Hi-yo, Silver!

It’s “Juneuary” in Seattle again! June is off to a cloudy and rainy start. Good thing there are so many creative things to be made indoors. They say every cloud has a silver lining, and I can sure see a lot of clouds out the window. What better time to talk about working with silver?

Students often ask about the difference between sterling silver and fine silver. Here’s a little about both types and some pros and cons of each as they pertain to jewelry making.
Fine silver is 99.9% pure silver metal. It’s also referred to as .999 silver. Fine silver is softer and more malleable than sterling. This may be a pro or a con, depending on your application. I like to use fine silver bezel wire to set cabochons because it is easy to push the bezel around the stone and burnish it smooth.

One fun way to experiment with fine silver is to design with Precious Metal Clay. Silver PMC works like clay and can be fired with a torch or kiln to create fine silver pieces.
Fine silver can be fused without using solder, and it doesn’t blacken when heated to fusing or soldering temperatures.
The main con of working with fine silver is that it can be more fragile because it is more easily bent, dented, or broken.

Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and copper. The silver content is 92.5%, and sterling is often referred to as .925 silver. The small amount of copper in the mix makes the metal harder and stronger than fine silver, yet it retains the beautiful look of silver. Sterling is strong enough to be used in earwires and other jewelry components such as clasps, where fine silver is usually too soft.

Whether you prefer to fabricate your pieces from sterling sheet metal and wire or cast your designs with sterling casting grain, there’s a form of sterling silver to fit your project. And don’t forget the sterling silver chains and findings to complete your jewelry creations!

On the con side, the copper content of sterling will cause it to tarnish over time, but you can always polish it up again. It will also blacken during soldering due to oxidation. You can reduce firescale by coating your piece with flux during soldering. Oxidation that does occur can be removed with picking and polishing after soldering.

Have fun experimenting with fine silver and sterling silver and find what works best for your applications. We’d love to hear how your projects turn out!
-Lani Dearmin

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