Want to learn how to make a simple silver chain necklace the easy way?

All it takes is some commercially made silver chain sold by the foot, a clasp, and the means to connect the two.  While it seems quite straightforward on the surface, there are several choices to make as you purchase your materials.  These choices can make assembling your chain necklace simple or turn your project into a much bigger task than you thought.


This article explains …

  • What to look for when buying your chain and other findings

  • Factors to consider when choosing your clasp

  • And how to make your necklaces as easy to wear as they are to make

Making silver chain necklaces can be simple if you buy the right chain …

Link size matters when it comes to making simple silver chains … 

Why? Because if the clearance inside the links is not large enough to allow you to attach a jump ring with enough strength to stay closed without being soldered, your “simple” silver chain just became more difficult to make.

What size rings are strong enough to not require solder?

Typically, 16ga rings are safe to close without solder unless they have a large inner diameter (>8mm), but you can also use 18ga rings with a small inner diameter (3mm or smaller) if you are making a lightweight necklace that’s not too long.  According to the Brown and Sharpe Gauge Thickness Chart, 16ga wire measures 1.29mm in width, and 18ga wire measures 1.02mm.  So, you need your chain to have a clearance greater than these widths in order to use an open jump ring for assembly.

How do you figure out how much clearance there is inside the links of chain by the foot while shopping?

If you are purchasing your chain in-person, you can carry a couple of small lengths of wire (16ga, and 18ga) and physically test if you can fit the wires in the links of the chain.  However, if you are purchasing online, this can be a bit tricky.  Not only do you need to know the inside dimensions of the link, but you also need to consider that the link which connects the rest of the chain will consume some of that space.  Essentially, you need to know the thickness of the wire which makes up the chain and subtract that dimension from the inside dimension of the link itself to figure the clearance or space left for connecting a jump ring.

Brown and Sharpe gauge chart excerpt showing the most popular wire gauges we use for making jewelry

So… let’s take a look at these numbers in action:

Let’s say we are looking at a cable chain with oval links.  The chain is listed as 2.4mm chain which refers to the chain width.  When I look at the details of the listing, I see that there’s a link ID (inner diameter) of 1.57mm and a link length of 3.71mm.  This tells me that I have 1.57mm of clearance in this chain because the links are longer than they are wide, so the connecting links are not reducing the clearance.  This will work great for a simple silver chain because I can easily fit a 16ga wire (which is 1.29mm wide) through the link.

Now let’s look at a round link rolo chain with the same 2.4mm width and a link ID of 1.57mm.  If we take the difference between 2.4mm and 1.57mm (.83mm) and divide that in half since there are 2 widths of wire making up the full width of the link, we can tell that the links are made from a wire that’s .415mm thick.  Because the links are round in this case, you need to subtract the wire thickness (.415mm) from the link ID (1.57mm) which leaves you a clearance of 1.15mm.  This chain would not allow the use of a 16ga jump ring (1.29mm thickness), but it does allow enough clearance for an 18ga (1.02mm thickness) ring.  So, this chain would be appropriate for a shorter style necklace without a lot of weight or strain using a 3mm ID 18ga jump ring as your connector.

How to figure the amount of clearance for chain by the foot:

Chain width – link ID = 2x thickness of wire, so … 2.4mm – 1.57mm = .83mm;  .83mm/2 = .415mm (thickness of wire)

Link inner diameter – thickness of wire = clearance, so … 1.57mm – .415mm = 1.15mm clearance

(not large enough for 16ga jump rings, but is large enough for 18ga jump rings)

Unfortunately, companies that sell chain don’t typically make it easy by listing the clearance – you have to do the math yourself.  But it’s worth it, especially if you are buying chain by the foot in larger quantities.

If you can’t fit a jump ring that’s strong enough to stay closed without soldering, you’ll have to go with a more time-consuming method for finishing your chain.  You could …

  • Use a pigtail wire-wrapped bead to make your connections
  • Solder a thinner gauge jump ring in place to make your connections
  • Solder an end-cap or other finding to the end of the chain to provide a loop for connecting with an open jump ring

(I’ll dive into these options in future articles.)

Choosing a clasp …

The key factor to consider when choosing an appropriate clasp is whether you are making a chain necklace to pair with pendants, or just finishing off a necklace that won’t feature a pendant.

