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Clasps: An Underappreciated Art

This may seem like a frivolous topic to write about, but I think it's really important. For this post, I'm going to talk about clasps.


A clasp to me is symbolic of how you finish a piece of jewelry, and when I first started out with metal I thought that clasps were the most confusing part of the whole piece. In fact the back of a pendant would confound me, along with the hook of an earring, and definitely the ring band where the silver hides between your fingers and sits at the crease of your palm.

Typically, I don’t like to use prefabricated findings (a finding is a clasp, an earring hook, etc) because I think it detracts from the piece. Some designs do work well with a prefabricated element, like a chain for example, so I'm not nixing the idea. Other pieces look better when every element is made by hand.


Maybe the way I design is different from other jewelers. I envision the front of the piece first, the part that calls someone's attention. Making sure the design is carried to every component of the piece was a design problem that used to keep me up at night. This happened for a few years. I'd lay awake thinking of how to integrate the design to the entirety of the piece rather than have it focused in that initial vision.


Necklace by Millicent Rogers via Sotheby's

I'd study a variety of jewelry and journal about what I liked about a finished piece or what I didn't like. With some pieces, I noticed that the clasp or the ring band looked like an afterthought. The debate I was having with myself was whether I was overthinking the whole thing and if anyone really cared about the clasp at all.


On the opposite side of the spectrum, I noticed that some clasps overpowered the piece. I saw this mostly with the Ancient Roman necklaces that were made with a handwoven chain and a large 'counterweight' clasp. This type of clasp was supposed to keep the piece from spinning around the neck.


I started to dissect what a clasp did. I began to look at it the way you would approach any design problem. There are three principles that I tend to go by and they are function, strength, and beauty. This concept isn't original to me, it was introduced to me by the Roman architect, Vitruvius, who argued that a well-designed building was to have these three elements.


Roman necklace with counterweights

So what makes a clasp functional? It has to close a chain and since it usually sits in the back of the neck, you have to think about hair, skin, clothing.


Once that was established, I was thinking of all the clasps I've found uncomfortable over the years. The ones that came to mind were the really small ones that you have to dig your nail under, do a few prayers, and hope that you'll catch the equally small ring on the other side of the chain. I realized I didn't like small clasps, so right there my clasps were going to be bigger than the standard.


The next issue was strength. This was a relatively easy one to answer because we've all had those necklaces that have broken and gotten lost. That meant that the connection point between the clasp and the chain had to be a strong one. This could be fixed by using a thicker wire to connect chain and clasp, and then doing an actual test of pulling on that connection.


Lastly, is the beauty element. From the information I had gathered above I knew that the clasp couldn't overpower the design. Everything was pointing to simplicity. With some clasps, I'd add a gemstone to match those that were in the pendant; others I'd add a chain extension so that the wearer had the choice to wear it at any length.


I am still experimenting with how to finish a piece, but it is becoming easier for me. I realized that since each one of my designs is unique, the solution has to be distinct. More and more I'm gravitating towards simplicity and my favorite shape so far is what is called a hook clasp. Some clasps need to be fancier because the piece is fancier, others need a more simple solution because if I add anything else to the design, it won't work.


Here's a few photos of my own revolution with clasps:


I first began making clasps and closures for my beaded collars. This technique of creating multiple openings for a button to slip through was just the beginning.


Then I started experimented with fancier clasps. Each one catered specifically to the design.



This was one of the most complicated projects I had done at the time, in 2017. I took a lot of photos of the reverse so that I could remember and learn from my mistakes. This type of clasp is called a box clasp, and I added a little safety chain in case the latch in the box wasn't hooked together correctly by the wearer.



These collars were made in 2018. I was still trying to figure out how best to put a lot of different components together to make a statement piece. There's a lot of weight in these collars so the clasp had to be shaped in such a way that it wouldn't irritate the wearer.



Here's a few shots of some collars I made where I was trying to make the reverse as intricate as the front.


That's it for now. Thank you so much for reading my blog and I hope you have a wonderful day.

Caitlin