A guide to common chain types
What’s the difference between a filigree chain and a foxtail chain? Between a snake and a false snake? Cable and cobra? The following glossary answers just those questions, and includes details such as basic descriptions and characteristics, manufacturing methods, and alternative names.
Ball | Bar Link | Basket Weave | Bead | Belcher
Bismarck | Boston Link | Box | Byzantine | C Link
Cable | Cobra | Curb | Diamond-milled | False Snake
Fancy Cable | Figaro | Figure Eight | Filigree | Foxtail
French Rope | Herringbone | Marine Link | Mesh | Nugget
Omega | Popcorn | Rolo | Rope | Scroll
Serpentine | Singapore | Snake | Sock | Square Link
Swaged | Tiger tail | Toilet | Venetian | Wheat
Ball Chain: See "Bead."
Bar Link: The term bar link is used to refer to two different chain types. The first type consists of a straight bar alternating with one or more round links. The bar may be round, rectangular, or twisted, and is usually of the same metal as the round links. This type of chain can be used either as stand-alone necklaces or as a special pendant chain. The second chain called bar link is also sometimes called a Gucci chain. This is a modeled link, usually oval like a bagel, with a bar crossing the center opening horizontally. The term "Gucci" is a trademarked name, however, and cannot be used by other manufacturers.
Basket weave: As its name suggests, basket weave chain looks like a reed, cane, or rattan basket with wires woven alternately over and under one another. Overall widths can vary widely, as can the widths of the wire or flattened chain used to create the chain. This chain is particularly suitable for bracelets and watch bands.
Bead: Bead chain—also sometimes called ball chain or toilet chain—is made from thin flat stock or tubing formed into balls or beads. The formed beads are connected internally by wire, which starts out in a continuous length and is formed into small "dumbbell" shapes that hold the beads together and allow flexibility.
Belcher: See "Rolo."
Bismarck: Bismarck chain starts as a cable or curb chain, then the sides are soldered together. Its appearance resembles a chain-link fence, but with a much tighter mesh. It is most often used as a bracelet chain.
Boston Link: Named after the U.S. city, this chain is made from cable chain that is put through a hammer die. The process elongates each link and squares it, creating the same box-like pattern on all four sides of the chain. The solid link does not offer a large degree of flexibility; therefore, it is usually worn alone. This link is soldered and is made in medium to heavy weights.
Box: Perhaps one of the all-time classic chains, box chain is made from round wire rolled flat. A chain machine designed expressly for making this style allows the square links to be produced very close together. The end product is a sturdy, lustrous, silky-feeling chain composed of many small, square links alternating vertically and horizontally. Box chain can be highly polished or diamond cut, and because it is extremely durable, it can be worn either with or without pendants. It is worn in styles ranging from a bracelet or anklet to a 30-inch-long necklace. Also known as "Venetian" or "Square Link" chain.
Byzantine: The Byzantine chain is an intricate design based on the parallel or double cable chain. Three open links are added to each connection; two of the three are placed diagonally on either side of the connection, and the third is placed throughout the two extra links and the vertical double link. This extra layering of links repeats on each side of the connection. It is available both "flat," where it lies against the skin, and "round," where it has an enhanced three-dimensional appearance. The Byzantine is also available as a graduated piece, where the width becomes larger toward the center of the necklace.
C Link: The C link, otherwise known as the C chain, is composed of tiny, solid C-shaped pieces that cup into one another in a set repetition. This chain lies flat, similar to the herringbone, but has more flexibility than the herringbone due to its link. It is normally worn alone. Variations include beveled edges, which slant down toward the base of the chain. There is also a fancy C chain where designs are imprinted over the link; these designs can range from slash and nugget markings to classic vertical lines.
Cable: The cable chain is a basic open link where one oval links horizontally and one oval links vertically. This basic repetition proves to be one of the strongest chains available: Cable chains can often be found hauling large machinery and bearing anchors on ships. In jewelry, cable chain is commonly used as a pendant necklace. Variations on this link include double or parallel links, usually titled "fancy cable"; rectangular instead of oval links, titled "square link"; and the long and short, where the size of the link alternates. See also "Figaro."
