With the recent increases in the cost of gold, silver is more popular than ever. But even the price of silver has gone up drastically in the last year so you want to make sure you’re purchasing the right silver for your needs before you make the investment. And that means whether you’re buying a finished piece of silver jewelry or purchasing silver to create your own handmade jewelry.
I’ve recently started working with silver wire and I wanted to share just a little of what I’ve learned about the variety of silver available!
Plated Silver ~ Plated silver is a difficult category to generalize because there are so many different variables which can affect the quality. Plated Silver has been around for hundreds of years and it’s often used to offer a lower cost version of a jewelry piece with keeping the same silver look. It’s common to find jewelry findings such as chains, jumprings, clasps, etc. available in plated silver. The different processes of the plating, what material is used as the base and the quality of the silver can all affect the quality of the plating. The process may commonly include using heat and pressure to fuse a thin layer of silver to another metal such as copper or electroplating where electrons are used to create a film of silver.
In my many years making jewelry I have come across some very poor quality silver plated components that easily chip and show the copper underneath. But also I have been lucky enough to find very good quality plated components as well. Some plated silver contains nickel which many people can have reactions to so it’s best to look for nickel free products. I use silver plated jumprings for many of my chainmaille pieces because the cost can be prohibitive for some to purchase the same bracelet in solid sterling silver. The jumprings I use are a high quality 925 Sterling Silver plating over a white brass base and with an anti tarnish coating. Although the colour does darken slightly with wear it is a good quality plate and has years of life in it. If you’re purchasing silver plated jewelry or components just ask a few questions from the maker/seller to find out the quality of the item. I have one of my chainmaille bracelets that I have worn almost daily for over a year and wear it at shows so I can show customers how well it stands up to time. (I find many people actually prefer the look it takes on after time!)
Sterling Silver Filled ~ This isn’t a brand new product, but is becoming more common recently with the rising costs of sterling silver. (Gold fill has been popular for several years.) Silver fill is composed of sterling silver on the outer layer with a white brass or copper core. It’s contains 10% sterling silver which is 30 times the amount in plated silver. This product tarnishes, oxidizes and polishes in the same way as sterling silver. From a jewelry makers point of view if you are using silver fill wire you can cut, shape, hammer, solder, texture, tumble and work harden it the same way you would solid sterling silver (you may be able to see the inner copper core at the cut ends). The cost is clearly higher than plated silver but is approximately half the price of solid sterling silver.
Sterling Silver ~ Sterling silver probably the most commonly known and trusted for jewelry. It is made up of 92.5% pure silver (which is why it’s marked with the 925 identifier). The other 7.5% is made from other base metals most often being copper. The copper content is the reason sterling silver tarnishes because when copper is exposed to air the reaction causes oxidation. For jewelry making sterling silver is a versatile metal available in different forms and hardness levels and can be oxidized to give a darker patina. It can be hammered, soldered, cut, shaped, textured, tumbled, fused and work hardened.
Argentium Silver ~ Argentium silver is very similar to sterling in that it contains 92.5% pure silver. The difference is that in the other 7.5% the copper has been replaced by germanium. By replacing the copper the silver is more resistant to fire scaling and does not tarnish. For jewelry making it can be treated in much the same way as sterling silver. It can be cut, hammered, textured, soldered, shaped, fused and tumbled. One difference is that hammered and tumbling doesn’t work harden the silver as it would with sterling. Instead it can be heat hardened in your kitchen oven. Argentium silver is slightly higher priced than sterling silver but some think the resistance to tarnish make it work the extra cost.
Fine Silver ~ Fine silver is 99.9% pure silver. Because it contains no other metals such as copper (as in sterling silver) it is very soft and malleable. It stays soft even after working with because it does not work harden the same way sterling silver does. Fine silver is preferred for fusing because it has a lower melting point so fuses much easier and it doesn’t firescale with heat. It also does not tarnish which makes it a good choice for intricate projects like wire crocheting. Just like sterling, fine silver can be enameled, cut, shaped, hammered, textured, fused and tumbled. Because of its high silver content it is of course more expensive then sterling silver.
Precious Metal Clay (PMC) ~ Precious metal clay is fine silver. It’s a clay like substance that combines precious metal clay particles with an organic binder and water. It can be molded and formed by hand or in molds. It’s then dried and fired in a kiln or with a butane torch to burn away the binder leaving pure silver. After firing PMC can be soldered, tumbled, enameled and polished.
Hope this helps explain the difference between the types of silver so the next time you are purchasing a piece of jewelry or silver materials to design jewelry with you can make your decision with a little more confidence! I would love to know what your favorite type of silver to wear or work with is!