Buying a Chain for a Pendant

gold chainMany pendants are sold with a matching chain, but perhaps you don't like the "stock" chain your necklace came with, or you recently purchased a lovely, vintage pendant without one. Here are a few things to think about when shopping for the perfect chain!

Weight of the Pendant

The first thing to take into consideration is the weight of the pendant. While you don't need a big, heavy chain for a tiny birthstone solitaire, putting a big, heavy medallion on a thin little chain is a recipe for disaster! The heavier the piece, the heavier the chain links should be.

Chain Length

Next, think about where you want to pendant to hang when you are wearing it.

For most women, a 16" chain is choker-length and sits tight at the base of the neck, a 17" chain has a little more "breathing room". An 18" chain will rest at the collarbone, a 20" chain a little below. 22" chains will come approximately to the neckline, 24" chains below the neckline, and 36" chains will fall to the midriff. Use longer lengths for larger pendants and medallions.

For men's jewelry, a 20" chain is usually the best choice, though boys and men with a slight build may prefer an 18" chain. 22" and 24" chains fall below the collarbone.

If you're buying the chain online and aren't sure of the size to buy, measure a chain you have and note where it lies. Every 2" in difference will make the chain fall approximately 1" higher or lower.

Chain Link Style

Chains come in a mind-boggling variety of link styles. When choosing one to carry a pendant, stick to the plainer varieties so the chain doesn't overpower its companion! The chain should ideally flex well in all directions - less flexible chains are prone to bending and breakage. For this reason, you may want to avoid serpentine, cobra, snake chains and herringbone link chains. A box link or a simple curb chain is usually the best choice. Figaro chains are slightly more ornate but also work well. Rope chains are attractive (and suitable for men), but again they are less flexible and subsequently less durable.


It goes without saying that the chain should match the pendant in color, i.e., don't pair a silver chain with that yellow gold heart locket or a gold chain with a big, silver cross. But can you mix and match metals? Absolutely! If price is an issue, go ahead and use a silver chain for that white gold pendant, a gold-filled chain with a yellow gold piece, or vice versa. For best results, bring the pendant with you when shopping - slight variations in color due to the different metals will be more noticeable with some chain styles than with others. Be aware that gold is stronger than silver (which can tarnish) and gold-filled items can lose their plating with frequent wear, so in the long run, it may be less costly to invest in a gold chain in the first place!

Type of Clasp

Last but not least, consider the clasp. It should be solid, secure, well-made, and designed in a way that you don't have to struggle to open and close it.

The most common chain clasp is the simple spring ring and jump hoop. Sometimes inexpensive chains have jump hoops which are impossibly tiny - make sure neither side of the clasp is too small for you to operate easily!

Other clasps include the lobster clasp (usually easier to manipulate than the spring ring kind) and the box clasp. Lobster clasps are similar to but larger than spring rings and are a good choice if you're a little challenged in the dexterity department! Box clasps aren't as widely available but they're even easier to use - a "tongue" on one half pushes into a "box" on the other half and snaps in place. To open a box clasp, you usually just need to squeeze part of the clasp and pull the ends apart. High-end box clasps are sometimes secured with additional safety chains, making them a great choice for heirloom pendants.

Tip: If you're shopping for your chain in a jewelry store, always practice opening and closing the clasp once or twice before purchasing to make sure you will be able to do so once you get the item home!