1. Japanese Flower Earrings

An introduction to chainmail

by Marilyn Gardiner


Have you always wanted to make sterling silver chains without paying Jewelry Store prices? I did.

Do you love learning new jewelry techniques? I do. That’s why I’ve added chainmaking to my collection of beading skills.

My plan is to introduce you to a series of earring projects at a beginner level. Each different “chainmail weave” used in an earring can be extended or adapted to a bracelet, an anklet or a necklace—or maybe a belt—or perhaps even a doggie collar—let your imagination be your guide. And many of the projects can be enhanced by adding beads in a variety of ways.

When working with jump rings made from sterling silver wire it is important to learn about wire gauges, ring sizes, and new advances in the composition of the wire itself. The tools you use need to be talked about. The care and feeding of your finished jewelry needs discussion. All this and more will be added as side-bars to each project.

For this month’s project we’ll talk about pliers and how to open and close jump rings.

Japanese Chain MailOnce you have made the earrings, it’s easy to make more flowers and link them together to make a bracelet.

Chain Mail Weaves

This Japanese 6 in 1 chainmail pattern has it’s roots in Japanese armour from the middle ages. The Japanese weaves look best with small rings for the vertical connector rings and large rings for the horizontal rings. Both rings can be doubled up, as in this project, for a tight, stable weave.


The large jump rings are made from 1.0 mm diameter (18 gauge) round sterling silver wire.

The inside diameter (ID) of the rings is 5 mm.

Quantity: 28 rings

The small jump rings are made from 0.8 mm (20 gauge) sterling wire with an ID of 2.8 mm.

Quantity: 52 rings

1 pair of earring findings
• french wire, • post, • lever-back, • clip on

How to:

To Open a Ring

Use 2 pairs of pliers to hold the sides of a jump ring with the opening at the top (12 o’clock).

Hold the ring steady with your non-dominant hand while you rotate the wrist of your dominant (writing) hand, twisting the pliers tip towards your body.

Never open up the loop by pulling it side to side—you won’t get it back into a true circle.


2 pairs of smooth-jawed jewelers’ pliers

Both pairs could be chain nose pliers, or one could be chain nose and the other one could be either flat nose pliers or bent nose pliers (where you would use the curved part to grip the jump ring). My preference is a pair of flat nose pliers and a pair of tapered flat nose pliers, both with padded handles.

Pliers have a variety of specifications and come in varying levels of quality and at corresponding price points.

The handles come in different lengths and have padded, ergonomic handles or plain handles.

The jaws of the pliers can be fine and narrow or thicker and heavier. (I prefer the thicker and heavier ones for working with jump rings made from heavier wire because the pliers don’t slip off a jump ring as easily, scratching the metal).

The joint can come with or without a spring.

When it comes to price, there are very good pliers that are not expensive and a good choice if you don’t know if this craft is something you will want to pursue. The best quality (and most expensive pliers) tend to be made in the United States, Sweden or Germany.


To Close a Ring

Use 2 pairs of pliers to hold the sides of a jump ring with the opening at the top (12 o’clock).

Pull the ring ends back together by rotating your wrists and exerting a bit of inward pressure. You may hear a “click” as the ends meet.

The goal is to have the two ends lined up exactly, with no space between them.

Move the ends back and forth by small amounts to adjust the fit. If you go a bit past where they are even, they will spring back and match exactly.

Spend the time to close each ring carefully—this will be the mark of a professional finish to your work.



The Japanese Flower Segment

Each complete flower segment has 14 large rings—two layers of 7 rings. Every pair of large rings is joined to each neighboring pair with 2 small rings.

The strategy for each flower segment will be to complete the centre portion, add the top layer of large ring “petals”, and then add the second layer of large rings. Here we go!



Step 1

Close 12 small rings. Open one large ring and gather up the 12 small closed rings. Close that ring.

Step 1

Step 2

Open one large ring and insert it through all 12 small rings. it will lie as a second layer on top of the first large ring. This is the centre of the flower.

(Alternatively, you could add this second large ring as part of Step 6.)

Step 2

Step 3

Open 6 large rings and 12 small ones.

Insert one large ring through 2 small ones in the flower centre.

Insert another large ring through the next 2 small ones.

Step 3

Step 4

Repeat this step until there are 6 large rings surrounding the centre ring and all 12 small rings are in place.

Step 4

Step 5

Open 12 small rings. Link each pair of large ring petals with 2 small rings.

Here’s the first pair of connecting rings set in place.

This photo shows all 6 pairs of rings in place. Step 5 continued

Step 6

Open 6 large rings. Insert one large ring on top of each of the large rings in the first layer, starting at the centre. Maneuver each ring carefully so that you pass through the corresponding 6 small rings.

This photo shows the insertion of the first ring of the second layer.

Step 6
This photo shows a completed flower segment—all of the top layer is complete.

Make another flower segment for the second earring.

Step 6 continued

Step 7

Join a flower segment to your chosen earring finding with 2 small jump rings.

Step 7


Here is a necklace that is perfectly suited to showing off special beads. This one happens to be a polymer clay bead by a talented bead artist, Barbara Colautti. I have a collection of heart beads (lampwork and polymer clay) that I interchange, depending on what I’m wearing that day. <grin>

Isn’t it wonderful to be able to create something exceptional, whether for a family member, a good friend, or yourself!

Note: As I was experimenting with this necklace I realized that the large rings are positioned just like beads in peyote stitch or brick stitch—and I was able to use my beading software to play with designs.



Here is a beautiful mother-of-pearl and sterling clasp I found and used for a special bracelet for my daughter.

I really believe that the quality of a clasp (or other finding) should match the quality of the rest of the project.

Have a look at the clasp collection in my online store.



Irene From Peterson has written two books that include chainmail projects. Her second one is titled Silver Wire Jewelry; Projects to Coil, Braid & Knit. It includes several Japanese chainmail projects. The book is translated from Danish to English & is published by Lark Books.

You should also check out the website Maille Artisans and Chainmail Basket because they have a wealth of information about chainmail.

Copyright 2005 Marilyn Gardiner.

All Rights Reserved.