With the ever increasing price of precious metals, most notably gold and silver, many artisans are turning to other metals in order to keep their jewelry affordable for their customers.
One product that has been receiving a lot of attention is silver-filled wire and findings. Just exactly what is it, and how does it compare to sterling silver?
For comparison, think of the gold-filled jewelry that we have all been buying for years. When solid gold is out of our price range, gold-filled is a more than acceptable substitute.
You can think of silver-filled the same way. It is either a 5% or 10% layer of durable sterling silver bonded to (filled with) a copper-alloy or brass-alloy center. Depending on the manufacturer, they may mark it as 95/5, 90/10, .925/10, .925/5, 1/10th or 1/20th. It is definitely not the same thing as silver-plated, which is a very thin layer of silver laid on top of a copper-alloy core. To show you the difference, look at this picture from the Fire Mountain Gems website.
The wire on the left is silver-filled (much thicker layer of sterling) and the wire on the right is silver-plated. Because of it's thin coating, the silver on silver-plated metals can wear off over time, and is easy to nick while working with it or wearing it, causing the core metal to show.
This does not happen with silver-filled metals. The bonded layer is thick enough to withstand small nicks, and it will never wear off. If you are allergic to silver-plate but are able to wear sterling silver, you should also be able to wear silver-filled without causing an allergic reaction.
It does make silver jewelry much more affordable! Silver-filled is a great alternative to sterling silver for the budget-conscious buyer, and it is just as pretty and durable.
As of 1/8/2011, sterling silver is more than triple the price of silver-filled. That can make a big difference in the price of the finished jewelry that you buy. When I make a bracelet with sterling silver, it can sometimes cost me $25 or more just for the clasp! That same clasp would be less than $10 for silver-filled, and allows me to sell the bracelet at a much lower price.
For artisans working with silver-filled wire, it behaves much the same as sterling silver. It can be soldered, hammered, polished, tumbled, and oxidized with the same results as sterling. It is just a tad softer than sterling, however.
When buying silver-filled wire to work with as an artisan, one thing you may want to ask the seller, beside the percentage of the sterling silver bond, is the color of the core if you are making a design where the ends of the wire will show. If the core is copper-colored, that will show, for example, on the ends of your earwires. I know of one seller so far who sells silver-filled with a silver colored core, though I'm sure there are others. The name of the store is Royal Metals on Etsy. Their silver-filled has a 10% sterling silver layer bonded to a brass core (90/10), which shows as silver colored when cut.
I hope I've helped you to understand a little more about what silver-filled jewelry is. If you have any further questions about this or any other metal, please send me a message using any of the contact butons in my studio. I will get back to you within 24 hours.