It’s All in the Wrist: Joining the Worlds of Welding and Fashion

by AWS Education Services

The welding industry is one that most people view as rugged, utilitarian, and the embodiment of blue-collar work. Compare that to the fashion industry, typified by artistic self-expression, personal indulgence, and the fickleness of the moment. At first glance, they seem like two worlds that couldn’t be further apart. However, in the true spirit of welding, there’s a small business in New York looking to seamlessly bring these two dissimilar entities together with a little flair.

The Brooklyn-based Catbird, a jewelry shop whose name fittingly consists of two things that seemingly don’t belong together, has recently opened a Welding Annex. Here, they weld bracelets and other eye-catching pieces directly onto the wrists of their customers. If this doesn’t exactly strike you as safe, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The welders at Catbird began by welding jewelry on one another and have since taken every step to ensure the safety and viability of this new endeavor. Their new concept was initially brought to the masses in the form of an exclusive one-night event, which was a smashing success by all accounts. For now, Catbird is focusing on bracelets, but they’re looking to continue testing their process on other kinds of jewelry, eventually branching off into necklaces and anklets.

Now, the idea of welding jewelry on people seems unorthodox, but in some ways, it makes complete sense. After all, if you’ve ever had a clasp break off from your favorite chain, or needed the fit adjusted on a ring or watch, there’s a chance that a special joining process was required to make things right. But even beyond the safety concerns, you might wonder why someone would want to weld a piece of jewelry onto themselves in the first place. Well, for starters, there’s no need to struggle with an annoying clasp, and there’s virtually no chance of misplacing your jewelry or having it stolen. Also, this doesn’t come with the pain typically associated with tattoos and piercings. Those interested in the ritual of getting matching adornments with a friend or loved one might also find this process appealing.  And unlike getting a tattoo, the process is entirely reversible. If the trends of the moment or the whims of the heart point elsewhere, the jewelry can be removed with a quick snip from a pair of scissors.

While it’s comical to imagine an iron link chain being welded onto someone’s arm with an oxyfuel torch going full blast, this process doesn’t work exactly like that. In reality, jewelry is typically crafted and repaired via soldering, laser beam welding, or pulse arc welding. Soldering has traditionally been the go-to process for jewelry, but it does have some limitations. Even though soldering is a relatively low-heat process, it can still result in the discoloration of certain metals. On top of that, the process can be a bit slow, and the seams of soldered joints can sometimes be offputtingly visible. You can see how this might be an issue when dealing with fine, artisanal jewelry.

Laser beam welding is on a totally different level than soldering, providing jewelers with unparalleled control over intricate details and weld dimensions. LBW is especially useful for filling in porosity on rings, creating bezels on watches, and adding posts to earrings. However, it too has some shortcomings, especially when it comes to jewelry that is made of silver or contains gems. This is because the reflective surface of silver almost acts like a mirror, making it extremely difficult to weld using laser beams. Similarly, most gems are susceptible to melting or otherwise being damaged if they come into contact with lasers.

Pulse arc welding, the apparent process of choice for Catbird, is performed using concentrated electric pulses to almost instantly fuse metal. While the exact details of their methods are scarce (and likely proprietary), the process appears to address many of the concerns we covered earlier. The entire process takes about three minutes, is not significantly hindered by the surface characteristics of silver, and, because gemstones are not electrically conductive, does not pose a threat to any already-present gemstones.

The coalescence of fashion and welding is mostly uncharted territory, and it remains to be seen whether this particular instance proves to be a glimpse of the future or merely a silly novelty. And on that note: we’d love to hear from you! What do you think about Catbird’s latest endeavor? Bold new trend or risky endeavor? Wave of the future or harmless gimmick? Feel free to sound off below!