best bracelet on wrist
Final well-fitting bracelet.

I wanted to make a cuff bracelet from polymer clay that fit well.  I wanted one that I didn’t have to worry about falling off, one where the gap stayed on the bottom instead of rotating to the top, and one without a safety chain or hook.

I started by buying an oval bracelet mandrel thinking that they’d worked out all the issues and all I had to do was form my polymer around it, bake it, and voila!  It had small, medium, large and extra large sizes.  I thought I was set.

I knew Kato was the clay to use for the bracelet core because it’s strong and doesn’t flex a lot when it’s thick.  I extruded a polymer bracelet core from scrap Kato polymer clay using a disc for the Lucy Czextruder.

bracelet mandrel
Stepped steel oval bracelet mandrel with four sizes.

The mandrel arrived covered in that smelly oil to prevent rust.  I cleaned off as much of it as I could then wrapped my my extruded bracelet core around the 2-1/2″ diameter size, which is supposed to be a medium.  I have a medium-sized, 6-1/2″ circumference wrist measured around the area between my wrist bones and hand.   When I baked it the garage reeked like old french fry grease.

The resulting bracelet was HUGE.  The gap kept rotating around to the top of my wrist and the bracelet kept coming off.  Totally unacceptable.

 

big lavender bracelet top
First attempt was huge.
big lavender bracelet falling off
The gap kept rotating to the top.

My next step was to make copper forms using the steel bracelet mandrel so I could bake without the smell.  I made a small and medium form and soldered the seams.  I decided a layer of clay inside the bracelet would make up for the gain in size from using the copper form instead of the mandrel itself.

2 copper forms
Medium and small oval copper forms I made using the steel bracelet mandrel.

For my next attempt, I used the small 2-1/4″ diameter copper form, since the 2-1/2″ medium diameter mandrel form was too big.

I also decided that the gap was rotating to the top of my wrist because that side of the bracelet was lighter since it had a big chunk of polymer missing from it.  I thought I could solve that problem by making the gap smaller and putting weights next to the ends.  I drilled holes and embedded seven metal beebees in each end of the polymer bracelet core.

bracelet w beebees outside
Beebees added for weight to prevent the gap from rotating to the top of the wrist.

Neither of these ideas worked.  My body heat was warming up the polymer, making it flexible.  The diameter of the bracelet was getting bigger and the gap was widening.

big green bracelet on wrist
Second attempt still too big.
big green bracelet falling off
I hate it when this happens.

I read that Donna Kato puts heavy gauge wire inside her bracelets to prevent them from loosening when they get warm.  I figured if that’s what she has to do with Kato clay, the firmest of clays, that it’s necessary.

I had the brilliant idea that I’d put memory wire inside, as though one little strand of memory wire was going to make a difference.  That didn’t work either.  Sometimes I don’t know what I’m thinking.

bracelet w memory wire
Memory wire version.
memory wire bracelet on wrist top
Third attempt, memory wire version, still too big.
lavender bracelet falling off
Still trying to come off my wrist.

Not giving up yet, I did some Internet research and found David Smallcombe’s YouTube video on how to make cuff bracelets that fit well.  He’s been making and selling metal cuff bracelets for 35 years.  In his video he shows how they should fit and how to slide them on and off from the narrow thumb-side of your wrist.

I also watched a review of his bracelets where the young woman in the YouTube video said she wore hers constantly, to sleep, bathe, etc.  Now THAT’s what I wanted.

David Smallcombe also has this very helpful bracelet-sizing chart and further fitting instructions on his website.

3braceletimages.3.29.13

Clearly I needed much more substantial metal than memory wire inside the bracelet, so I watched Lizz Barnes’ YouTube video on how to bend aluminum blanks.  I bought two lengths of aluminum blanks in three different gauges (12, 14 and 18) and three different widths (1/8″, 1/4″ and 3/8″) from TomlinandRoberts on Etsy.

ImpressArt also sells aluminum blanks in various widths, but the only lengths available seem to be 6″ and 7″.  I’ve seen some of their blanks for sale at Michaels and on Amazon.  ImpressArts also offers a bracelet bending bar in one diameter, which I’m not sure is enough for making small through large sizes.

