If you use sterling silver in your jewelry, you have felt the pain of rising silver prices. Although the market always fluctuates up and down a tad unpredictably, it feels like it has only gone UP lately. Because it has!
Many jewelry designers have been forced to switch materials or to use less sterling silver in their designs to compensate for the increased costs. However, the quality and look of sterling are popular for good reason. Hence the rise of affordable new silver filled wire, beads and jewelry findings on the market!
Gold filled (GF) jewelry findings (also called “gold overlay”) have been popular for years. Gold filled is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of karat gold to a base of less costly metal (you can learn more about the process at Artisan Plating). This gold layer is many times thicker than a standard plating – anywhere from 50 to 100,000 times thicker. The law, gold filled items must be at least 1/20th gold by weight.
Silver filled jewelry findings are created the same way, but as of date, there are no industry standards for silver fill, which can make it hard to tell what you’re getting. The new line of silver filled items that Rings & Things carries contains 1/10th sterling silver by weight. As with gold fill, the sterling silver layer is hundreds of times thicker than a silver plating.
Silver filled wire can be manipulated just like sterling silver wire. The silver is bonded to the core metal and does not flake off the way a plating might. We have not tried this, but we are told that it can be soldered too. (We’ve also heard it is tricky to solder SF wire, so for now, we recommend sticking with sterling silver wire for soldering.) Silver filled items look identical to sterling silver, and can be antiqued just like sterling silver.
We have a couple of employees who (almost freakishly!) take pride in their ability to “eat” the plating off costume jewelry (apparently their skin is especially acidic). Within just a few days, standard plated jewelry is destroyed on their bodies! In the interest of science, we asked them to test out silver filled ear wires and are very pleased to report that they had no issues. The silver filled earrings look and wear exactly the same as sterling silver earrings.
It is up to each individual artist to decide what materials to use in his or her jewelry. Some people will always want pure sterling, no matter the cost. Since silver filled jewelry findings cost 40-60% less than sterling silver findings, while offering the same look, we think it won’t be long until SF jewelry is a common designation. ~ Cindy