The Northern Indiana Chemist Making Armor-Inspired Jewelry

Larry Malone
Larry Malone in his in-home studio in Mishawaka, Indiana.

A professional chemist by day, Larry Malone appreciates metals like silver and copper on a molecular level. But he’s also a self-taught jeweler who transforms those metals into chain-mail bracelets and necklaces that drape like second skins. “It’s just a form of weaving with metal,” he says. “But it has a neat effect. There’s something about the feel of it when it’s done right.”

Malone’s talent evolved from tragedy. His daughter-in-law passed away at an early age, and she left behind a beading kit. He thought it seemed like a shame to get rid of it, so he started tinkering with it, and found a hobby.

What began with beads gradually morphed into metalwork. “That was more fun, because I got to play with a torch,” he says. Now, with his wife’s help, the Mishawaka-based jeweler sells his pieces online. Prices range from about $15 to $130.

To make chain mail, Malone first chooses a pattern and style. “Is it going to be flat chain mail?” he says. “Byzantine? Dragon scale? Or there’s one called viper scale that’s really cool.”

To form each tiny, overlapping ring, he wraps wire around a rod called a mandrel. Next, he heats the wire with a torch. It has to be red-hot, but not melted, which is a delicate balance. As it cools, the metal becomes stronger. It takes at least a few hundred rings to make one bracelet, and several weeks to link them together. Malone manipulates the rings with curved nose pliers. Finally, he adds a clasp and places the piece—along with stainless-steel pellets, soap, and water—inside a tumbler overnight to polish it. It comes out satiny, and with some buffing, it’s ready to wear. But by then, Malone is already working on something new.

“As long as I have eyes and hands to keep going, I will,” he says. “To me, the enjoyment is just making this stuff. If someone else wears it and enjoys it, that’s even better.”