I found the 14 gauge, 1/8″ thick, 5-1/2″ long aluminum blank from Tomlin and Roberts worked the best for the medium-sized bracelet I made.   Twelve gauge was very difficult for me to bend and 18 gauge was too flimsy.

all bracelet blanks
Some aluminum blanks from TomlinandRoberts on Etsy

If the aluminum blank is too long, it can be cut with a jeweler’s saw and the raw ends ground or filed smooth.  In the photo below I’m trimming down a 6″ long ImpressArt aluminum blank.

sawing aluminum bracelet
Sawing off ends that are too long. I could have just sawed off one end before I bent the bracelet, but why do things the easy way?

I also bought Double Cylinder Bracelet Shaping Pliers in two sizes.  I believe only the larger one will be necessary unless making very small bracelets.  There are other types of bracelet bending pliers available, but these EuroTool pliers do a good job.

bracelet forming pliers
Double-cylinder bracelet shaping pliers.

I measured the width and thickness of my wrist, made a drawing of it and then drew a pattern of how I thought an aluminum blank would best fit it.  I allowed about a 1-1/8″ gap for it to slip onto my wrist.   I think I can easily modify this pattern for smaller and larger sizes.

I had the pre-conceived idea that wrists are oval-shaped.  They’re not.  They’re fairly flat on top and the thumb-side of the wrist is thinner than the pinky-side, which is fairly meaty.

It was easy to bend the 14 gauge aluminum blank to match my drawing.   For my medium-sized wrist, the 1-3/8″ diameter cylinder pliers worked well.  I used the 1-5/8″ cylinder on the same pliers to add a gentle curve to the area in the middle so it wasn’t totally flat.

snake w bracelet pattern
Top to bottom: Bent aluminum blank 1/8″ wide, my pattern and the extruded polymer clay for the bracelet core.

I modified my Lucy Czextruder disc by super-gluing a small strip of the aluminum blank to one side of it so a channel would be created for the aluminum to fit into.  Super glue isn’t a long-term solution, but it worked.  The clay pushing against it helped hold it in place.  I’ll make a custom disc to fit behind the Lucy disc.

extruder disc
Lucy Czextruder with modified disc to create a channel for the aluminum blank.

Below is the extruded bracelet core with the aluminum blank in place.  After it was baked, I super-glued the aluminum blank in place because it kept falling out, which was just annoying.  Notice how the clay core shrunk leaving the aluminum blank sticking out a little.  From now on, I’ll make the extruded clay core longer to allow for shrinkage.

bracelet w aluminum form inside
Aluminum blank super-glued into channel in baked extruded polymer clay core.

Below is a view of the four bracelets I made with the worst fit on the far left and the best fit on the far right.  Notice how they got smaller and how the shape changed.

 

4 bracelets compared aerial
First attempt in lavender on the left to last attempt on the right which was successful.

The photo below shows the third bracelet with the aluminum blank bent to the shape that I drew.  It’s so much smaller!

big bracelet compared to aluminum form
Notice how much smaller the aluminum blank is than the bracelet made using the smallest oval bracelet mandrel form.  This is a wider aluminum blank than I used in my bracelet, but the shape matches my pattern.

I covered the outside of the extruded polymer core with my veneers and covered the inside with a strip of polymer to hide and secure the aluminum blank.  (The copper wires on the outside are for decoration only and serve no structural purpose.)

best bracelet on wrist 1
The aluminum blank version using my pattern.  Finally a bracelet that fits!
best bracelet inside wrist shot
Snug enough that it doesn’t rotate, yet not too tight.

It fits well!  I’m very pleased.

The bracelet is solid, but can still be bent slightly to fine-tune the fit.  Once it fits, it should never need to be bent again.  To bend it, I put my fingers on the inside, just in case the aluminum blank gets the idea it wants to break through the polymer.

I don’t think about this bracelet falling off.  In fact, I barely think about it at all, which is the way jewelry should be.  I don’t like to constantly fuss with jewelry I’m wearing.

The gap doesn’t rotate up to the top of my wrist.  It hardly rotates at all, yet it’s not so tight that my skin sweats underneath it.   It slides easily over my wrist bones.  It doesn’t hurt to slide it on and off, like some bracelets do.  I can remove my sweater without the bracelet coming off in my sleeve.  I’m not going to sleep with it on, but, yay!  Success at last!