping people with arthritis. Pepper, one of our dear customers and friends, has a theory about this, quoted below with her permission.

"People with high levels of acid in their systems will react to copper against their skin. High acid levels in the human body are a contributing factor for arthritis. People who wear copper bracelets are thought to have the acid in their system drawn out by the copper. Yes, for a period of time the skin will turn dark colors. Once the acid levels have gone down due to the copper extracting the acid from the body then the copper will no longer turn the skin colors. The arthritis is alleviated. The body works best with a neutral pH balance. Not too much acid and not too much alkaline, around a pH of 7. Yes, you can coat it with a film to keep it from reacting to skin, but why? Just place a copper piece of jewelry in an inconspicuous place on your body -- winter would allow it to be worn on ankle -- and let a few days go by, wash the area daily, and then see if the discoloring still occurs. Also see if you start to feel physically better. If you wear your copper jewelry every day and wash it as you bathe then it will not turn colors and will stay as shiny as a new penny. Hope this helps answer some questions! My opinions above and not that of a medical doctor." -- PEPPER

Brad, another customer and friend, did a little research on this topic recently and, with his permission, we've added his findings below. If you have customers interested in the possible therapeutic benefits of wearing copper, Brad's work will give you excellent jumping off points for further reading.

"While it is true that copper reacts to an acid environment, it's not necessarily true that it is reacting to a low pH factor in the blood. There are a number of body systems which all have their own specifically preferred pH. 1) Normal arterial and venous blood must maintain a slightly alkaline pH, arterial blood pH = 7.41 and venous blood pH = 7.36; 2) Normal interstitial fluids and connective tissue pH is 7.34 and 7.40, a slightly more acid profile because body cells dump as much free hydrogen (H+) as possible, buffering the blood; 3) Urine is slightly acid in the morning (pH = 6.5 - 7.0) generally becoming more alkaline (pH = 7.5 - 8.0) by evening in healthy people, primarily because no food or beverages are consumed while sleeping. (I could go on with this, but you get the point.) So, going on to the reason for the green. This really boils down to basic chemistry. There are several green copper salts which are combinations of the metal copper and various other chemicals. The Statue of Liberty is a good example of the exposure of copper to the environment which causes oxidation and the production of green salts. Now for the skin. When our bodies sweat we are releasing chemicals that are generally acidic in nature and will cause metals to corrode, at least on the surface, to a salt compound of the metal. The green on your skin near the copper is the direct result.

"Now to take this a couple of steps further. In the book, What Your Doctor Won't Tell You, by Jane Heimlich (wife of the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver, Dr. Henry Heimlich) the question is asked, "Is there any scientific validity to the belief that wearing a copper bracelet relieves arthritis pain?" She answers: "An Australian Chemist, Dr W. Ray Walker, of the University of Newcastle, decided to find answers for himself. He was aware that a copper-aspirin compound was known to have anti-inflammatory effects and that copper chelates were used as arthritis drugs from the 1940s to the 1950s in France and Germany. He knew that the world's oldest medical text, the Egyptian Ebers papyrus, recommends pulverized copper to treat various types of inflammation. Walker also knew that when copper is in contact with the skin, it forms chelates with components of human sweat and is thus absorbed through the skin.

"So to find out if copper bracelet users know something that scientists ought to know, Walker embarked on a study with 300 arthritis sufferers, half of whom had previously worn copper bracelets. Copper bracelet users were asked not to wear their bracelets for one month. Other subjects who had never worn a copper bracelet were given two bracelets - one made of copper, the other a placebo (aluminum) - and asked to wear each bracelet for one month. Subjects did not know which bracelet was copper and which the placebo. As a check on whether subjects wore their bracelets, each copper bracelet was weighed before and after a month's use. (A bracelet decreases in weight as it is worn owing to absorption of copper.)

"During the course of the study, previous copper bracelet users reported they were significantly worse when not wearing their copper bracelets. The majority of the other subjects said that they felt their best during the month when they wore the copper bracelet. Said Walker, a copper bracelet may not release as much copper as a copper-aspirin chelate but think of it as a time-release source of copper that desensitizes the individual to irritants associated with chronic inflammation." [Heimlich 1990]

A couple of other interesting quotes: "Renewed interest in the use of copper complexes to treat chronic diseases has given new credibility to a folk medicine as ancient as man himself." [Sorenson 1976] In his paper, Copper on Skin, Cultural Beliefs, Scientific Data, Esoteric Ideas, given at the Proceedings of the International Forum on New Science, held September 13-17, 1995, Sergio Lub said this: "The American Arthritis Foundation calls copper bracelets an 'unproven remedy'. I consider this expression an oxymoron. A remedy is or is not. They probably refer to the fact that the clinical trials for copper bracelets have not been conducted yet to the satisfaction of the Food and Drug Administration. One of America's foremost experts in this matter, professor of biology, Helmar H.A. Dollwet, Ph.D., from the University of Akron, Ohio and author of The Copper Bracelet and Arthritis, explained to me that there is no economic incentive for drug companies to make the large investment needed to conduct the long trials demanded by the FDA. Copper is a natural element and cannot be patented. How could a drug company make money on it? Instead, they profitably sell anti-inflammatory drugs for the relief of arthritis. Under the law, no one in the U.S. is allowed, in the absence of clinical trials, to claim that copper bracelets are a remedy."(Read the complete paper at

We appreciate both Pepper's and Brad's kindness is allowing us to pass on their interesting and thought provoking comments and research.