Graphic showing the importance of using a small ring for your claspwhen making a necklace to wear with pendants so the end of the chain will fit in the bail

Ideal clasp features for chains to pair with pendants:

The end of the chain needs to fit through the bail on your pendants …

Typically, you’ll want to use a lobster clasp because the opposing end of the chain only requires a small, soldered ring for the clasp to latch onto.  Since you need this opposing end of the necklace to fit through the bail of your pendants, small is generally better.  But beware of using a ring that’s too small, it can become difficult to clasp.  So, while this conversation is about what clasp you should use on a necklace, it’s also pertinent to discuss the bails you use to make your pendants.

To allow myself flexibility, I like to use the same size bail for all my smaller pendant projects.  Whether I make them myself or purchase a commercial bail finding, using a standard size bail allows me to switch out various necklace lengths and styles to coordinate with my wardrobe colors and necklines.  Let’s face it – it’s great to have options.

You also want to use a lightweight clasp … 

The heaviest part of a necklace will generally work its way toward the front – or the lowest part of the drape on the chain.  Yep – gravity strikes again!  The heavier the weight of the clasp in comparison to the chain, the more this will occur.  So, if your clasp is substantially heavier than the chain, this will happen more often than if the clasp is similar in weight to the chain. 

Ease of use plays a big roll …

While you need the end of your chain to be small enough to fit through your bails, and you also want a clasp that doesn’t outweigh your chain, you still need to be able to work the mechanism. The easier it is to clasp your chain around your neck, the more you will wear it – because it’s easy to put on.  

Graphic showing how you can use a larger ring for attaching your clasp when you are just finishing off a necklace with feature components

When finishing off a necklace with a feature adornment, balance style with ease of use:

Seek a clasp that enhances the design of your necklace … 

While the weight of your clasp should still not outweigh the rest of the necklace, you don’t need to accommodate the bail of a pendant, so you have more options.  There are lots of different clasp styles on the market and even more you can make yourself.  Especially if you have short hair or like to wear your hair up, the clasp should be the finishing touch as opposed to an afterthought.  Of course, if you are working with a delicate necklace, you’ll want a delicate clasp, but the point is you can incorporate your clasp as part of a cohesive design.

Make it easy to use … 

As I mentioned above, when a necklace is easy to put on your neck, you are more likely to wear it because you don’t have to struggle.  Even if you are going to use a simple lobster clasp, choose one where it’s easy to manipulate the lever – like a teardrop shape silhouette.  There are so many choices, and many styles have pros and cons, so this is a question of your personal preferences.

When you don’t have to worry about whether your bails fit over the end, you are free to use a larger diameter ring even for use with a simple lobster clasp.  This may seem insignificant, but a larger ring is easier to hold in place and align with the catch of the clasp.  Note that I said a larger diameter and not a larger gauge.  The thicker rings are harder to fit within the clasping mechanism, so something like a 20ga 5mm ID soldered ring would be a great fit with a 13mm teardrop shaped lobster clasp.

Assemble your necklaces with the clasping mechanism in your dominant hand …

Have you ever put a necklace on only to realize that the pendant is hanging backwards?

We’ve all been there!  And it’s typically when you are in a rush. 

The secret to avoid this issue is to consistently assemble your necklaces so the clasping mechanism is in your dominant hand.  This holds true even when you slide a pendant onto a chain.  It can be a bit confusing if you are facing the front of your pendant/necklace because it’s opposite from when it’s on you.  So, with the pendant/necklace face down on the surface in front of you, assemble the clasping mechanism on the right end if you are right-handed or on the left end if you are left-handed.  This way, you don’t have to think about whether the pendant is facing forward.  It will become second nature through consistency. 

Graphic showing how you should assemble a necklace with the clasping mechanism in your dominant hand while attaching the clasp

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the theme throughout this article is “make it easy” – easy to make AND easy to wear.

Simple silver chains are classic, great for layering, and a staple item for your jewelry capsule wardrobe.  Universal bail sizes allow your pendants to play a big role in a modular jewelry collection.  And when you make your own chains, you can customize the fit to your exact specifications.

I hope you found this article informative!

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There’s lots more great tips in this lesson including how to measure your chain, how long you should make your necklace, and recommendations for chain by the foot, clasps, bails and other findings  I personally love to use.

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