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Exploring The Variety Of Clasps Used In Handcrafted Jewelry

Updated on December 18, 2014
C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S. Alexis works in an art gallery located in the Calumet region of Northwest Indiana. Come see her at One Best Life at Tinker's Attic.

Four Basic Classifications Of Jewelry Clasps

A clasp is used when the jewelry designer wants to join two ends together in order to secure the object in question. It is the component used to suspend the adornment to the wearer. There is an endless array of clasps that can be made or purchased but all clasps tend to fall into one of four main classifications. The four basic clasp designs fall under the categories of Knots, Hooks, Barrels or Spring Tension Clasps. Within these four categories you can find a seemingly endless assortment of styles and functions for your jewelry making projects. Let's take a look at each category and what you can expect to find for purchase or make yourself.

This handcrafted  necklace by C.S. Alexis uses a single knot to secure the ends and the simplicity adds to the primitive design. It is so functional because the necklace will easily slip over your head and fall into place.
This handcrafted necklace by C.S. Alexis uses a single knot to secure the ends and the simplicity adds to the primitive design. It is so functional because the necklace will easily slip over your head and fall into place.

Knots And How To Tie Them

Tying knots can be a bit tricky. I found this very useful website that has a list of fifty knots and how to tie them. This site is great because it has a step by step approach so that anyone can use the information and come out with exact duplications after the first try. The diagrams are animated which shows how to move the ends of the material to be knotted and this is a better learning tool than a one dimensional diagram. I think this link is a great resource for any jewelry maker though it was devised as a guide for The Boy Scouts.

Knot History In Artifacts Located At The Pecos Museum

I have to admit that the information and photos at this site make me crazy with curiosity. Examples of knots that were made so long ago it is a minor miracle that they survived. The artifacts found show how simple knots were utilized in everyday situations. I found it fascinating to say the least. Much of this information pertains to weaving but, some artistic techniques used in jewelry making, such as macrame, are certainly a spin off from weaving.

Using Knots As Jewelry Clasps

It is my belief that a knot was probably used as the first clasp by the ancient jewelry designer. I imagine that before the discovery of metal and, the use of it in this craft, someone figured out that two pieces of vine or hide could be secured with a knot. I would suspect that it happened accidentally or by observation of tangled roots or vines in a natural habitat.

From there it was a matter of inquisitive interaction and need that created the knots we use today. Historical artifacts of knots are not so common, because of the characteristic properties of the material used for knotting. Most items would be biodegradable and not preserve because of moisture and therefore rotting. However there are some artifacts that date back as much as 10,000 years.

Knots As Clasps

Take to ends of a leather thong, twine, cord or whatever your material may be and knot them together and now you are able to suspend your jewelry from your neck, wrist or ankle. That is as simple as it gets. The trick comes in tying a variety of knots that are secure and purposeful. The first thing to consider is functionality. Then you might want to consider choosing a certain knot because of it's visual appeal. However you decide to go with a knot, there are a big selection of knots and, some of them will create more than just the ability to suspend your adornment.

Slip knots or slide knots can be used not only to secure the item but also as a means for adjusting the size. These can be used for all types of bracelets, necklaces and ankle bracelets and are a critical part of the design element because they show out, in the finished piece of jewelry. These can be used for cord, jute, hemp, leather, and other materials that are on the heavy gaged side.

various kinds of clasps used in jewelry crafting
various kinds of clasps used in jewelry crafting

Hooks And Eyes Practical And Easy To Use

I think this was probably the next form of clasp developed by the ancient jewelry designers. It is a simple idea and also very functional. In many ways this is probably the easiest kind of clasp to operate because of the design. The most common hook and eye clasp I can think of is the classic fish hook earring.

The hook is attached through the eye, which is actually the pierced ear. Now this is about as primitive as it gets and, it works. This form of securing earrings is an invention that has been utilized for centuries. It works on earrings so adapting this clasp to other jewelry pieces seems to be only a matter of follow through in designing jewelry findings. A necklace can be secured with a handcrafted hook and eye. It is functional and the hooks can be made as an artfully created incorporation of the overall design itself.

Toggle Clasps

An example of taking the hook and eye and changing the design of the components so that they look different yet perform the same function in a similar manor would be a Toggle Clasp. It has a T shaped hook on one end that is slipped through an enlarged ring or eye that is attached to the other end. When secured the toggle shows out and adds some attention to itself by way of it's design. There are many variations of hooks and eyes used and you can also use this idea to design your own style.

Security Performance Is A Concern

The problem with hooks comes in the form of security. Though hooks and eyes will work they are not as secure as some of the more modern clasps. There is always the possibility that the hook could manage to jiggle it's way free of the eye and the jewelry may fall off and be lost. Because of the fear of loss and the use of many precious metals and stones in making jewelry there had to be more secure ways to clasp the adornments. I know that many of my friends have spent a good bit of time in search of an earring to complete the pair they had on last night. Not only earrings but also bracelets and necklaces are easily lost without the wearer realizing they have come unfastened and slipped away unnoticed.

Spring Tension Clasps

I think spring loaded clasps must have been designed so that the owners of the jewelry would not have to worry over knots coming untied or hooks jiggling loose. Many pieces of jewelry were deemed almost sacred and possession was held close to the heart. Because the jewelry had sentimental value or material value a better form of clasp was in demand. Spring tension clasps were being added to finer pieces and today many non-precious pieces have a spring tension mechanism to secure the jewelry.

There are many styles to choose from. One style is a flange of metal, that is squeezed shut, inserted into a box like, end and the tension from the bent flange snaps into place, to secure the two ends. These are Fish Hook, Fold Over and Box Tab Insert varieties that are all based on the tension, snap style.

The other basic type of spring tension is actually a tiny enclosed spring with a lever, when pushed open between the fingers it will retract and hold when released to the closed position.

The lobster claw clasp and the Spring ring are common examples of this type of spring tension clasp. The ring with spring is a little harder to operate because of it's small size. They are made of all kinds of metal and can be purchased where ever you buy jewelry findings.

Barrel Clasps

Barrel clasps are actually threaded nipples that screw together similar to a nut and bolt. They are designed in many sizes and styles and can be purchased in all kinds of metal. This type of clasp is secure but, is somewhat difficult to operate when the barrel is very small.

Another clasp that has gained some popularity is the magnetic clasp, which speaks for itself.... Magnets that attach to each other, affixed to the two ends of whatever you want to secure. These are available in a variety of materials, ready to employ in your handcrafted work.

Knowing Your Clasp Choices

All of the jewelry clasps explored here, each work in some instances better than others. It depends on what you are trying to achieve in your design. Knowing what is available is the most important objective. When it comes time to secure that union you will have an informed idea of what you have to choose from. Happy Jewelry Crafting!

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    • Silver Freak profile image

      Silver Freak 

      9 years ago from The state of confusion

      There is yet another kind of clasp that has gained a LOT of popularity - the magnetic clasp. It's the only kind I use in almost all of my jewelry.

      Good hub

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