Silver is the most brilliant, highly reflective white metal. Its durability luster and shine have been sought after for centuries, and its comparatively low price to other precious metals makes it obtainable for almost anyone. Sterling silver is usually more durable and certainly a lot purer than most gold alloys. Pure silver and gold alone are too soft to be made into durable jewellery pieces so they are alloyed (mixed) with other metals to increase hardness. Gold is sold in different karats, which refers to its content of gold to the other metals it is alloyed with, such as nickel, palladium, copper, silver, manganese, and zinc. The different alloy metals give the final product different colors. 10k gold only contains 41.7% pure gold while 18 k gold contains 75% gold, the rest is alloy of other metals.
Sterling silver is the only standardized purity of silver used in jewellery. Flat wear and silver coins have different purity standards than silver used for jewellery. Most sterling silver on the Canadian market is a traditional alloy of 92.5% pure silver with 7.5% pure copper. Sterling silver produced outside North America may be alloyed with nickel or zinc. There are also newer alloys of sterling silver that are highly tarnish resistant (it’s the copper in sterling that tarnishes). Workingsilver sells one such sterling silver called Argentium Sterling. Argentium is 93.5% silver, about 1% copper, and about 5.5% germanium (a white metal). Argentium Sterling jewellery pieces keep their beautiful white silver colour and lustre!
Toggle Bracelet by Serena Bartok using Argentium Sterling. The rings were fused together instead of soldered – Argentium fuses well.
Sterling silver jewellery is sometimes stamped with a 925, 92.5 or sterling stamp. Unless it is also followed by a maker mark which can be referenced to the jeweller or company that produced it, that stamp is no guarantee of its quality. It is always best to buy from someone you trust, someone who you who know you can find later, such as a established jewellery store or reputable local artisan jeweller.
A few examples of high quality sterling silver wire available at workingsilver.com to create fabulous jewellery with.
So, why purchase sterling silver jewellery over other metals? To put it simply, Sterling silver is the solid middle road between expensive gold this is often made into traditional not so fashion forward styles because of the cost, and trendy costume jewellery that eventually becomes nothing but trash when it goes out of style. Because silver is less expensive than gold, you can afford to purchase more of it more often, keep up with some trends, or change your style more often. Layering contemporary silver pieces, which complement your timeless gold pieces keeps your overall look fresh and exciting, with the ability to update or change your look more often than if you were investing in gold. As opposed to costume jewellery, silver pieces are at the least still an investment, and can be melted down and recycled into something different as your taste changes. ( I however horded all my jewellery pieces because they are mementos from a different me, a me that really loved that kitty ring when I was 13).
Silver prices have risen along with gold prices over the years. In 2007, one bullion ounce of pure silver was about $12.00. It hit a high in 2011 at $45 on ounce, but is a bit more affordable these days at about $22.00 on ounce. Just like gold, silver prices fluctuate with the marketplace.
When purchasing silver jewellery, there are a lot of other factors influencing the final price of a piece besides just the cost of the material. Overall design, uniqueness, artistic merit, and designer name brand along with workmanship can greatly effect the value of a piece of sterling jewellery. The best quality pieces should be the most expensive to purchase, but only buyer knowledge will help you determine if it really is worth the price. The highest quality sterling silver jewellery is one-of-a- kind jewellery hand fabricated by an experienced silversmith who pays attention to detail. The least expensive sterling jewellery pieces are cast in quantity with little attention to detail. Of course there is a whole range of pieces and quality in between. There are beautifully mass produced cast pieces on the market as well as shoddy hand fabricated pieces.
All quality silver pieces however should have seams that are well fitted, joined, with solder that will not discolor over time and therefore appear invisible. All excess solder should be removed without having to compromise the thickness of the piece, all edges should be even and smooth to the touch. The pieces should not be thin or flimsy. Rings and bracelets need to be thicker to hold up to wear, and earrings need to be lightweight and comfortable to wear yet durable. All traces of firescale should be removed by filing and sanding or depletion guilding. Any textures and patinas should be well thought out and intentional. One thing I do find odd about high quality jewellery is the amount of effort that goes into creating a mirror finish, when after only a day or two of wear that mirror finish is already covered by tiny little scratches. On every piece, however, a good polish helps the piece hold its shine longer and tarnish less quickly, so it’s worth the time and effort.
Since the time I started having my own money to spend, I have been collecting jewellery pieces. What I have found as a buyer of silver jewellery is that I don’t really choose a piece, rather, the piece chooses me. If it draws me in for whatever reason, and if I can afford it, it’s my new love for awhile. As a jeweller, I want my pieces to speak to people so they’ll want to wear them for a long time. I strive to create the highest quality pieces I can through both the quality of materials I use and maintaining high standards of workmanship.
Set of three stacking rings in Sterling Silver by Serena Bartok Spinner rings in Sterling Silver & Gold by Kathy Brandon