The more time I spend working with precious metal and gemstone jewelry, the more I discover how very little the average person knows about the differences between various metals and, more importantly, about their proper care. In my opinion, this is the fault of jewelry designers – it seems clear that it is our job to educate our customers about the product they are purchasing! With that in mind, I hope you find the information below regarding the metals used in my designs both helpful and interesting. As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions!
Sterling Silver (also known as .925 silver) is an alloy composed of 92.5% Silver and 7.5% Copper. The result is a relatively strong metal (as compared to the much softer Fine Silver described below) that is also hypoallergenic, making it a safe choice for those with sensitive skin and for items that will receive a lot of wear. Most people who are allergic to metal react to nickel, commonly found in the aptly named Nickel Silver used in most costume jewelry.
Sterling is very commonly used in jewelry design because of its relative low cost, durability and hypoallergenic qualities. However, the presence of copper does cause Sterling Silver to tarnish relatively quickly, requiring more frequent care and polishing. Sterling is most easily identified by the jeweler’s hallmark stamp bearing the number .925 (signifying the 92.5% of silver in the alloy).
Fine Silver (also known as .999 silver) is pure silver. Often purchased in bar form for investment purposes (as shown to the left), fine silver is also used in higher-end jewelry designs. Much softer than Sterling, Fine Silver is nevertheless fairly durable, and carries with it the prestige of being a precious metal, unsullied by base metal alloys. Additionally, Fine Silver is an excellent hypoallergenic choice for those few who react to the copper in Sterling. Fine Silver does not tarnish nearly as deeply or as quickly as sterling silver, therefore requiring much less frequent maintenance. Fine Silver is most easily identified by the jeweler’s hallmark stamp bearing the number .999 (signifying the 99.9% of silver present).
Metal clay is a relatively new product on the market and comes in a dizzying number of brands, metals, and formats. The basic concept is metal dust (usually recycled) mixed with small amounts of binder and water. The clay has working properties very similar to those of ceramic clay, and provides almost limitless design possibilities.When fired in a kiln the binder and water present in the clay burn off and the metal particles fuse together – a process called “sintering” – resulting in pure metal.
Metal Clays are available in Fine Silver, Bronze, Copper, and even Steel, and continue to be added to and improved on. Different metal clays require different working process and firing procedures, and the techniques are complex enough that various companies are now creating certification programs for those who want to seriously pursue working with and teaching the medium. I am certified through one such program, and am pursuing a Master’s Registry.