This gold vermeil Cleopatras Curtains ring by Cindy Dennis Mangan shows how chain can be used in new ways in jewellery design.

Chain is a jewellery mainstay but its now taking centre stage.

By Juliet Hutton-Squire & Maia Adams

Chain is a mainstay in jewellery, but its importance in design should not be overlooked. Juliet Hutton-Squire and Maia Adams of Adorn Insight show how injections of colour, texture and volume can transform chain from the ordinary to the out of this world.


The chain is, without doubt, one of the cornerstones of jewellery making and as such is often overshadowed by showier elements of the practice. Of late, however, we’ve happily noted the chain’s move from humble supporting role to moment in the spotlight.

Starting with the hefty gourmettes that came to the fore early last year, chains are becoming the focal point of many a jewellery collection. But before we scrutinize this trend further, it is worth noting that, as with the majority of trends that eventually impact the jewellery industry, this one has been making itself felt across a number of other design disciplines for some time now. What unites them all is an interest in transforming the functional into something decorative, desirable and even thought provoking.

Artist Carolina Fontoura’s elaborate bike chain chandeliers are a case in point. Drawing inspiration from Victorian aesthetics, Fontoura explores socio-political themes, juxtaposing bourgeois ideas embodied in the grand chandeliers with notions of disposability as represented by the recycled chains.

Ploughing a similar furrow, BRC Designs’ Chain Rocker is a rocking chair made from recycled bicycle chains and Bob Campbell, aka Stig, fuses chain links together to create furniture that’s allure lies in the surreal way the hefty chains seemingly defy gravity to take shape as tables and chairs.

Fashion accessories too have been subjected to some serious chain action. Camilla Skovgaard’s stiletto sandal teams a ridged rubber sole with a chain bedecked upper, while Mulberry’s Lily handbag is embellished with a gold-coloured metal and leather chain strap.

Proving that this is a trend with a way to go, the recent AW12 catwalks were awash with chain references. Uniqueness sent out gleaming curb chokers, Versace worked chain mail paneling on fierce leather bomber jackets and Julien David showed elaborate crocheted metal necklaces. But the catwalks aren’t the only platform on which chain jewellery is making itself known. As new technologies allow for the production of ever more interesting chain variants, a whole host of solutions suggest that now could be the moment to update your chain selection with something, well, a little less ordinary.

Popcorn, belcher, Singapore and figaro might have added the spark to the jewellery cabinet some years back, but led by significant technological advances, the chain industry is now able to create types of links that we could only dream of before. Unsurprisingly, it is the fashion brands that are capitalising on this innovation.

Italian fashion brand Bottega Veneta has played with the idea of textured chain for some time now, so much so that the house’s criss-cross engraved chain links have become part of a design aesthetic that hints at a signature line. Determined not to rest on past successes, Bottega continues to develop the idea into new territory, so that instead of surface details, the links in its latest collection are made up of fine twisted sheets and plaited metal chain to yield a delicate lace-like silhouette.

CCSkye and Ben de Lisi have stripped the chain down to basics before adding their own design twist. In the case of the former, a mixed media approach transforms the open curb into a tapestry of intertwined leather and chain. By contrast de Lisi’s take on chain hardware as a design element positions the curb as a feature statement atop a leather-clad bangle.

Particularly interesting is the way some jewellers have used chain to host to a dazzling display of stones. Anna Hu’s diamond-set 18ct rose gold bracelet boasts 3cts of diamonds while New York-based Giles & Brother softens its traditionally hard-edge style with rows of crystals set in alternate chain links. Dall’ Ava, meanwhile, uses handcrafted box links to hold delicately mounted stones. 

Form and function aside, one of chain’s most endearing qualities is its versatility. Take Solange Azagury-Partridge’s fringed pieces, for example. Her collection includes a woven chain bracelet and gold ring to which are attached curtains of diamond tipped, oval curb chain. Tomasz Donocik’s Snowbell earrings have a similar appeal when it comes to plunging chain. His rose gold chain cascades are tipped with faceted tsavorites, which drop elegantly from black diamond-encrusted petal-like structures.

Mixing it up, Fiona Paxton and Emanuele Bicocchi drape, suspend, knot and weave chain to create bespoke pieces. The chains in Fiona Paxton’s Mareli earrings fall effortlessly from a beaded leather-backed structure to form a stepped silhouette, while Bicocchi knits and drapes chains to conjure his Net chandelier earrings.

For a more is more approach to jewellery and to capitalise on the layering trend, Philippe Audibert’s Chaine neckpiece is something of a showstopper. Here the designer layers different lengths of chain in graduated succession to create a multi-strand neckpiece based on the humble Singapore link.

It is worth noting that whilst certain trends may appear somewhat out-there with respect to fine jewellery collections, there are very few that, without adjustment, cannot inspire even the demurest of lines. And so it is with the colour trend.

Marc by Marc Jacobs’ Katie brass bracelet is a case in point. Whilst its neon yellow hue and OTT links place it inarguably in the costume camp, the idea of applying a dash of colour to a link – with stones or enamel, for example – is one that can be diluted right down to something contemporary and eminently commercial.

A mixed-media approach – as explored by Adorn Insight in Professional Jeweller’s January issue – can also yield eminently wearable looks. Venessa Arizaga’s Mayan Sunrise gold-plated curb chain interwoven with thread in shades of salmon, rhubarb, cobalt and jade may be quite the showstopper, but it is an idea that works just as well for those popular-right-now friendship bracelets.

As Arizaga herself puts it: “I’ve always loved the combination of threads and chains, and the idea of having something hard and soft mixed together to create a new texture. The pairing of densely patterned, colourful threadwork and chains gives you infinite ways to make a piece of jewellery and is such an inspiring medium to me.”

French fashion house Chloé follows suit with its Rebecca bracelet that has brass links interwoven with coral- and mint-toned leather strands.

Last, but most definitely not least, artist and jeweller Ineke Otte’s 100% recycled nylon 3D Printing necklace shows just how powerful pure white can be. In this case the minimalist colour palette provides the perfect foil to those seriously outsized links, creating a necklace that is the very essence of sculptural, and the ultimate evocation of a compelling trend.


This article was taken from the January issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.