Gold, Silver, Copper, Brass, Bronze, Platinum, Rhodium, Aluminum, Stainless steel, Base Metal... OMG...sounds like a lot I know. So lets start with Silver (My favorite, and what most of my pieces are made with).
Silver, like gold, is an elemental metal. This means that pure silver is made up of nothing but silver atoms (periodic table Ag). Other examples of elemental metals include copper, aluminum, platinum, iron and lead.
In its pure elemental form, silver has a white metallic appearance. It also has a high luster (shiny), is very soft (scratches easily) and is quite malleable (can be hammered into different shapes). When people discuss the “price of silver” They are referring to pure elemental silver, or more exactly, 99.9% pure silver.
Pure” metals, like elemental silver or elemental copper, are distinguished from metal alloys – which are metals made up of two “pure metals”. For example, brass is an alloy that is made up of copper and zinc. To make brass, copper and zinc are melted together. Likewise, one can make various silver alloys by combing silver with other elemental metals.
Silver jewelry can be made from near pure silver (99.9% silver known as “fine silver”) or one of any number of alloys. It is rare to find fine silver jewelry (which you might think is the best but isn't , and Ill tell you why....).
Fine silver or pure silver is extremely soft....very soft...it scratches easily and looses its shape or deforms. That is what the most common way to use silver is in alloy form. Alloy means another metal is added...to give it hardness for example.
The most common silver alloy used in jewelry today is “Sterling” silver, which consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% some other metal (often copper, but sometimes zinc). The majority of silver jewelry in the United States, and most developed nations, is made from “Sterling” (92.5%) or finer silver. In Chile 95.0% silver is used (5% copper). So when I use Sterling Silver it is 95% silver.
There are other forms of silver. Silver Plated and filled are the most common (specially plated because its the cheapest).
Filled jewelry is jewelry that is made by taking two sheets of silver and pressing between them a sheet of brass, copper or other base metal. It has much more silver than plated. It is akin to “gold filled” jewelry. Silver Filled jewelry has a quantifiable amount of silver in it (often 1/5th by weight but also as low as 1/20th). Silver Filled jewelry goes in and out of use based on the spot price of silver. When I use Silver Filled it is 1/10th Silver. It has the same properties and wearability and Sterling but at a lower cost. It will not fade, flake or rub off due to the thick outer Silver layer.
Plating results from depositing a very thin layer of silver on a base metal. It is so thin that it does wear off and the base metal...copper, nickel... show through (I never use this).
Nickel Silver (Alpaca) goes by many names and often looks exactly like silver to the untrained eye. However, the one thing it’s not, is silver. Nickel Silver contains absolutely NO silver — It is a metal alloy formed by combining copper, nickel and zinc. Except when newly polished, it has a luster and often “greens” (oxidizes) with age (due to the copper content).
Many artisan pieces are made with Alpaca in Latin America. There are gorgeous examples of early Mexican Alpaca jewelry that quite often features genuine gemstones. It has become a collectible in its own right and is much more affordable than silver jewelry.
I actually love mixing it up! This just means the use of more than one metal in a piece of jewelry. For example, a piece can have the frame in stainless steel and the wire in silver. The use of different metals gives visual interest through varying colors
and textures... it also reduced the cost in many cases.
In a future post well talk about Gold and Platinum.
Let me know if you have any questions! I’d love to hear from you...