An earring wire needs to be comfortable and durable. Here's a quick guide to the recommended metals and wire gauges for pierced earring findings.
A variety of fish-hook style earwires.
Recommended Earwire Gauge
(In wire gauges, a higher gauge number = thinner wire. For example, 12 gauge is a fairly thick wire, while 26 gauge is very thin.)
The most common earring wire sizes:
20, 21, and 22 gauge.
21 Gauge – If I had to choose one size that would fit most pierced ears, and be compatible with most earring styles – I would pick 21 gauge.
20 Gauge – Most people can wear 20 gauge (one size thicker than 21 gauge), and it makes a nice, sturdy earring finding. But a few folks (like me) find that 20 gauge wire is slightly too large to fit comfortably through their ear piercings.
22 Gauge – For small or lightweight earrings, 22 gauge (one size thinner than 21 gauge) can make a good earring wire. You may want to tumble or work-harden it a bit to keep it from being too flimsy.
18 Gauge - At the larger end of the scale, I've seen some earring styles (mainly hoops) made with wire as thick as 18 gauge. If you're planning to sell your jewelry or give it as gifts, remember that a lot of people won't be able to fit 18 gauge wire through their ear piercings.
24 Gauge – And at the smaller end of the scale, some pierced earring findings are made from 24 gauge wire – but (depending on your customers) that may too thin to be sturdy enough to use in designs you sell.
Metals for Earwires
Metal allergies can be a serious problem, especially for people with pierced ears. Here are my guidelines for using metals in earring findings:
Nickel causes allergic reactions in many people – so I recommend avoiding any nickel-containing metal for earring wires (or any other component that touches the wearer's skin).
Surgical steel – I recommend avoiding surgical steel for ear findings. Although it's widely thought of as an "allergy-free" metal, unfortunately surgical steel sometimes contains small amounts of nickel – and does cause serious skin reactions in some people.
Aluminum is OK for most people, but a small percentage of the population is sensitive to it.
Copper is an allergen for some people, although it's a less common metal allergy than nickel. (Copper earwires can also turn pierced earlobes a harmless shade of green!)
Brass is also OK for most people, but can cause allergic skin reactions for some folks.
Gold – although many allergy-prone people can wear high-karat gold earring findings with no problem, gold has been cited as an allergen for a very small percentage of people. So do let people know when your earrings contain gold or goldfill, just in case they have a known sensitivity to it.
Fine silver or "pure silver", generally 99.9% pure, is OK for most people to wear.
Sterling silver, 92.5% silver, is usually OK for most people to wear. However, although the remaining 7.5% of this metal is usually copper, it sometimes also includes nickel.
Colored, Coated Craft Wires / Artistic Wire – I have not used colored craft wires for earwires. But if you're interested in doing that, contact the manufacturer first and ask whether they recommend their colored craft wires for use in piercings.
Recommended Earwires for Metal-Allergy People
Many people with allergies find that the only materials they can wear in their piercings are:
Niobium – look for "pure niobium", ".999 niobium", or 99.9% niobium.
Titanium – look for "Grade 23 titanium", "ASTM F136″, or "implant grade titanium", which are various designations for the most pure form of this metal.
Nylon – often unavailable anywhere.
Plastic – often unavailable anywhere.
Teflon. – often unavailable anywhere.
If you're making earrings to sell or give as gifts . . .
you may want to stock some earring wires in one of these materials, so you can change out the earwires on your regular earrings for metal-allergy folks.
People with allergies always greatly appreciate it when you understand their situation and are willing to accommodate them!
Making Your Handmade Earring Wire Designs Comfortable
If you make your own pierced earring findings, be sure to carefully file, buff, or tumble them to remove any sharp / rough edges from the tip that will go through the piercing.
Also, if you're making earrings for other people, it's a nice touch to include clear plastic "earring stoppers" or "French wire keepers" that slide onto the end of the earwire and prevent the earring from accidentally coming out of the ear:
Want to Learn How to Design Your Own Earwires?
In my Design and Make Artistic Jewelry Components video class, you'll learn how to get great ideas for jewelry component designs – and then follow my easy system for turning those ideas into successful pieces of jewelry.
By the end of this online video class, you'll be designing and making your own artistic earwires, clasps, connectors, and pendant bails.
You'll also learn my tips for making wire jewelry more easily, with more professional looking results.