Diamond-milled: A chain that has undergone a decorating process that creates a pattern of sharp cuts in the metal, using a machine with a diamond-tipped tool. The process leaves a bright finish that doesn’t require buffing or polishing.
False Snake: False snake chain—also known as seamed snake chain—is made by starting with a curb chain. The curb chain is then compacted and formed into a tubular shape, which makes it look like a snake chain. When properly made, the seam where the two sides join is not visible to the naked eye. Although the chain feels like a traditional snake chain, it is considerably easier to make, since there is no scrap and no intricate linking of die-struck pieces. It is, however, heavier than traditional snake chain because it is more nearly solid than the somewhat hollow structure of snake.
Figaro: Also sometimes called a "long and short" chain, Figaro chain (right) can be either a curb or a cable chain with a variable-length link. For example, this chain may be made with three short links and one long link, with one short link and one long link, etc. The length of the short lengths is usually equal to or greater than the long links.
Figure Eight: A chain with variable-length links, in which alternate links are twisted into figure-eight shape. This chain is made from either a cable or a curb chain, and the links can be hammered flat with a fancy pattern or diamond-cut.
Foxtail: Foxtail chain (right) is made from stamped links with bent ends. These links are connected without solder. The chain can be hammered into a square or rectangular pattern, or it can be diamond-cut.
Herringbone: Herringbone chain starts out as a double or triple rope chain. The rope chain is then curbed to take the twist out of the chain and is hammered flat. The finished chain resembles a herringbone tweed pattern.
Mesh: There are different types of mesh chain. Milanese mesh, for example, is woven wire that can take both tubular and flat forms. Another type, stocking mesh, is actually formed by a knitting process: Like a hosiery machine, needles knit a continuous seamless tube that can then be drawn into various diameters. With end caps attached, it can be used for necklaces, bracelets, and watch bands, and can even be flattened.
Nugget: Nugget chain—also called twisted serpentine and tinsel chain—is a standard serpentine chain, which, after it is soldered, is hammered into an inter-locking "S" design, then twisted to create a nugget look. The chain is normally soldered in a chain-soldering oven.
Omega: Omega chain is created in two steps. First, a mesh substructure is created in continuous footage. This substructure is then fed into another machine that places stamped gold sheet over the substructure. The gold sheet is snapped into place, section by section, until the continuous footage is used up. The footage is then cut into standard lengths, and locks are added before final polishing and clean up.
Popcorn: Popcorn chain is made of identical interlocking die-struck segments, which are continuously stamped from thin strips of flat stock. These segments are hollow and may be rounded, flat, or concave for greater reflection. This chain is made in a similar manner to traditional snake chain, and generates a great deal of scrap.
Rope: Rope chain is made on a cable- or curb-chain machine with a head that turns at six different degrees. This makes it possible to run two or three links and weave them together into double or triple chain.
Scroll: Scroll chain is made by a special chain machine that performs like two machines in one. The machine has two arbors that are fed wire from two different directions. The wire is curled by the arbors into the scroll design. The chain is then soldered. Scroll chain can also be hammered and diamond-cut.
Serpentine: Serpentine chain is produced by swaging (or hammering) a curb chain while it is positioned on its side. If you stand a curb chain on its edge lengthwise, you can begin to see the "S" pattern, which is accentuated by hammering.
Singapore: Singapore chain is produced by lightly swaging a double curb chain, thus flattening an area of the chain and creating a luster that greatly enhances the basic double curb. It is then twisted for a spiral effect.
Snake: Snake chain is produced from star-shaped stampings made from flat stock. These stampings are then piggybacked, one on top of the other, to produce a soft, supple chain. This method of producing chain is slow, however, with most machines generating perhaps 200 feet per day.
Square Link: See "Box Chain."
Toilet: See "Bead."
Venetian: See "Box Chain."
Wheat: The wheat chain is a machine-made rope chain that is twisted under tension to tightly nest the links, giving the chain the appearance of a wheat tassel. It can also be made on a left-right curb-chain machine.
MJSA thanks Steve Martin of National Chain Co. in Warwick, Rhode Island, for reviewing this article.