Silver Metals Used in Handmade Jewelry

You may recall the article Part 1: Types of Metals Used in Jewelry: Gold. This is a continuation of that same idea except in this jewelry article we will be looking at silver metals used in handmade jewelry. By far, I believe silver is the more popular metal to use in handmade jewelry.

Below is an outline of some of the more common silver metals used in handmade jewelry design, ranging from fine jewelry to fashion jewelry. At Crystal Allure Beaded Jewelry, I have worked with a few different metals throughout the years and although I have no particular preference of one over the other, my unique handmade designs currently showcase either sterling silver, 14 karat gold-fill and/or vermeil (pronounced vehr-MAY).

There are times when a particular component I would like to use can only be found in pewter, silver plate or gold plate. When I use a metal other than a precious metal, I always state as such in the description of the jewelry piece.

RHODIUM PLATE - Rhodium plating is occasionally used on white gold, silver or copper and its alloys. A barrier layer of nickel is usually deposited on silver first, though in this case it is not to prevent migration of silver through rhodium, but to prevent contamination of the rhodium bath with silver and copper, which slightly dissolve in the sulfuric acid, usually present in the bath composition.

Rhodium is a metal derivative of platinum and is very white, reflective, extremely hard and virtually tarnish proof. It presents outstanding chemical inertness (will not react or change easily) thus, rhodium will not tarnish whereas silver will. It is very expensive, so only a very thin plate is applied to reduce the amount of metal used in the bead or component. If not subject to excessive friction and wear, rhodium plated jewelry will retain their look indefinitely.

Rhodium is also hypoallergenic. Rhodium protective coating is useful for white gold which often contains nickel to give it a white sheen look. It is well known that nickel is not bio-compatible and approximately 15% of people suffer from some kind of allergies to nickel. Thus rhodium serves as an additional layer between skin and base metal preventing skin from irritation.

Rhodium is the most common plating material used to plate Sterling Silver because it provides a bright mirror like finish and it is also silver in color. An article of yellow gold jewelry can be made to look like it is white gold by having it Rhodium plated. A Rhodium plated item may retain its finish for a lifetime or for only a short period of time, depending upon factors such as the type of metal being plated, the amount of wear the article is subjected to, each individuals body chemistry and the thickness of the plating. The good news is that if the rhodium finish on a piece of jewelry wears off over time, it can be re-plated to look brand new and the process is not very expensive.

STERLING SILVER - Pure silver, also called fine silver, is relatively soft, very malleable, and easily damaged so it is commonly combined with other metals to produce a more durable product. The most popular of these alloys is sterling silver, which consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Although any metal can make up the 7.5 percent non-silver portion of sterling, centuries of experimentation have shown copper to be its best companion, improving the metal's hardness and durability without affecting its beautiful color.

The small amount of copper added to sterling has very little effect on the metal's value. Instead, the price of the silver item is affected by the labor involved in making the item, the skill of the craftsman, and the intricacy of the design.

Sterling silver is a white and highly reflective precious metal. It can be antiqued or given a high polish. Crystal Allure Beaded Jewelry uses both antiqued and polished sterling silver beads and components. A silver anti-tarnish cloth can be used to clean the outer edges of the sterling beads and leave the inner antiqued crevices antiqued. Do NOT use a Sterling Dip to clean your antiqued jewelry.

Sterling silver is the standard for beautiful high-quality silver jewelry. It's over 90% pure silver, mixed with alloys to add strength and durability. And it won't wear down, as silver plating can.

PEWTER - Pewter is an alloy of tin, lead, antimony, and a bit of silver or copper. Pewter was the most widely used metal in America between the early 1700 and 1800's. The best pewter is achieved using a low lead content and a high tin content. As you would expect, U.S. pewter manufacturer's today are required to make lead free pewter. Both copper and antimony are added to the tin to make a harder metal alloy.

BASE METAL - Non-precious metals used as a core for plating and gold-filled items. Brass and nickel are common base metals in jewelry.

SILVER PLATED - A fine silver film deposited on a base metal by electrolysis, in the same kind of electrically-charged bath used to make gold electroplate. The film can be as thin as seven millionths of an inch. A silver plate item cannot be called sterling or bear a marking of "silver".

Historically, silver plate was used to provide a lower cost version of items that might otherwise be made of silver, including cutlery and candlesticks.

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