Sunday, 22 August 2010

Gears, sprockets and cogs

One thing I like about this latest fascination with steampunk is that the bead shops (and hobby shops) have begun to sell all sorts of cogs. From watch movements to imitation spoked gears. While using cogs and watch parts might be considered a cliché by the "true" steampunks that just see this mainstream fad as people "jumping on the bandwagon", I love because it's become so much easier to find pretty cog-shaped components for my jewellery. I like steampunk -- I love cogs.
One thing true steampunks dislike is the use of watch parts or cogs as single elements, not actually part of a mechanism. While I could argue that jewellery making is all about using parts in ways not originally designed for, I won't. I'll just tell you why I personally don't mind these "scattered" and lonely parts.

I grew up in the countryside. I still live in the countryside. Like all farms that's been in the family for some time (in our case, my grandfather bought our farm around 1900), you can find a slightly forgotten corner outdoors where the old machines were placed when they were no longer of any use in the farm work. When I grew up, going for treasure hunts there was one of the best things we knew. We had to climb over some wood and then fight our way through bushes and weed until we got to the good stuff. There, with the big ash trees towering over this old and forgotten place, we would pull out all sorts of things: porcelain shards, old glass bottles, wire -- but most of all the rusty remnants of all things discarded decades ago. As there were machines it of cause also included some heavy cast cogs.

So there you have it, really, the reason why I love cogs even though I mostly make more or less romantic jewellery inspired by nature. The same nature that inspired me cotained these treasures. And that is also the reason why I love rust. It's pure nostalgia.

Watch parts was "just" something I wanted to get as the size is more useful in jewellery that the large cogs I'm used to. But if I have to be honest, I do prefer cog-shaped stampings as they look more like those cogs we retrieved for our "archeological expeditions" as kids.

I think the type of "cogs" you see above are nice too even though they look more like toothed washers (known as tooth lock washer or star washer) to me... But I have seen something similar, with many more teeth, in a watch movement actually. Still looks like washers to me, though: you can tell I grew up with a dad who had a workshop filled with washers and other types of hardware rather than watches.

If I had to analyze my fondness for cogs -- which really just gained momentum as source of inspiration since I first heard of steampunk some years back and saw people using cogs as design elements -- even further they have a shape that attracts me. Not just are they shapes I remember for such different things in my childhood as treasure hunts and cartoons (Donald Duck has a way of getting stuck in big gears and watch parts, not unlike Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times). Not only do they make me think of old-fashioned machines and "the good old days", past times always being a great source of inspiration. Not just are they often made in one of my favourite metals, brass. Look at the little watch gear with four spokes that I showed in the beginning of this post. That is more or less the same shape as a bronze age sun wheel/sun cross -- just compare my cogs and gears with these bronze age pendants. Cogs are like the modern, industrialized version of a sun symbol.

While I and probably most other people don't consciously find cogs and gears pretty because they look like the archetypical sun symbol -- nor were they designed to look like that -- I think there might be something of an underlying positive feeling about the shape that can attract people to it. It's a shape that can symbolize industrialism, but when it's made of brass people can be nostalgic and associate it with old times rather than modern industry. The prongs (and spokes if it has any of those) on the cogs also makes a simple but interesting shape: something more is happening than if it were just a plain circle or washer. The design is basically the same, but can vary from the most simple to something very ornate: there's something for everyone, regardless of what styles we like.

BTW, that enamelled spoked gear (by C-Koop Beads) you can see two of the pics above is destined to become a part of a flower. An echo of the nature-meets-culture that a rusted cog enveloped in weeds is -- inspired by the treasure hunts -- and also a way to show that the cog shape can be so much more than just a gear when used in jewellery.


  1. Te conseguí por internet, estuve mirando tu blog y me gusta te agrego a mi lista para seguirte.

  2. Lucky bastard! (im only joking, i dont mean to call you names!)
    Bead stores here dont have that kind of things! I'm getting into steampunk myself and i'm gonna have to buy an old clock and tear it up for parts becuase i cannot for the life of me find ANY beads or adornments of cogs!

  3. Oh, I don't have any bead shops around here either that sell that type of thing -- I get it all online. The mix of watch parts and brass stampings are from Rings & Things ( and the enamelled components are from, both in the US. The cast cogs are from the Tim Holtz line (by Ranger Ink) and I got those from a Swedish online scrapbook shop.

    If it hadn't been for the Internet and the huge number of seller and shops worldwide, I'd probably never become a beader/jewellery-maker, seeing how limited the availablilty of interesting supplies is around here.

    A few of the watch parts come from my dad. We are a family of collectors and hoarders so I wasn't surprised to find a bag of old broken watches I could pick out gears from. (Dad can become very engaged in my hobby and offer me materials if I express an interest in the type of supplies he also likes, but didn't know could be used in jewellery. Such as watch parts and rubber o rings.)


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