Clasps and Toggles
Jewelrymaking DIY Basics: What is a Lobster Claw Clasp?
Handmade artisan jewelry, mass-market costume jewelry and fine jewelry frequently uses lobster claw clasps to fasten jewelry and to enhance jewelry appearance.
What is a lobster claw clasp?
"Lobster claw" is a term often used generically for a family of clasps having triggers that open and close a clasp. Lobster claw clasps primarily hold two ends of a jewelry piece together by locking the clasp trigger around a jump ring or through a link of chain on the opposite end of a necklace, bracelet or anklet. Some jewelry makers will use lobster claw clasps to attach charms or, if the lobster claw has a fancier design, to act as a visual centerpiece in the front of a necklace.
Jewelry purists will tell you that lobster claw clasps have long, straight oval shapes. Pelican clasps, specialty trigger clasps, are curved specialty trigger clasps with the trigger on the outer convex surface. More symmetrical teardrop shapes describe oval trigger or rounded trigger clasps. Balloon clasps, with a longer oval shape and thinner construction, often require less metal than a traditional oval trigger clasp; therefore, balloon clasps will weigh less than a similarly sized lobster claw or trigger clasp. Other specialty clasp shapes include heart trigger clasps, elephant trigger clasps and cat trigger clasps.
Swivel clasps, a style of oval trigger clasp where the base rotates separately from the rest of the claw, may offer the wearer more comfort by giving another "degree of freedom" to the bracelet, necklace or anklet. Swivel clasps are popular in sterling silver; OhioBeads.com also offers swivel clasps in popular plated metals.
Precious metal jewelry clasps in the United States must carry quality stamps to indicate their precious metal content per Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Lobster claw metal type will generally match a dominant metal in the jewelry piece. Lobster claw materials in the United States will most often fall into the following categories:
- Gold: 18 karat, 14 karat, 12 karat in yellow gold, white gold, green gold, rose gold
- Gold-Filled: base metal with karat gold mechanically and thermally bonded to visible and wear surfaces
- Silver: sterling silver (.925 silver) including argentium silver and blackened silver
- Surgical Steel
- Lead-free Brass, usually plated with gold, silver, copper, imitation rhodium, gunmetal, and optionally antiqued or oxidized
Some designers and consumers consider lobster claws as less stylish than toggles. However, lobster claw clasps usually offer more secure fastening than do toggles because toggle bars may slip out of their loops, even if the pieces are appropriately sized to the wearers. The most common flaws of lobster claws, more common with inexpensive costume jewelry clasps, are:
- A lobster claw trigger that sticks
- A trigger with a spring that "pops"
- A lobster claw base with little strength which fatigues and breaks with ungentle wire wrapping or wearing
Jewelry makers learn the merits of each type of lobster claw by experience -- judging the size, weight, cost, appearance and ease-of-use with respect to their vision for different jewelry pieces. There is no one perfect lobster claw design for all jewelry applications. Fortunately, there are many different designs of lobster claws to accommodate the needs and budgets of amateur and expert jewellery makers.
Jewelrymaking DIY Basics: What is a Toggle?
To work effectively with friends, customers and suppliers, jewelry makers should learn the terminology of jewelry-making supplies. The right terminology will help define a need for the right jewelry closure when images are not available.
Jewelry toggles make up a second category of jewelry closures, along with lobster claw clasps, for handmade artisan jewelry, mass-market costume jewelry and fine jewelry. You will see toggle closures on jewelry pieces from Tiffany and David Yurman down to special Mothers Day gifts that only a mother would wear. Toggle clasps can fasten jewelry and enhance jewelry appearance. Many jewelry-makers use toggles as closures for their necklaces, bracelets, and anklets.
What is a jewelry toggle? (Jewellery toggle for you Brits!)
A jewelry toggle is a set of two pieces: a jewelry loop and a jewelry stick. The jewelry loop is attached to one end of your jewelry chain, strung beads, seed bead weave, wire crochet, etc. The jewelry stick is attached to the other end. To hold the jewelry together around the neck, wrist or ankle, one inserts the jewelry stick through the jewelry loop; the stick then rests against the jewelry loop by gravity to hold the jewelry together.
Mechanics of Toggles
The shortest distance from your anchor point (often a ring soldered on or cast midway a metal toggle stick) to the end of the stick must be longer than the widest opening of your toggle loop. Otherwise, the toggle stick will easily slip through the loop and the jewelry will drop off. The toggle loop must be big enough to accommodate the smallest beads on the end attached to the toggle stick. The stick must be pulled through the loop before it can be turned to rest against the toggle loop. For that reason, many designers who use toggles will graduate end beads down in size. A toggle that is heavy with respect to the beads and other components will help a bracelet to hang comfortably, with the toggle loop underneath the wrist. Lighter weight toggles will let a bracelet rotate around the wrist as gravity drags on the heaviest parts of the bracelet. If the jewelry piece does not have some slack, then the size is most likely too tight for long lasting jewelry.
Your "stick" may be as simple as a button with a shank used with a loop of seed beads on bead wire. Your loop may be quite fancy, with "expandable" toggles of several rings attached together. The rings on both the toggle loop and toggle stick should be firmly attached. Cheaply manufactured toggles will often have rings that will twist off or deform or sticks that have no rigidity and bend under light tension.
When using chain, toggles will usually be fastened with open jump rings, split rings or link locks. If one wishes to have soldered connections, then chain end caps will be used. Jewelry designers will usually fasten toggles to bead wire projects using crimps. The wire is strung through the toggle or stick loop, then doubled through the crimp before it is flattened into place. Bead wire projects and fiber projects such as knotted silk jewelry pieces will often use clam shells or bead tips to make the transition from the knotted fiber to the toggle. Inexpensive leather or fiber pieces may be knotted directly onto the toggle pieces with overhand knots.
Most toggles used in the United States will be made of cast or assembled metal alloys. High end jewelry will use Platinum, Gold, Palladium and Sterling Silver toggles. One will often see Stainless Steel, Surgical Steel and Titanium for edgy, contemporary jewelry. Middle-market products will most likely use Gold-filled toggles and Sterling Silver toggles. Plated toggles will feature brass, surgical steel or copper with plates of gold, silver. copper, gunmetal/hematite, imitation rhodium, imitation silver and imitation gold. Gold, silver, copper and brass may be oxidized or antiqued for the look of aged jewelry components. Solid copper toggles have their enthusiasts for the alleged medical benefits. (If you like copper, you may want it lacquered to prevent green skin, which is a sign of a light allergic reaction to raw copper.) Raw brass and lacquered brass toggles have their fans, too. One may also find toggle sets of wood or stone. Some toggles are decorated with crystals, cubic zirconia or gemstones. Pot metal toggles will appear on only the very cheapest of jewelry.
Fashionistas often have regarded jewelry toggles as more fashionable than lobster claw clasps. However, toggle clasps come with a bit more risk than lobster claw clasps. Even well-sized jewelry using toggles may fall off the body in the wrong situation. These "wrong situations" may be as simple as resting the wrist on a desktop or otherwise relaxing the tension on the piece.
Fancy toggles will often be used at the front of a necklace as a visual centerpiece -- especially fancy shaped toggles or toggles with additional decorations.
Jewelry toggles come in a wide array of designs: plain round toggles, oval toggles, square toggles, diamond toggles, heart-shaped toggles, floral toggles, stirrup toggles, etc. Jewelry aesthetics and individual taste will usually define the possible toggles to match a jewelry piece. Fortunately, toggles are available in a wide range of materials, shapes and prices.