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Clasps: Grabbing the Gold Ring

Findings
By Simon Applebaum
This story appears in the September 2000 issue of JCK magazine
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Opening a spring ring or fishhook clasp can be hazardous to fingernails and nail polish, not to mention nearly impossible for arthritic hands. Yet more of these fastenings are used on bracelets and neck chains-especially lightweight ones-than any other clasp.

But some new contenders are challenging the domination of spring rings and fishhooks, and many findings suppliers are replacing manufacturer's rings and hooks with less troublesome clasps. We review three alternatives: the standard lobster claw, the new Pushlock lobster claw, and the Klik-iT magnetic closure.

The lobster. The current trend among most chain suppliers is to replace difficult-to-attach clasps with the lobster claw, if the weight, size, cost, and design of a chain allow it. The lobster claw is a refinement of the grappling hook. There's no need to open a clasp to attach two ends. Simply press the side of the lobster claw against the gold jump ring, and the side rail of the clasp pushes aside, allowing the jump ring into the hook as the side rail springs back into place.

"The lobster is probably the best seller, especially the bigger ones, because they're easier to open," says Lisa Miller, administrative assistant at Fire Mountain Gems, Cave Junction, Ore. "The bigger the clasp they can get away with, the better they sell." But design has a lot to do with salability. "The filigree fishhooks are used more for artwork," notes Miller. "The double hooks sell well because people really like the way they look. These types of clasps are used more for bracelets and anklets, because you can see the design. The lobsters are more for necklaces, since you usually can't see the clasp."

Ken Roberts, owner of JewelrySupply.com, agrees that lobster claws are big sellers. "Eighty percent of the clasps we sell are lobster claws," he says. "They're just easier to get your fingers on. Spring rings make up 15% of clasp sales, with only 5% for all the rest."

Mark Mann, director of professional certification for Jewelers of America, cites a number of other reasons the lobster claw is often the clasp of choice. First, it comes in so many sizes it can be matched up with almost anything. Second, it's less susceptible to wear and tear.

But the lobster claw isn't perfect. Opening one to remove a chain presents the same difficulties as many other frustrating clasps; i.e., the wearer has to push a small button to do it.

Building a better lobster trap. OroAmerica of Burbank, Calif., recently released a new clasp design that improves on the basic lobster claw. Called the Pushlock, it uses the grappling hook action of the lobster claw, but eliminates the need to manipulate a lever to release it. Instead, the release mechanism is a semicircular button that requires only the push of a finger to open.

Pushlock was invented to give a jumpstart to rope and link chain sales, says David Schwartz, director of marketing for OroAmerica. "I'd like to tell you that it was created through a lot of detailed research, with focus groups and the like, or that somebody's wife broke a fingernail. But I think it was just a matter of an engineer here from Italy who was sitting around thinking about how to create a better mousetrap."

Michael Langhammer, vice president of Quality Gold of Cincinnati, Fairfield, Ohio, thinks the Pushlock is ingenious. "We typically sell a majority of our product through catalog." Langhammer notes that rope chains-originally manufactured with a barrel clasp and safety catch-are commonly manufactured with spring rings or lobster claws, but the majority of the market wants rope chain with the lobster. "It's better than a spring ring," says Langhammer. "I sell three-to-one or four-to-one with lobster claws over the barrel clasp."

When it comes to fine chain, though, the spring ring is still king. "It doesn't make sense to have 25% of the weight of the pendant chain in the clasp," notes Langhammer. Will the Pushlock replace the lobster? "It may de-pend on the cost of the Pushlock over the lobster," says Langhammer, who adds that most chains are imported, which means they'll be manufactured with lobsters.

The Pushlock comes in 14k and 10k yellow gold and 14k white gold and is available in 8-mm, 10-mm, 12-mm, and 13-mm sizes. The lobster is available in many more karatages and sizes, but those limitations haven't deterred domestic interest in the Pushlock, notes Dianna Vangorden, gold department manager at Leo Frank & Son, Troy, Mich. "A lot of people call and ask for just the clasp, but we sell the product already complete," she says.

Like most suppliers, Leo Frank generally uses the lobster claw. "It's been pretty much the standard," says Vangorden. "We were the first to switch our rope chains, which used to have the barrel clasp, to the lobster claw. Now we're waiting to see how much interest there is in the Pushlock."

Magnetic attraction. Another new no-fingernails-necessary design is the Klik-iT, which uses magnets to connect the two ends. "If you're rushed, in a hurry, or your fingers don't work as well as you would like, you will appreciate the ease with which you can put on your necklace," says Olaf K. Becker, inventor and designer of the clasp. "I designed it because some family members have arthritic fingers. They can't get the cotton-pickin' little springs and lobster claws to open." Becker's invention uses two small, powerful magnets that snap together when placed in close proximity. "I tested it out on the grandchildren and all the relatives," Becker says. "When the two ends come together, they make a click sound." The Klik-iT comes in a standard size and a shorter, wider size for heavier necklaces and bracelets.

You can contact Becker at P.O. Box #306, Sapphire, NC 28774; (828) 884-4318, www.mtndistributors.com.

Getting the Hook

When it comes to clasps, spring rings, fishhooks, lobsters, and magnets aren't the only games in town. A number of other classic clasps are used on neck chains, bracelets, and anklets. The most common include the following:

  • The bar/ring clasp, otherwise known as a toggle clasp, is a good choice for men's jewelry because the bar is easy to maneuver one-handed through the ring.

  • The toggle clasp is especially suitable for bracelets, since the clasp is often part of the jewelry design.

  • The box clasp is commonly used for flat and wide chain. The box is a square or rectangular wedge, which slides and catches into a rectangular opening.

  • Hook and eye clasps are easy to use. Just slip the hook over a jump ring and it's clasped. However, they may come apart if the hook stretches open.

  • Screw clasps are seen on chains with rounded styles. The two ends simply screw together

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