Precious Wire Draws Jewelers Into Its Coils

Precious Wire Draws Jewelers Into Its Coils

More than 200 wire creations — some highly detailed, some belonging to royalty — will show in London for the 400th anniversary of a wire makers guild.

Recently Emma Madden and Luke Shimell demonstrated how to draw down wire in the East London workshop of their jewelry company, Shimell and Madden. “You have to anneal the metal first,” Ms. Madden said, using a small blowtorch to heat a pencil-like piece of 18-karat gold.

“You heat it to a cherry red, then cool it in water, or ‘pickle,’ which cleans off the oxidization,” she said, referring to an acid wash. “The idea is to heat the molecules in the metal to become more free and jiggly. And then the metal is more bendy.”

After an end of a rod is filed to a point, the point is inserted into the smallest hole of the bench’s steel plate and then pinched between tongs that are attached to a strap. The strap is pulled by turning a handle, much like a winch, and the entire rod is drawn through the hole.

It is a slow, time-consuming process. “When you draw metal down, even though it’s getting thinner, it gets harder,” Mr. Shimell said, so the metal has to be annealed again every few passes. Depending on the type of metal, the amount of wire needed and the required thickness, it can take a few hours to as long as several days to draw down enough wire for a piece of jewelry.