Why Professionals Buy Our Rings

Note: The following information is meant for people who are in the business, or plan to be in the business, of making and selling jewelry that utilizes maille techniques. This article consists of very specific business advice delivered quite bluntly. Personally, I much prefer the truth to anything sugar coated and I try to treat others as I want to be treated. If you're trying to get a business off the ground in a competitive industry during a tough economic period, you don't need sunshine and rainbows, you need honest, insightful business advice from people running successful businesses. I'm giving you that, but the advice of anyone who sells what he or she is advising you to buy should always be closely scrutinized. With that in mind, I'm speaking very bluntly to make it easier for you to scrutinize my points and judge them for yourself.

It's natural to assume that making your own rings will cut your costs. Wire is half the cost of rings and your labor is free, right? Actually... no. But that's not the half of it.

In the Business of Creativity, Time Really is Money

There are only so many hours in the day and the amount of finished jewelry you can produce to sell is limited by the finite amount of time you have to produce it. You can sell the jewelry you make in a given amount of time for more than you can save in the same amount of time by cutting your own rings. For that reason alone, making your own rings is a poor business decision... but there are so many better reasons, this one actually pales in comparison.

Why Successful Designers Buy Rings

When your business takes off -- and that can literally happen overnight -- you will no longer be able to keep up with orders by yourself and you'll need help right away. The only part of your work that doesn't require your hands on are those mundane tasks that aren't creative and chief among them is ring making. Obviously, it's faster, more convenient and vastly more sensible to buy rings from someone who already makes gorgeous rings than to hire and train someone to make them with your equipment. Hence, if you aren't already buying your rings, you will be as soon as your business is successful enough to keep you busy.

So you should make your own rings until you don't have time to do it anymore and then switch to buying them, right? There, as they say, is the rub. There are so many variables to ring making that you will never find a vendor whose rings match your own. Wire tolerances vary in both size and temper; mandrels are machined to varying degrees of precision; coiling methods affect the temper and therefore the finished ring size; blade thickness affects both the finished ring size and its relative roundness. Those little differences don't sound like much but they could very well cost your business its big break.

Imagine that you've poured your heart and soul into developing a beautiful line of jewelry, making and remaking every design to get the perfect degree of snug flexibility, the perfect drape. Imagine that you've done something very right with regard to marketing and now the fruits of your labors are ripening. Orders are pouring in faster than you can fill them and you no longer have time to make your own rings, so you place a big order for every size you need. The rings arrive and you start weaving only to find that the rings are just a little different from yours... enough that your designs don't fit together just right, everything's too loose or too tight, the drape is wrong, the look is wrong. This is it, you're getting the exposure of your dreams and customers are waiting. You have no time to make the rings yourself but you also haven't the time to rework all your designs on someone else's rings. What are you going to do?

Successful business happens at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. If you aren't prepared when the opportunity comes along, the opportunity goes to someone who is. Especially with a design business, it's best to begin as you mean to go on. Choose the best quality, most consistent and reliable supplier, one you believe will still be in business years from now (more on that later), and develop your designs on those rings. Then no matter what happens, you'll have what you need when you need it.

I Love to Tell My Customers It's All Handmade

So do I. Gary makes my rings for me and he's happy to make yours, too. We don't use ring making machines because they don't make fine rings. Every coil we make is coiled by hand; every ring we cut is cut by hand. Our rings are handmade, just as fine lampworked beads and Bali and Hill Tribe silver are handmade. Our rings are every bit as handmade as any you've made yourself.

Would Your Customers Prefer...?

Brace yourself, I'm going to speak bluntly now. The rings we make are nicer than the rings you make. I mean nothing unkind by that, it's just the nature of our respective businesses. Unless you've spent at least seven years devoted exclusively to the ever increasing perfection of your rings... they aren't as nice as ours. And why should they be? Your focus is jewelry and rings are just components of what you do.

And that is precisely my point. We do just one thing - we make precious metal rings for weaving chain - and we do it better than anyone. If you make your own rings and you've been doing it for awhile, I'm sure you sometimes get rings that are as nice as ours. But let's be really honest: you also frag some coils and mangle some rings now and then. You get burs and sometimes your cuts are off center or slanted. You're paying for that scrap... so sometimes you use some of those imperfect rings in your work because you can't bear to scrap them all. You know it's true; the waste is unbearable and the rings are good enough, right?

This is why you aren't doing your jewelry any favors by making your own rings. The quality of your finished jewelry isn't as good as it could be, as good as it would be, if you were using our rings. There's a lot of competition in jewelry sales. When someone wants to buy jewelry -- whether that someone is buying for herself or for a high end department store -- she has a lot of options. When your jewelry is considered for purchase, does it meet the finest quality standards on close inspection? The difference between exceptional quality and good enough could also be the difference between life as a successful jewelry designer and just having a job.

