Sunday 7 August 2011

Silver-filled wire vs sterling or Argentium, with some hammered tin pieces

The following is my too-wordy-to-post contribution to a discussion thread about silver-filled wire versus sterling or Argentium wire on Wire Wrap Jewelry, a fun and interesting Yahoo group I recently joined.

I think I agree with Perry here, as well as the comment about labour and also using the tinned copper for the special effects achievable. Here are my post-rainy (yay!) misty Sunday morning and now almost 1 p.m. coffee-fueled musings. I have to say there is nothing like mist-muffled car tires on wet country roads.

I don't know that the price differential would mean much in the end, and the cost of this silver-filled wire at 50% of the price of sterling wire for only a 10% silver content versus 92.5%? No, definitely not. Yes, when starting out, cost definitely is a huge issue, and no, you don't want to be practising or working out a new design with sterling -- which I still use Artistic wire for. But I'm sure, like me, you've occasiontally come across some of your beginning efforts that you remember you were so proud of: nothing is so full of character and dimension as the frayed, rusting cut ends of Artistic wire.

10% silver content versus the 5% of other plated wires? As anyone becomes more experienced, considerations around producing jewellery based purely on cost drop away and it is quality on all fronts that becomes paramount because the customers you started out with either grow with you and accept the increased cost of your work and materials as a mark of the product... or they won't. Of course you will find appreciative customers to replace the ones who fall away who be more than willing to pay the higher price for that quality.

Personally, I'm making jewellery which I hope will last a lifetime, and if I'm using plated components -- and the end result of silver surrounding a copper core is "plated" no matter how hard you wrap schmancy words around it, and silver does wear, does it not? -- then that silver-filled wire jewellery will not last a lifetime, particularly at wear points, not to mention those cut ends so full of character and dimension will wear even more. I think that the marketing argument for using silver-filled wire over sterling or Argentium based on cost is specious and they're missing the true marketing opportunity.

I know I'm not alone in this, but while becoming more experienced in making jewellery, I've also been learning about the difference between D grade and AAA grade stones. If I am increasingly buying much higher quality beads that cost heart-stopping dollars per string, why on earth would I used a 10% silver-filled wire with a copper core on a bead that costs $10, $20 or more each to save a few cents?

At the same time reality intrudes: along with market table stuff mostly for kids that I put together to sell for a few bucks, I make a medium-price "diffusion" line for people like myself, which is to say champagne taste on a beer budget, but who still have a few extra dollars to spend where justified.

Given that my labour costs are always going to be the same no matter what I'm making and that components and dangles are where the money goes -- and that's where silver prices have become particularly atrocious -- I've started using more and more high-quality pewter and/or silver-plated pewter with great results, BUT I still use Argentium silver wire. I mean, really, how much does a few inches of 24 gauge cost, ditto a pair of sterling earwires? It's not like it's a full ounce of silver wire, it's a few inches. Essentially, I give people a choice: go with all-sterling, or yes, these are sterling earwires, but you can save a few bucks on equally interesting, but different and much less costly pewter dangles or just two amazingly outrageously beautiful beads out of a costly string versus an entire necklace -- for now. I show them how the piece is constructed so that if they come across a to-die-for pendant or dangles, or some day they come into a little windfall they want to invest in sterling components or upgrading to a complete bracelet or necklace, their piece can easily be upgraded by me or someone else.

Re: using tinned copper and sanding away or hammering the snot out of the tin so that the copper starts gooshing through -- yes!!!!! I love doing that, the effect is fantastic. This is where we're getting to the wrongness of the advertising: I think it would be fun to experiment with this specific property of the silver-filled wire, which I'm not arguing is not a good product in and of itself, but it's this property, I think, which IS the potential marketing strategy, not that other babble about characterful and dimensional ends and saving money.

Silver-filled wire manufacturer, are you listening? I have the suspicion that whoever is writing their ad copy does NOT make jewellery if this is the best they can come up with because they're missing the marketing opportunity of the decade... mixed metals is hot!

In the end, I still think you have to consider that using by silver-filled wire, you're making jewellery with a wire that will eventually wear down to the copper core, and at 10%, a lot faster than not. This all goes back to knowing who you are as a designer and who your market is: are you a designer from whom people buy quality jewellery around which to build a wardrobe for the next umpteen years and for whom finding, buying at any price and wearing a particular piece of jewellery is a visceral experience, or do you make jewellery for those who buy something to match an outfit that they feel okay about tossing after a season? Both are equally valid points of view and creation but the price differential between this silver-filled wire and sterling/argentium isn't worth it.

Anyway, I hope I've contributed something to the conversation. I do find it fascinating the stories people tell me about their jewellery, and listening to the discussions that ensue when considering what to buy for someone definitely helps me when thinking about new pieces. The take-home message is that price is not entirely the question, but what you can do with the materials is: does it serve the purpose?

Long story short, and speaking from a practical point of view, I don't see that the price differential is sufficient to justify choosing 10% silver-filled wire over 92.5% sterling or Argentium for most jewellery, but what would make me buy it is the design potential inherent in a thicker silver plating on a copper core.

Here are some pictures of what I did a few years ago when I first started hammering and using tinned copper. Definitely an ick factor looking at these from a design/workmanship point of view, but, oh, the gooshing... and over time, as you polish the tin to buff it up to a pewter glow, it wears off ever so slightly, exposing and more copper, and it develops the most amazing patina. It's like a living thing!

1 comment:

JustPinMoney said...

when ive come across any of my beginning pieces, i certainly am not "Proud" ..i think to myself "Oh my" what crap...hehe! thanks for this post about NOT using sterling in "practice" or 1st pieces tho.