Sterling Silver Jewellery is very popular, comes in many forms and is created in different ways. This guide starts with some common terms in the trade and goes on to describe some ways in which it is made, how it may be costed, how to clean it, price trends and finally some examples and what to look out for on eBay and the internet.
Some common terms often referred to
Sterling Silver jewellery is normally a combination of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Pure Silver is a soft metal so it is mixed with another base metal in those proportions to facilitate making and wearing.
"Solid Silver" is a term sometimes erroneously used to mean pure or Sterling Silver, but actually means that it is solid and not hollow.
Silver plate means that a base metal (normally copper) is covered with a thin film of molten silver. These days it is usually electro-plated, which is essentially an electric silver dip. Anodising is a similar process but uses a synthetic coloured/dyed metal coating.
White metal and Alpaca are the colour of silver but do not contain any silver (often however they are just simply labeled silver) and yes an Alpaca is also a type of animal, a Llama. They are both referred to as "poor man's silver". The terms originate from Asia and South America respectively.
Surgical Steel 316L is a refined steel. It has had all impurities, such as nickel, removed. The number appended refers to the quality of refinement, such as Nescafe Blend 43 as opposed to Blend 27. It is very safe and pure and often recommended for first time piercings or to those with sensitive skin.
How does Sterling Silver jewellery come about? And what determines the price?
The two main methods are handmade and manufactured, though they can both be used in concert.
Handmade: Artisans go to a silver factory where they can obtain and in some countries, even watch their silver being made into the shapes they need. The silver is weighed into the correct quantities with copper: 925 parts to 75 parts. Then the metal is scorched in a cauldron, then rolled out into sheets and finally cut to order. At their workshop they use tools such as: a specially designed work table, heat (often foot pedal pumped), solder (to meld two edges together), pliers, saws, clamps etc to create (hopefully!) a work of art. It can take many years (and I imagine a fair amount of burns!) to become accomplished. Depending on your skill level each piece can take a considerable amount of time. So time is the main factor in determining price -once you have all your myriad tools.
Manufactured: This is often done using what is referred to as a casting tree. Designers manufacture a template from some kind of heat resistant material. Each template is stuck to the tree. Then a cast is made from the tree with what I imagine is plaster or rubber. Molten silver is poured in and left to set. Once this is done the items are easily reproduced (of course there are inherent challenges to this method). With casted silver the main cost is the silver, so price is generally determined by the weight.
Finishing. After the product has been made as briefly described above the finishing takes place. Three stages that I have seen include: Stage 1:: A "bath" (something like a jacuzzi) or a "tumbler" (similar to the kind that polishes stones, basically a revolving enclosed tub containing cleaning media and solution) removes any excess (such as dirt, solder etc) and gives the first polish. After this Stage 2: buffing on a lathe (a grinder with special accoutrements) using different grades of materials helps remove any lumps, scratches, flaws etc and produces a high polish finish. Stage 3 is the final stage by hand often using a cloth. Of course not all these stages are always used and each stage can in itself have different stages.
The Costs Of course apart from time and weight, other factors come in to play when determining price such as other materials used, quality of the tools and machinery; and of course the skill and reputation of the creator/manufacturer/engineer/designer.
The effects on your body and cleaning
Sterling Silver can sometimes go black on your skin. This doesn't generally mean that it is bad quality, it is normally a reaction to your skin caused by sweat or dirt in your pores. Smokers normally turn silver black in a hot climate very quickly. Once cleaned the silver normally heaves a sigh of relief and reverts to it's former self. If it still stays black, you either haven't polished hard enough (get back to it you lazy so and so!) or it's not real Sterling Silver. If it goes green then too much copper has been added to the mix, though good for your skin (copper reputedly has therapeutic properties) a green silver ring is not a good look!
Sterling Silver will occasionally need cleaning. Many common products can be used, such as: boiling water, cola, bicarbonate of soda, toothpaste, etc. But washing machines and dishwashers (or so I have heard and can imagine!) are not recommended, either for the jewellery or the machine. Professionals use a variety of machines and products. But the simplest, easiest and cheapest of these is a silver cloth which can be purchased from most large supermarkets in Australia, it is coated with a cleansing agent which makes polishing easier. Please note that it should not be washed. Of course there is "Silvo" and a soft toothbrush for those hard to reach places and 'silver dip' (very strong, 925 plain silver only).
Recent trend in the price of silver
The worldwide price of silver has risen sharply in the last 2 years (as of 2007), probably in line with many other finite natural resources.One gram of Sterling Silver jewellery (bought by the kilo in rings for example) has almost doubled in price in that time period. But one interesting theory abounds: that a certain very wealthy American is hoarding silver to sell at an inflated price to computer manufacturers. I don't know if this rumour is correct, but is possible.
The effect of this increase in price on the trade as a whole is yet to be determined. Some people are moving to cheaper and more easily manufactured metals such as Stainless Steel. Many manufacturers are being more careful in what they produce, and preferring orders over "ready made". But most are plodding along as usual, reducing margins and trying to smile.
Selecting Sterling Silver jewellery and some examples
When searching for silver jewellery on eBay or the internet try to check the description carefully so you can make a determination on what you might be getting and if the price seems to match the quality. Please make free use of the information in this guide to help you. If the quality of the picture is very good, check for the quality of workmanship, whether handmade or machine manufactured, the care taken often does determine price. Don't be put off by the grainy texture this cannot usually be seen by the naked eye but check for flaws and large scratches. If the picture and description are hard to go by, the item is expensive and you are very interested; then ask the seller for more information first before buying to avoid disappointment. Also when window shopping bear in mind that because of the price increase Sterling Silver jewellery still in stock from a few years ago, should be cheaper than that hot off the press.
Snake chains are so named because of their similarity to reptiles in their pliable nature. They are normally about 5mm in diameter and made in a long tube woven over and over and cut into lengths, from which necklaces and bracelets can be made by soldering on the clasps. They are long lasting: after ten years of wearing, sometimes all that is required is a new clip.
A snake bracelet:
Shell and Resin Jewellery. Pieces of shell and coloured resin are now frequently set into silver jewellery for the beautification thereof. Mother of Pearl has been particularly popular in the last five years or so. Mother of Pearl comes in various shades depending on which shell it has been taken from. Sometimes it is dyed, if this is so confirmation can usually be seen in the tiny "leaks" around the edges of small pieces of shell (normally in rings , pendants and earrings). People don't generally seem to mind or notice, I am not sure which. Coloured resin (often blue or turquoise) is commonly used as is generally easier to work with than the natural shell or stone, but is not necessarily cheaper.
Green trochus rings: Tiger shell (turbo sarmaticus) rings: Blue resin earrings:
Hope you enjoyed this guide. The information has been collated from the memories of 15 years of my personal business experience only and is therefore subjective. No search engines, book references or plagiarism of any kind were used in the making of this product. Bearing that in mind, please feel free to let me know if I have made any mistakes!