Choosing Your Vendor

If you make jewelry for fun with no intention of ever selling any and your ring vendor goes out of business, it just means you have to order from another vendor for your next project. But if you're in business, it means each item in your line has to be reworked on someone else's rings before you can make another of anything to sell. It means you have to replace all the rings that you use to work up new design ideas because there's no point in working up designs on rings that are no longer available. If you have a good variety of ring sizes in your collection -- which is exactly what's needed to give your creativity free reign, so if you're serious, you do -- it's going to be incredibly expensive to replace them all. The amount of your limited time that will be required to rework all your designs with new rings before you can sell again is also very costly. These are big expenses for a small business and they do nothing but bring it back to where it was before your ring vendor went under. Such a big investment in your business should take it to a new level, not just barely keep it afloat. Frankly, most small businesses would not survive a hit like that, especially before they're nicely profitable.

So giving your business the best chance of success means choosing a ring vendor that not only meets your quality standards but can be reasonably expected to remain in business for at least as long as you are... and one hopes that will be for a long time. That means looking at each vendor's business practices with a critical eye. When you're considering your vendor options, take a moment to read this article, paying special attention to the Me Too scenario so you're clear on how to avoid that unfortunate situation.

Make Mine Cheap and Nasty

We all know to put a mental dollar figure on everything a company offers because nothing is free. And that's a good thing to do, as long as the full picture is taken into account. If something you purchase comes in a nice box, it's logical to assume you paid a bit more for it than you might have otherwise. If your rings arrive gleaming, you know you paid for the time to polish them. You might believe that you can save money if you don't mind picking out scraps, cleaning off greasy dirt and doing your own polishing. On the surface that seems logical... but then so did making your own rings.

Quality: Because every ring we send out is perfect, you might think you're paying for us to pick out whatever percentage were mutilated and you could save money by doing that yourself. Remember the seven years devoted to ever increasing perfection? Well, this is the payoff for all that work. We don't spend time trying to tumble off burs because we don't make burs. We don't spend time culling bad rings, we just don't make bad rings. I'm not saying we never frag a coil, we do... but our average is well below one in a hundred. That's very little scrap adding to the cost of rings you buy from us. It's a lot less than you get making your own rings and it's certainly less than you pay for when buying cheap rings.

Polish: Assuming you already own the equipment (tumbler, shot, etc.) and considering only what you use each time to run your tumbler (water, soap, electricity), it isn't possible for you to polish even perfectly bur free rings for less than we charge to do it for you because you aren't using 50-100 pounds of shot to tumble hundreds of ounces of sterling at a time. Polishing rings in bulk uses all resources more efficiently and saves energy, water and soap. As a result of that efficiency, what we add to the price of the rings to cover polishing them is far less than it costs you to operate your own tumbler.

Packaging: When you see our nice little tins, you know you're paying for them. What you might not realize is that, because we have them made and meet very high minimum orders to do it, a tin only costs us eight cents. Because we package our rings in tins, there are no plastic bags going to the landfill. The tins make wonderful storage for rings and beads, are useful and reusable, and so attractive that many of our customers package their finished jewelry in them. If you don't want them, you'll have no trouble giving them away (teachers love them) but even if no one wanted them, they're made of aluminum and glass and can be conveniently recycled. They need never end up in a landfill like plastic bags do. So yes, you're paying for them... eight cents. How much do you think plastic bags cost when all's said and done?

Back to Business

A thrifty, money saving mindset is a good way to run a household because the household is a cost center in your life, it exists to support the family and isn't meant to turn a profit. Your business, on the other hand, is supposed to be a profit center in your life. You can't run a profit center by the same rules you run a cost center because profit doesn't happen as a result of saving money, it happens as a result of making money.

Saving money and making money are pretty much mutually exclusive. Trying to save money is the single best way to handicap your ability to make money. You can save money by spending less, but it's extremely unlikely that you'll increase the money you're earning while spending less. The mindset of saving money -- the trimming this and cutting that way of thinking -- is so much the opposite of the mindset required to build a thriving business that the two don't coexist well at all. When someone suggests that you should save a few bucks at the expense of your time, effort or quality standards, just look at that person's business and ask yourself if that's where you want yours to be. I know that's harsh and I'm sorry. Sometimes reality is harsh.

That Point Bears Repeating

If someone tries to tell you how to raise your kids, the first thing you do is look at their kids. If their kids are little monsters (or they don't have kids at all), that advice is instantly discounted. (Gary and I don't have kids and we're well aware that there is no point in our having opinions on anything to do with raising them because no one with kids will ever care what we think. *snort*)

The same standard should apply to business advice. People are quick to hand it out; they want to be helpful or seem knowledgeable and your mistakes don't cost them anything. Before you take to heart anyone's business advice, take a good, hard look at the business that person is running. 'Nuff said.