Whether they are cable, balloon, Maderia, rose, rolo or wheat chain, chains can be worn in almost any way. As on the oldest known items of jewelry with an original structure that is as simple as they come – link to link -, the technique of adding rows still inspires designers and manufacturers to go in new directions even today.

binding variety
In the jewelry production Isabelle Fa, the precious, heavy chains are manufactured by hand piece for piece, from the winding to the inside and outside polishing of each individual link in the chain.

Inhabitants of the legendary city of Ur were unable to drag themselves away from the beauty, precision and uniqueness of a handmade chain. The oldest known type of chain, the foxtail chain, which remains just as popular today, was found there as a grave gift. It is the only type of chain in which the loops are soldered shut before they are linked up in the chain. This is why it is fair to assume that it is the oldest form of metal chain. After all, soldering a loop after it had been fixed to the chain was hardly possible in earlier days over an open fire. Goldsmiths invented the cable chain around 2,000 BC; the basic oval form of the loops is still the basis for many types of chains today. New and imaginative forms and types were added over the centuries, confirming the trend towards high quality, handmade chains, and also the variety of design and the freedom to combine.

The chain by the Viennese designer Helfried Kodré is a bizarre beauty. The individual, perfectly cut elements of silver grasp each other almost invisibly and play a confusing game with the dimensions

Now as then:

Loop for loop excellent handicraft

Theophilus Presbyter provided us with the first technical details of chain production as early as the 10th century. In his three volume work, the “schedula diversarum artium”, he describes winding wire on a spindle and also how to make the chain round. He wrote “take a small board of oak or beech wood and make lots of holes in it with a pointed, round iron that is glowing. Now pull the chain that was glowed in the fire and then cooled down again through these holes… and carry on until the chain is approximately evenly thick and round.” The Norwegian jewelry designer Tone Vigeland used the quotation “every chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, Any goldsmiths still dedicated to the high art of hand making chains, for example the traditional company Mössner from Eisingen, can pay testimony to this. The gold and platinum chains by this firm, which are marketed under the jewelry brand IsabelleFa, are still manufactured step for step by hand, from putting together the alloy to the final polish. In this, the mixture of the ingredients is the first stage on the road to success: gold, silver and copper not only determine the color, but also the hardness of the material that will be processed. Once the alloy has melted and has been poured at 1,100 °C, a precious metal wire is drawn and then wound around a spindle in laborious hand work. The circumference of this spindle will determine the subsequent size of the loops in the chain. The winding is then released with a saw thus meaning that the loops can then be suspended individually in each other and then bent and soldered. This is where the true craftsmanship is seen: It is important to work extremely precisely on the joint in order to ensure that the solder points cannot be seen in the finished jewelry. A long process of minute work now starts with sanding, filing and multiple polishing of the individual loops from the inside and the outside. The crowning glory of the whole procedure is the clasp solution, which is manufactured with the typical production characteristics to suit each chain.

The chain specialist Dorothee Striffler strings geometric elements that describe a space and enable glimpses to form exciting items of jewelry

Precision and more

In addition to the high quality of the material and the precise processing, haptic impressions are also decisive criteria in the selection of a chain. A well worked piece not only has carefully soldered links, but is also extremely flexible and light. Chains are more comfortable to wear if they rest flush against the skin. Another exciting factor is that many chains are extremely light and therefore comfortable to wear, in spite of their voluminous appearance. Many designers have their own personal “signatures”. For the Mannheim-based jewelry designer Dorothee Striffler for instance, who makes innovative chains as a large part of her creative work, the relationship between the chains, the space they are in and the person wearing them is always a decisive criterion. “The individual elements that make up a chain always describe and elucidate the space in which they are located. This means that they create interesting inner and intermediate spaces that are crafted consciously and should be appreciated with the same awareness,” says Dorothee Striffler.

Right up to date hand crafted pieces from Böhmler & Schmauderer: Round links in the chain form a high quality chain in sixties look

Although the vast wealth of different kinds of chains allows incredible variety in the design of necklaces, the trend goes still further: Like with other jewelry many goldsmiths give their customers the opportunity to decide what their necklace should look like. The individual selection of material, size of the links in the chain, total length and surface treatment increase the relationship between the wearer and a very personal item of jewelry

Gellner’s chains are characterized by various sizes of chain links, ranging from small to large and from round to oval, lending them a true liveliness. A single pearl acts as a precious eye catcher

Machine-manufactured trends

Machine production of jewelry chains developed on the basis of experience gathered in England, France and the United States in the technical implementation of mass jewelry production and in the construction of chain machines for technical purposes. Mass production of jewelry established itself from around 1750 – 1829, and the first chain machines emerged at the same time. There were already machines for the most important types of chains around 1900. Even in machine-based chain production, the trend is away from standard products and towards innovative products in modern designs. In Germany, the region around Pforzheim boasts numerous producers of hand-made and machine-made jewelry chains, and is therefore one of the most important areas in the industry.

Ellipses that are caught in each other form the basic pattern of the forged chains by Kathrin Sättele. The flexible suspension means that the chain nestles round the neck of the woman wearing it like a golden collar

Types of chains – basic forms

The cable chain is among the simplest of all kinds of chains. The loops are always alternately at a 90° angle to each other. Depending on the type of processing (e.g. hammered cable chain), there are countless variations on this type.

The designer Annelie Fröhling created rows of dynamically twisted gold navetes in a matte-gloss contrast for Gerstner to form an organic piece of jewelry

In curb chains, all loops are located on the same level. To do this, they are either all twisted in their chain, or each loop is curved individually. This creates a pretty flat chain that is pleasant to wear and very popular.

The German designer Roland Simons has specialized in unusual gold chains in addition to his unique rings, bracelets and brooches. These chains, which come with brilliants, pearls or even small, colored gemstones, are characterized by their unusual, interwoven links

Fancy chain is the generic term for all chains without their own names. The internationally non-standard, historically often changing designation of chains, which is made even more confusing by the terms companies themselves have chosen, can be based on four criteria. In addition to the adoption of names from technical chains (e.g. “cable chains”), there are also names on the basis of an apparent root in technical history (e.g. “curb chain”), after historical personalities (e.g. “Garibaldi chain”) or on the basis of their appearance (e.9. “king’s chain”).

The German chain manufacturer Eugen Schofer combines unusual forms in the interwoven links in the chain with an exciting mixture of warm and cold metal tones

There are almost countless variations of the basic chain. In essence, the following characteristics of a chain can be altered: Wire form, loop form, loop width and size, number of loops on top of each other, purity of the chain form, surface structure, material and/or color.

Links in the chain in all directions. In the hand-made chain by Louis Fissler, the short chains with diamonds that are suspended perpendicularly in the loops complement each other and form a magnificent collier
Timelessly beautiful: Solid craftsmanship but still cool and free-flowing: the high quality chains from the series “Classics” by Binder

Alternate yellow and white gold and oval and asymmetric forms are characteristic features of the current Clioro collection