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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wire Wrapping and Rosaries

Wire wrapping is a time honored technique of making both jewelry and Rosaries--in fact, spiral wrapped jewelry has been found that dates back 4,000 years to the ancient Sumerians. Recently, artifacts of wire wrapped jewelry have been found in the UK that date back 1,200 years. It seems that where there's metal, there's jewelry...and before soldering was common, wire wrapping was an assured technique for a durable and strong connection.
In fact, wire wrapping is defined as the absence of soldered connections, being made by only mechanical means.  And since machines can't do this kind of work, you will see it done now as in the past, by artisans and craftsworkers, one bead at a time....

The swirl of wire over the Mother of Pearl in this Rosary is characteristic of the most common wire wrap technique, the single cage wrap.  This style is seen in Rosaries dating as early as the 17th century as Rosaries continued to evolve from the earliest knotted and pebble prayer counters.  What better way to honor Our Lady and her Son than with a beautiful, elaborate Rosary?  In this technique, the wire is looped, passed through the bead and looped on the other end; then the tail of the wire is wraped snuggly around the loop base and swirled over the surface of the bead to the other side, where it again is wrapped and secured.  Talk about durable...there are intact Rosaries from the late 17th century with this technique.  When I show my Rosaries to someone who's never seen wire wrapped before, I love to grab a length of the Rosary and give it a very good audience gasps...and the Rosary is no worse for the wear!

A similar technique is the double cage wrap. In this technique, you would see the swirl of wire across the bead both front and back.

It takes rather a lot of wire to make a wire wrap Rosary...and a lot of time.  I estimate it takes 3 times the wire and 4 to 4.5 hours of dedicated work to make a Rosary--and that's not including design time or special touches, like swirling the Pater beads as well:

Because of the time and additional wire involved, you will find wire wrap Rosaries are generally more expensive than traditional, chain Rosaries; and if I'm going to put that much time and effort into a Rosary, I like to use quality stones for the Aves and Paters--it is not worth my time, nor does it honor Mary, to use lesser. 

Look for high quality stones and beads--and especially in the high end ranges, check out info on the type of stones and what makes a quality stone.  Rating semi precious stones, such as Lapis, or other opaque stones such as agates, onyx, etc, is not a clear cut matter, as there are no standards for A Grade, A/B, B, etc in semi-precious--so be a good shopper.  A good website to visit for pictures of high quality gemstones is  once you see the stone in question in a high quality form, you will be better able to judge your potential purchase. 
Pay attention to the wrapping itself--do the wraps appear even and tight? Do you note any little 'stickies?' (if not crimped properly you will find rough edges!). Look for consistancy in the loops, in spacing; you should not see any tool marks from the wrapping, either.  Also look for the gauge of the wire--I like 20 or 21 gauge, which has a nice presence and thickness, and does not deform easily; but 22 gauge, which is a hair thinner, also makes a nice Rosary.  The bigger the number, the smaller the wire diameter--I don't recommend 24 gauge or greater.

If wire wrap Rosaries have any downside, it is this--and it is a little one: they are a linked connection, and linked connections can kink.  Kinks in wire wrapped connections are minor, and not permanent, but it is a minor irritation to some. There are many different schools of thought on how to wire a Rosary so as to prevent kinking...but no way I have tried is foolproof.
HOWEVER...the good news is, it is simple to rectify! In the event that you find a kink when you take out your Rosary, give it a shake.  If that doesn't correct matters, grab the rosary a bit above the kink with one hand, and with the other hand, grab it slightly below the kink and lift and turn slightly. The kink will fall right out. After you've done it once or twice, you will easily be able to see which way to twist.

And remember...a good wire wrapped Rosary will last through your lifetime and into the next generation...and more.  Choose carefully and enjoy for a lifetime.


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