Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Metal Choices for Jewelry, Part II

Most of my morning was spent in a jury pool in our district courtroom--waiting, and waiting, and waiting.  Finally, after being told there were two criminal trials taking place this week, about 45 were selected for the jury pool for today's trial.  The remainder of us (only about 30) were instructed to return on Thursday, when a jury will be selected from among us for the second trial.  Hmmm--12 out of 45 versus 12 out of 30.  Looks like my chances of being selected have just gone up! Anyway, looks like a short trial and no jury sequestering!  So if I get picked, I'll gladly do my civic duty and serve.

Yesterday I started a blog on metals that are commonly used in jewelry making, beginning with silver, or white, colored metals.  I did omit one metal that is commonly used in less expensive jewelry, and that is silver plated metals, and a relative newcomer to the metal world, silver filled.

Silver plated metals are base metals that have a thin, almost microscopic silver coating on them that is usually applied electrically.  If the coating is actually silver, the item will match the color of sterling silver.  Cheaper costume jewelry may have white-plated metal, which is a grayer color.  Some metals are also coated with rhodium, which is a brighter, more silvery color.  The base metals that are commonly used in silver plated components are pewter (or pewter alloy), brass, and stainless steel.  Like sterling silver, silver plated metal will tarnish, and, because of the thin coating, will usually lose their silver color.

The advantage of silver plate over other silver metals is, of course, its cost.  However, do not expect most jewelry with silver plated components to retain its shiny, silvery appearance for a long period of time.  These jewelry pieces should be purchased with the understanding that they may not be lifetime pieces, especially if worn often.  This is not to say that all silver plated components are bad.  I have many beautiful pieces of jewelry with silver or gold plate that I have had for many, many years and they still look almost as good a new.  You can pick up a catalog of a famous Texas department store and find jewelry priced in the hundreds of dollars that uses silver (or gold) plated materials.  Not all plated metals are created equal, and some have more lasting power than others.  So don't shy away from buying jewelry just because of the silver plated materials.  Just be aware that it probably won't have the long life that sterling silver, white gold, and platinum have.  If you pay $10 for a necklace, chances are $10 worth of wear is what you'll get.

A relative newcomer has appeared on the jewelry scene in response to the rising costs of sterling silver and gold--silver filled.  Many of you will recognize the term "gold filled' which has been around for many years.  Silver filled metal is basically the same as gold filled, sterling silver that is bonded using heat and pressure to a base metal.  The layer of sterling silver is hundreds of times thicker than that used in plating and it does not flake off like silver plate.  Also, the appearance is identical to sterling silver, it can be bent and manipulated just like sterling silver, and it is just as long lasting as sterling silver.  As of right now, there is no industry standard for silver filled, but most reputable suppliers sell material that is 1/10th sterling silver by weight.

The chief advantage of silver filled over sterling silver metal is the cost--silver filled is 40-60% less than sterling silver.

I have been using some silver filled findings, beads, and wire over the past year and have to say I am very happy with the results.  Hopefully as more and more jewelry designers begin to make use of it, more will become available through the suppliers.

In the next post I will talk about the yellow, or gold, colored metals.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Metal Choices for Jewelry

In talking with customers, there seems to be some confusion over the different types of metals that are commonly used in jewelry making.   I'll try to clear up some of that confusion by describing metal choices that are available, their pros and cons, and even throw in a little information on the care of metals.  I'll divide this up into more than one post, since there is so much information about so many kinds of metals.


There are many metals and alloys that are commonly used in jewelry that have the look of a silver, or white,  color.  The  first metal that most people think of is sterling silver.  Sterling silver is actually an alloy of pure, or fine, silver.  Making up sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metal, usually and most commonly copper.  Sterling silver is much harder and more durable than pure silver, which is very soft and malleable.  The small percentage of copper does not change the look of the silver, and actually has little effect on its value.  Most sterling silver will be stamped with a mark, which is usually .925, sterling, sterling silver, or ster.

Sterling silver is not cheap, so expect to pay a bit more for jewelry that is made of or has sterling silver parts, beads, or findings.  Of course, the higher price is offset by the fact that sterling silver is lasting, and with proper care, will endure for a lifetime and will become a family heirloom.

Sterling silver should be cleaned regularly to prevent tarnish and stored away from other metals in a cloth or plastic bag, or kept in a separate compartment in your jewelry chest.  Anti-tarnish paper strips made by 3M can be purchased and placed in the bag or compartment along with your silver piece to help prevent tarnish and erosion.  Silver should be cleaned with a soft polishing cloth.  This is the best method of cleaning sterling silver that is used in jewelry.  There are polishing creams and liquids on the market, but be careful when using them.  If your silver has any dark, or oxidized, places on it that are put there to shade or emphasize the design, the creams and liquids will remove this oxidation,  so unless you want your sterling silver to be totally shiny and bright, stick with the polishing cloth.  And clean often.  Don't wait for tarnish to build up, but rather remove it as soon as you can see it.

Another fine metal that has a silver appearance is white gold.  White gold is actually gold with a white alloy added, such as nickel, palladium, platinum, and manganese.  It is then plated with a rhodium metal, which gives it the white, shiny look.  White gold does not tarnish like sterling silver, but it is much, much more expensive since it does contain, after all, gold.  If you have been watching the price of gold and silver on the market over the past couple of years, you know that gold just keeps increasing in price, so if you want white gold in your jewelry, expect to pay much higher prices.

The most precious, and costly, of all the silver metals is platinum.  Unlike gold, which is mixed with other metals before it is cast into jewelry settings, platinum is used in a near pure form--about 95% pure, in fact.  Its color is naturally white, so no mixing with other metals or plating with rhodium is needed to give platinum its beautiful shine.  Platinum is also heavier than gold and is very durable.  It is, however, very expensive--about twice the price of gold!--and is usually used for serious jewelry pieces, such as engagement rings, if you can afford it, that is!

I've spent a bit of time talking about the fine metals with a silver, or white, look.  In my next blog post I'll talk about some of the less costly alternatives, including a fairly newcomer to the metal world--silver filled.