Rare Antique and Estate Jewelry & Fine Collections of Precious Gems
January 18, 2015
Wire work – or wire wrap – jewelry has its origins in ancient times, with evidence that the craft dates back to about 2000BC. Wire work is unique in several different ways.
No external influence such as heat or foreign substances is used in the manufacture even when setting stones, all pieces are made by hand and all pieces are, by their very construction, unrepeatable. It differs from filigree, in that no soldering or other setting techniques are used, and the piece is held together by the positioning of the wire and the manner in which it is twisted into place.
Also, an entire wire worked jewelry item is usually made using just wire and decoration whereas filigree is but one element of a larger piece. Although an ancient craft, wire working has been in practice continually throughout the ages and has the occasional renaissance period of its own, where interest booms and demand rockets.
One of these periods was the 1960s, driven by the increasingly anti-establishment feelings that were running high, particularly in the USA. All of a sudden, what had previously been fairly simple, home made crafts became big business among both alternative and mainstream cultures. Wire work jewelry, with its unique cultural and decorative history, came to represent a return to past values, to simpler times and simpler ideals.
Because of the relatively basic tools needed for wire work, and also because of the relatively easy to learn – if tricky to master successfully – skills needed to make even quite complex pieces, anybody who had a bit of imagination could make almost anything they wanted for just a few dollars and a few hours of their time.
One of the problems of this approach, as with any mass-scale “artisan” craft, is quality. Most makers of wire work jewelry, even today, do so because they like it and not always because they’re good at it! What the local arts and crafts interest in wire work did, however, was encourage some of the large jewelry houses to incorporate the effect into their range. In the main, it was machined due to the many man hours it takes to manually produce jewelry of a sufficient quality, but as the large houses often drive trends, more and more jewelers started to pick up on the growing desire for wire work pieces.
Some actually did take the trouble to hand-produced wire work pieces, despite the time and cost but the vast majority stuck to incorporating wire work into more conventional pieces, particularly earrings and necklaces.
Today, such pieces from well known designers fetch very high prices on the occasions they become available, and are very collectible as well as still being very wearable. As the 1960s counter-culture moved on into the 1970s the “hippy effect” diminished, and wire work went back to being the preserve of craft fairs and personal use.
Even so, it is still extremely popular today, with thousands of people selling their original creations on store fronts like Etsy. It’s true that quality is, by the nature of wore work, still a little bit of an issue, but there are some outstanding designers producing stunning quality pieces of what is, essentially, wearable art.
Of course, because progress comes in many forms, a lot of the best designers are a little less strict about the materials they use and occasionally do a little spot soldering in order to strengthen a joint or connection, but considerable effort is made to retain the original skills of the early exponents of wire working, and the results can be quite beautiful.
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