Jewelry Chain is made in many shapes, sizes and styles. This glossary of terms will introduce many of the most popular chain styles on the market as well as some common variations. Bookmark this page as a great reference when you are shopping for jewelry making supplies!
Open Link Styles
Cable Chains – Cable chains consist of uniform round or oval links of wire that are connected to form a chain. Cables are the most simple and commonly used jewelry chain. Cables are frequently altered by flattening the links, texturing the metal surface or drawing/elongating the links. Double cables use two links side by side for each chain link position. Flat cable chains have the links hammered flat, instead of being of round wire.
- Figure – 8 – This starts out as a cable chain but then the alternating links are twisted or “curbed” into a figure-8 or infinity shape.
Curb Chain – Curb chains are oval cables where each chain link has been twisted or “curbed” so the entire chain length lies flat against the body.
- Parallel – A common variation of the curb chain is the parallel curb where two links side by side are used in each link position.
Long and Short – As the name suggests this is a broad category of chain styles consisting of links of differing lengths to create an appealing design. Long & short styles are usually a short, repeating pattern of links with a fairly uniform width but differing lengths.
- Figaro – A popular variation of the long & short, figaros are patterns of three short links followed by one long link nearly equal to the length of the three short lengths. Figaros are usually made from thicker gauge wire than many other chains so they are heavier weight styles. The links are curbed.
Rope – A braided rope assembly of open wire links so named because the braiding is similar to that used to create fiber ropes or twine.
- French Rope Chains – a variation on the rope chain that creates a spiraling affect in the finished braid. This chain is not made in France. Rumor has it that the tool & die maker who invented the braid had the last name French. Not sure if that is just industry lore or the actual truth.
- Spiga/Wheat Chains – another common variation of the rope style, wheat (or spiga in Italian) chains exhibit a wheat-like v-pattern when viewed from the side. Wheat links are typically thicker than the fine links used in standard ropes or French ropes.
- Singapore – A twisted, lightweight rope chain variation.
Belcher & Rollo Chains – Belchers are chains that are made from uniform round or oval links made from Low dome or flat stock wire. Rollo (Rolo sometimes) chains are made from half round wire. The resulting chain is heavier than cable and looks like it has been assembled from strips of metal instead of wires.
Bar Chains – As the name suggests, bar chains are made from bar shaped links connected by small oval jump ring connectors. Bars can be straight, curved or even shaped like chevrons, marquise… etc.
Link & Connector – A pattern of alternating round or oval wire links connected by straps of flat, wide strip. Link & connector styles are usually larger, fashion chains.
Fancy Wire Link Styles – Many fancy variations are possible by machining different shaped link components. These styles are called “fancy” or “fantasy” variations of cables. These chains may use heart, infinity, flower or other shaped machine-made links instead of rounds or ovals.
Fancy Sheet Link Styles – These chains are hand or machine made by assembling stamped sheet links in shapes such as flowers, petals or geometrics. These stampings may have additional variation effects such as textures or curbing.
Rombo – Rombo link styles are “fancy” or “fantasy” variations of cables. These chains typically use diamond or “rombo” shaped, machine-made links instead of rounds or ovals.
Double Link – Cables with separate double links in each position instead of a single round wire link.
Marine – This chain style was popularized by the Gucci brand is often referred to as Gucci chain. However, the name use is restricted due to trademark laws so jewelers are advised to call the chain marine or anchor chain instead. Marine chain is manufactured using round wire that then goes through complex, multi-step machining to create large oval links, cut bar segments, insert and then solder the bars in the center of each large oval link. Finally, the chain is flattened or hammered.
Ladder – Ladder chains are machine made by assembling wire links in a hook and eye configuration instead of standard interlinking.
Solid Chain Styles
Ball or Bead Chain – A ball in socket assembly of spherical metal beads and wire connectors that when joined create a flexible length of bead chain.
Herringbone – A flat chain made from double cable that has been “swaged” or drawn through a flat condensing die. The resulting chain is smooth and solid in appearance with a mirror surface. Herringbones are not flexible and can easily kink.
S-Link – Similar to herringbone, this is a chain made of s-shaped links that are interconnected. S-links are slightly more flexible than herringbones but still prone to kinks.
Snake Chains – A tubular chain made from assembled curved plates. Snake chains are highly flexible and have a solid appearance instead of open links.
Omega Chains – A stiff, solid chain made from metal sheet strip spiraled around a box chain core, omegas are known to hold their collar shape. Omegas are solid and shiny in appearance with no open links. Omegas can kink if not properly handled.
Most open link chain styles can be altered with one or more of the following techniques to make pleasing design changes.
Flattening– Wire links can be flatted to create more surface area to reflect light. Flat chain links appear to be more bright and shiny.
Drawn/Elongated – Round or oval machine links can be stretched or “drawn” to elongate the chain. Drawing a chain can change its overall appearance and also make it narrower.
Swedged or Swaged – A swage chain has been drawn through a die to decrease the diameter and condense the links of the chain. Swaging can significantly alter the chain style. For example, herringbone and serpentine chains start out as double cable or curb chains that are re-shaped through swaging.
Dapped – Dapping can either curve a metal link or leave a single hammer strike mark that reflects light. Both effects can be used for design purposes.
Hammered – Hammering the surface of the links creates a multi-faceted reflective surface texture.
Knurled or Textured – Knurling is a common texturing that gives links a hatch mark surface texture that brinks down reflectiveness and also forms an excellent foundation for oxidizing in relief. Many other surface textures can be applied ranging from simple line textures to more complicated pattern imprints.
Oxidized – The style shown above has also been oxidized or antiqued to darkens the silver and heighten the visibility of the textured surface relief.
Diamond Cut – Chain links can be diamond cut in various patterns with precision tools. Diamond cuts create angled facets with precise edges. This alteration creates the most shiny, light catching facets possible on a metal surface.
Twisted or Curbed – Twisting or curling links is called curbing and can vary the look of chains. Curb chain are most obviously curbed cables. However, you can twist other styles as well for added effect.
Soldered vs. Unsoldered
It is important to note that most precious metal chain links are soldered together. Soldering closes the links so that gaps cannot form and cause chain breakage. Some other metals, such as copper cannot be easily soldered. Unsoldered chains made from these metals should be used with care. Make sure links are substantial enough to handle typical wear and pendant weight without stretching.
Many cables and curbs produced domestically use a numbering system that gives a rough indication of chain size. The first two digits refer to the thickness of the chain wire in thousandths of an inch. The second two digits indicate the number of links of chain per inch. At Halstead we prefix our chain with a metals code: 1 for base metals, 2 for sterling, 3 for gold filled and 4 for copper. So a 21018 chain would be a sterling chain using .010” (30ga) wire that is 18 links per inch. This numbering system is only used with some chain styles. Please keep in mind that machine chain production can alter the gauge and link count due to normal drawing during manufacturing. So, these numbers should just be considered rough indicators.
At Halstead we stock a variety of jewelry chain styles in bulk by the foot in sterling silver and gold filled. We hope you find this reference guide useful. Feel free to share it as long as Halstead is credited as the original source.