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History Of Jewelry Making

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The web site Dictionary.com defines a jig for machinery as:

"a plate, box or open frame for holding work and for guiding a machine tool to the work, used esp. for locating and spacing drilled holes; fixture." 

This definition is not quite accurate for a jig used in making jewelry.  A jig used for making jewelry is better defined as "a plate or open frame for holding work and helping to shape jewelry components made out of wire or small sheets of metal."  A jig in the jewelry making application is used to help establish a pattern for use in shaping the wire or sheets of metal.  In the jewelry application, the shaping of the metal is done by hand or with simple hand tools like a hammer. 

History
The first use of wire in making jewelry is something that can be seen in Sumerian jewelry from the Dynasty of Ur about 2560 BC.  The British Museum has examples of jewelry made with wire and beads obtained from the Royal Cemetery of Ur (Iraq).  That jewelry includes spirals made of the primitive wire.   This early wire was hollow and was made by pounding sheets of metal flat, cutting the sheets into strips and then rolling the strips into hollow tubes that resemble modern wire but are hollow.  Gold, because of its ability to be found in its elemental state in nature, and because it can be hammered into extremely thin sheets was probably the first metal used to make this primitive wire. 

Examples of wire and sheet metal jewelry can also be found in Egyptian, Greek and Roman jewelry.  Since these early times, patterns were known to be used in architecture and construction and were likely to be used in making jewelry.  While we have no examples of jigs or patterns being used to make that jewelry, one can surmise that sometime after the Sumerians, but likely before the Romans that patterns made out of carved wood were use to shape jewelry components. 

In 1914 the US Patent and Trademark Organization issued a patent for a metal bending jig with moveable pegs to be used in bending rebar in the construction industry.  In the middle 1930's some textbooks for making jewelry with wire showed how to make a fixed peg jig by simply hammering nails into a board.  Prior to 1990, artists making jewelry were constrained to making their own jig or patterns to be used in making their jewelry.  In 1995, a patent was issued to Gary Helwig for a wire bending jig that contained a fixed pattern to be used for making jewelry wire components.  As that time the WigJig company was founded to make and sell those fixed peg jigs. WigJig Olympus Jewelry Making Jig

The use of a fixed peg pattern was recognized as having limitations and during the late 1990's a vendor developed a metal jig with removable pegs.  At almost the same time, the WigJig company developed a transparent jewelry making jig with removable pegs.  In July of 2001 a patent was issued for this "Transparent jewelry wire bender" (US Patent 6,253,798).  At this point, the jewelry making community had a choice of a metal jig or the transparent WigJig Olympus (shown at right) both available options had a square peg pattern with approximately .25" spacing between the peg holes. 

Modern Products:
WigJig Delphi Jewelry Making ToolAfter 2001, more jewelry making jig options became available.  Several vendors developed metal and plastic jigs with the same basic peg pattern as the WigJigWigJig Cyclops Jewelry Making ToolOlympus.  In 2003, the WigJig company developed a new jig, the WigJig Delphi, with both smaller pegs (1/16") and a peg spacing of .2" between the peg holes.  This jig, because of its smaller pegs and closer hole spacing, is more appropriate for making delicate wire components, including many components for earrings.  Later in 2003, the WigJig company introduced the first two commercially available jewelry making jigs with a round peg pattern, called the WigJig Cyclops and the WigJig Electra.  The Cyclops has the smaller 1/16" metal pegs of the Delphi and the Electra has the larger 3/32" metal pegs of the Olympus.  Finally, in 2004, the WigJig Company introduced the WigJig Centaur which has both a square peg pattern and a round peg pattern in a single jig.  The Centaur uses the smaller 1/16" metal pegs.

 WigJig jewelry making tools used to shape jewelry wire.

There are two forms of accessories that are used with jewelry making jigs.  The first accessory is rounded pegs in larger sizes.  These pegs are shaped like mushrooms, with the stem of the mushroom fitting into a hole in the jig.  The top of the mushroom forms a larger diameter surface for shaping wire around the circumference or a portion of the circumference of the peg.  These larger diameter pegs generally come in sizes from 3/16" to as large as 2".  Because the pegs must fit into one of the holes in the jig, in general the different vendors pegs are not interchangeable. 

Spiral Maker Jewelry Making ToolThe second optional accessory that can be purchased for a jewelry making jig is an accessory to make spirals as shown at right.  The WigJig Spiral Maker is also patented. 

There are many techniques for making jewelry using a jewelry making jig.  Most of these techniques can be called "wire wrapping".  This name for making jewelry by hand refers to the fact that instead of using solder or glue, wire components are connected to one another using the same techniques developed during Roman Times of wrapping wire around itself to permanently fix a loop in wire and to connect wire components.  Techniques for wire wrapping that are commonly used today can be seen in Roman jewelry and in Egyptian jewelry dated to 6 and 7 AD.  While the wire used at this time was not modern wire, the techniques to use that wire are still valid today.  At present, we have improved on these ancient techniques through the use of modern materials and jewelry making jigs with removable pegs. 

Reference:

  1. WigJig company archives.
  2. US Patent 6,253,798
  3. "Interpreting the Past -- Ancient Jewelry" by Jack Ogden, ISBN-0-520-08030-0, dated 1992
 



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