Viking Necklace June 2014

I took part in an artisinal exchange, and got the opportunity to make *something* for a sweet young mother.  Under the rules of the game, it could be anything at all, which I made, with the catch that it had to include a special secret word or phrase somehow hidden in it.

I spoke with her ahead of time and offered her something useful or something that’s indulgent.  She wisely chose the latter.  In the Society for Creative Anachronism, she plays a viking.  So I poked around on the website of the British Museum and found the following necklace that seemed just about perfect for this task (two reasons why: I’ll explain these further below):

viking necklace



The necklace is made completely out of a “copper alloy” and largely uses skills in metal forming and stamping, which I have done in the past but not for several years (so that was reason #1 why this necklace seemed about perfect for this task!).  I even had most of the copper I needed, though I ended up buying the chain so that I got solid copper chain without having to braise each link myself.  OK I also did buy new copper sheet, but it turns out I did already have the sheet, so that was just silly of me. I guess I’ll have to make more of these necklaces.


A few things to notice about the original piece:

  1. The two side pendants are slightly smaller than the central one
  2. The pendants are too worn to see their design clearly. However there were another two on display with the necklace that showed their designs more clearly
  3. The fifth chain was missing and there is no evidence on the pendants about whether they were attached to the wire in any way other than just strung through

I started the necklace by working on the pendants.  For these, I cut circles with tabs on them to make the cylinders.  I figured that forming the cylinders would be the hardest thing about the necklace, so I had better start on it first.  What I didn’t know ahead of time was how I would bend the tabs into the cylindrical shapes.  When I’ve done this type of work before, it was for much larger cylinders (i.e. the ratio of cylinder diameter to thickness of metal was much higher).  I eventually devised a method that used a nail of the desired internal diameter, a hammer, and a pair of good vise grips.  Good vise grips are my new favorite tool in the shop, and I ended up buying three new ones at the end of the project, as a reward for myself.  The picture below shows how I used the vise grips and nail. You can encouraged to wrap your imagination around the use of the hammer.

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Once I had the process sorted out, it didn’t take long to turn all 5 flat pieces into pendants.  Note to self: I need more circle forms in the shop.

The hanging tabs came next. These I first rough cut with the band saw. Then I clamped them together (with a spring clamp) and ground them down together, so that they were a matched set.  I realize that they are not quite a matched set in the original, but frankly I couldn’t figure out why, so the ones on mine became a matched set.  If anyone can clue me in as to why they should have different shapes (other than: that’s how the original is) please do so.  I was pretty pleased at how well the symmetrical-grinding trick worked, first time out, too.


As you can see from the picture above, I stuck to the original design with the stampings on these.  I first punched the five holes at the bottom.  This I did by placing the copper on a piece of soft wood and hitting a sharp awl into the copper.  This allows a much deeper stamp than had I used a harder backing.  The resulting peak (only 3 of them ended up punching all the way through on the first hit) was sharp enough that when I ground them down, I was left with holes.  yay!  I did use a drill for the larger holes, because to use this method I would have had to cut the tabs *after* I punched the holes.  That was poor planning on my part.  With the holes now cut, I stamped the four marks across the bottom and the cross shape.  The point-with-concentric-circle motif is very common for this era jewelry.  I made a little tool to make these punches by cutting a 1/8″ hypodermic tube and placing inside it a small nail that fit well inside the tube.  As the tube and nail bent with use, I ground the nail down so that the marks remained even.  When I say “little”, I mean that the entire tool was about 3/4″ long.  This is another place where vise grips came in *very* handy, and crappy vise grips let me drop the darn tool one night when I was way too tired to look for it on the shop floor.  Hence the self-reward of a set of three new pairs.

Now to explain reason #2 why this necklace was about perfect.  The two words/phrases I got, which I could choose from, were “purpure” and “canonical hours”.  Had purple been the recipient’s favorite color, it would have been a no-brainer to go with that.  But alas it wasn’t.  “Canonical hours” seemed kinda hard.  According to the specific definition list we were given, Canonical Hours were the ringing of church bells at 3am, 6am, 9am, noon, and again at those hours in the afternoon.  This being a church-related phrase, but a Viking necklace, I wasn’t sure what to do…. except, the cruciform design on the tabs made the solution possible!  I felt inspired to stick with the churchy theme, given the crosses on the tabs.  But how exactly to incorporate the hours into the rest of the design was not immediately obvious. I originally thought of making the pendants into bells, but I had no proof that this would be appropriate for period.  Ditto for stamping a bell design on them.  Also, how to get the hours onto pendants, when the original had three?  I allowed myself to make 5 (you may have been wondering that above… sorry I didn’t exactly pre-plan the layout of this essay), and used the concentric point-and-circle design to indicate the hours.  So, the first four pendants have marks to indicate 3, 6, 9 and 12, in order.  Then I took a HUGE anachronistic leap, and put the music notation for “repeat” on the last one.  I hope the recipient finds this as amusing as I do.  Then again, without the decryption help of a musically knowledgeable person, she might just be cursing me when she doesn’t guess the phrase.

Back to the question of how to attach the pendants to the necklace.  I strung them up on a length of chain and held it up to consider this.  To my surprise, I really liked how they looked when they all fell to the middle.  The long cylinders keep them from overlapping too much, and they hang in a pleasing arc.

Here are the nearly-finished and finished pendants.  The design on the edges was put in using an old lathe cutter that was ruined for the lathe, but left an interesting pattern on the copper.  Putting the designs on the cylindrical component proved to be the toughest part of this piece, and I shall have to make myself some more custom tools for this.  I used the nail as an anvil this time.

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Here are pictures of the whole necklace:


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