Thursday, March 13, 2014

Silver Education

Silver is a great metal that is sometimes under-rated.

 Fine silver is 99.9% silver but is much too soft for most jewelry.  Most silver you see in stores is made from sterling silver which is 92.5% silver with 7.5% alloy.  In the United States it is the law to stamp silver goods with a quality mark if it is silver. Acceptable marks include 925, ster, and sterling. Be careful of buying silver in other countries because the laws for these quality marks are different.
  Taking care of your silver jewelry is also important.  As a jeweler, my opinion might vary from what you read in other places.  I am a fan of polishing cloths.  Always go to the cloth first!  Silver tarnishes due to a naturally occurring reaction with sulfur or hydrogen sulfide in the air.  I have seen people try to stop this process in a number of creative ways (vacuum sealing their tea sets), but the truth is that it is going to happen no matter what.  I like polishing cloths because they don't have harsh chemicals.  Some silver cleaners can harm porous gemstones so if you don't know which chemicals hurt which stones then just go to the cloth.

  What is rhodium plating? Rhodium is number 45 on the periodic table of elements and is a hard silvery-white metal.  It is a member of the platinum family and is the rarest non-radioactive metal on Earth.  It is widely used in the automotive industry as a key component in catalytic converters.  In the jewelry industry it is used as a plating over white gold and silver.  It makes a great plating because of its hardness and resistance to corrosion.
   I rhodium plate all my silver jewelry to keep it from tarnishing.  Plating, unfortunately, is like an icing on a cake.  It shows any minor imperfection on the "cake" because it is just a very thin layer.  All jewelry has to have a perfect clean polish before it can be plated.  Also, it does wear off eventually.  The rubbing on our clothes, hands, and everything else throughout the day will scratch and wear the plating off.  It is not a permanent solution to tarnishing.
  Rhodium does not adhere directly to silver.  To rhodium plate a silver piece, you have to under plate it first.  Under plating is the process of putting a secondary metal over the silver before applying the rhodium.  I use nickel or palladium as my under plate, but you can also use copper. Ever notice your costume jewelry turning pink after you've worn it for a while?  Copper is a common under plate on most inexpensive white metals.  As you wear off the bright white plate on the outside, you'll see the copper plate coming through.

Why Silver?
  I work with silver a lot and there are many reasons to choose it.  Probably the biggest benefit is the price.  You can get a much bigger bang for you buck in silver jewelry.  Silver is maintainable.  Unlike costume jewelry, silver can be polished, sized, and customized.
  Be a smart shopper when it comes to silver.  Many big box stores use the same molds for their gold jewelry as they do for silver.  This gives you a silver ring that looks like one of those dainty embellished gold rings that sell for so much more, but there is a down side.  Silver is a soft metal!!  A dainty ring is fine in gold, but in silver it will never survive.  I have been repairing jewelry for over ten years and have seen countless rings smashed, cracked, mangled, and broken.  This is why all the silver jewelry I make at NellMarie is made to be silver.  They have wide, heavy shanks with thick prongs or channels.  Make sure the silver jewelry you buy is made to last because it can if you take care of it.
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