Monday, 29 March 2010

The WireWorkers Guild

Wire Jewellery

has been made
since the beginning of
Creating wire jewellery is
an ancient craft.

Beautiful gold wire designs
have been discovered in
ancient burial chambers dating
as far back as 1700BC.
It is believed that these
ancient craftsmen made
wire by chiseling thin
strips from sheet metal:
these strips were then
either twisted around
cylindrical mandrels or
rolled between two
flat rocks, to smooth them,
for use in jewellery and
decorative ornamentation.

Today, wire is made by drawing
annealed (softened) metal rods
through shaped holes in a drawplate.
The drawplate allows for the manufacture
of almost unlimited lengths of wire from
any ductile metal and
by altering the shape
of the
opening, wire can
be produced in varying
shapes: square, triangular, half-round, but
the most common being round.

Archaelogists tell us that metal drawplates
were used by the Persians in the 6th century, as well
as in Roman times and first came to Europe in the
10th century, resulting in widespread manufacture
of chain-mail armour in Medieval times.

Until 1812, America imported its wire from the UK and Germany but the 1st World War meant that supplies became cut off. Therefore, from this point on, the Americans began building their
own factories and producing their own wire, so that by the 19th century, the U.S. had begun mass-producing many household products: such as wire whisks and baskets. Its popularity gradually diminished with the advent of plastic, although in recent years, wirework has enjoyed a renaissance, with craft and hobby suppliers producing coloured wires in every tone and gauge.

The beginnings of Wire Jewellery as we know it today, began in England in 1903, thanks to a businessman called Mr Oxley, who ran a family run business called 'C.G.Oxley & Co.' located in the Baker Street Buildings, in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset. Following the end of the First World War, Mr Oxley introduced solderless, wire-wrapped jewellery, creating wearable art using glass beads and plain wire wrapped designs. His family run firm, employed between 20-30 World War One veterans, who had been introduced to wirework as a form of occupational therapy. Apparently, you could walk into Mr Oxley's store and watch the artists at work at their benches. By the end of the 1920's and '30's it became so popular, that pieces found their way around the country into other department stores.

Sadly, as the generation of wire artists grew older and died, no new ones stepped in or were trained and Oxley's store - which had been taken over by Jim Llewellin in 1950, following Oxley's death - closed it's doors forever in the mid-1980's and wire art virtually disappeared from mainstream popularity in the U.K.

Jim and his wife Mavis Llewellyn emigrated to Canada, bringing wire wrapping with them, which flourished into a new wearable art in Canada, spreading into America, with contemporary artist jewellers combining gemstones, beads and found artifacts into their designs.

Therefore, let's all try and be part of the gradual resurgence of wire art jewellery in the U.K. bringing it back as an art form that we can
be proud of!


  1. Love your article, so ethical and I could sense the passions for wire art jewellery you have in this!

  2. Wow! Oxley's old workshop at Baker Street Buildings is about 200 yards from our house. I walk past it every day (it is a dance studio now) on the way into our bead shop. Never realised there was a bit of history right there.

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