Daily Wire Tip: Silver Colored vs. Genuine Silver Wire Pieces

By on December 9, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

I understand the difference between sterling and Argentium silver wire, and the much less expensive non-tarnish silver-colored copper wire. My question is: Unless I intend to solder the wire, would there be any other reason not to use the less expensive wire for wrapped loops, etc. in a wire-wrapped piece?

It just seems to me that as I would save money in supplies, that savings could be passed on to the customer, as well as the benefit of the non-tarnishing wire. But would that make my jewelry any less desirable on some other level?

-Donna in White Lake, Michigan

Answer:

Actually Donna, there are many designs and stones that look great using alternative wires! Many of our Wire-Sculpture Faculty use alternative metals and have no challenges selling items created with them.

Just be sure to either label or tell the customer what the item is made with so you have no questions after the sale.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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28 Comments

  1. avatar

    Katherine

    December 10, 2010 at 9:38 am

    I was recently chatting with a wire-artist whose work I greatly admire, and she told me that she only uses SS and GF wire if the customer special orders it. She says that craft wire makes her work both beautiful and affordable.

  2. avatar

    ruth

    December 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

    That answer totally suprised me, as well as the comment. Whenever I use silver color, I always use sterling silver, and yes tanish is a problem. I will really re-evalute my opinion in the future when chosing a silver color wire. It will certainly make my jewelry more affordable.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 10, 2010 at 7:43 pm

      Ruth, unfortunately today’s economy demands that we find alternatives to be able to stay alive : ) A lot of the choice would depend on what you were making. For example, I don’t think setting a natural tourmaline in a plated or enameled wire would be appropriate, as in my world, high end stones demand high end wire. The choice of what to use and when will depend on the artist/creator, their customer base, and the ‘look’ or style they are designing.
      Personally, I only use Argentium, 14kgf (yellow and rose) and when requested 14k and 18k solid (prepaid orders only.)

      • avatar

        Peggy Powers

        April 30, 2013 at 3:33 pm

        I’ve purchased “toned” and “colored” pieces of jewelry in the past – one time for each. I found that these materials not only look inexpensive but react the same on the skin. Right now I work with copper and brass because of cost. I don’t think I would like any jewelry I make associated with the cheap wires. The old saying “you get what you pay for” rings true in these instances.

        • avatar

          Peggy Powers

          April 30, 2013 at 3:40 pm

          I re-read the original statement and am wondering about the non-tarnish copper colored wire. I buy both the bare solid copper and the non-tarnish copper wire. When I purchase the non-tarnish type it’s not copper colored but is coated copper wire. My suppliers are honest people and swear by their non-tarnish copper wire. The only difference between it and the solid I buy is that one has a baked on coating.

  3. avatar

    JoAnn

    December 10, 2010 at 11:41 am

    With prices the way they are, craft wire is a great alternative. Unless they are going to be extremely abrasive with their jewelry craft wire is just as beautiful and less tarnish. It will still have that silver shine, if its silver plated. So much of my practice wrapping turns out well so I sell it. I only use gold filled or even gold plated by special order, silver sells so much better here.

  4. avatar

    V

    December 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    There are only two differences that I can see. One depends on the nature of wire you are using, and the other is about materials cost and sale value.

    What I mean by nature is this: coated, plated, and/or pre-finished wire can be tricker to work with than sterling or other pure wires simply because the surface is more forgiving with uniform metal wires.
    You can polish sterling if it gets scratched, and unless you actually change the shape of the wire, no one will notice. But you can’t do too much with a scratched piece of plated wire other than throw it away.

    In the second instance, sterling vs. say, German silver (not actually silver but a nickel alloy) the latter you would have to charge less for your work because of the nature of the material. Some designs you simply cannot do in anything but sterling or other precious metal (maybe copper in this economy) because you couldn’t charge enough to compensate for your time.

    On the other hand, in this economy, it would be handy to be able to charge less for some of your pieces. It really depends on how much work you put into it, and what the perceived value of your work is, rather than the actual value of the work done.

    This is a complex subject, and there are more experienced people who could explain it better than I. I hear they sell DVDs that go in detail about this subject.

    One way I figure perceived value is by haggling with friends over what they’d pay for a piece. This works because I have friends who have done retail before, so they don’t try to lowball me because they want to get a “friendship discount”.

    (It’s not that I don’t give them from time to time, but… it’s helpful to know people who have an appreciation that a job is what it is and they wouldn’t do their work for me for practically nothing on demand.)

    As for findings, I find it difficult to find some that aren’t plated for specific projects, like, say, lanyards. I use sterling for the work-horse areas (jumprings, bails and the like) and beads where wear is expected, because plate comes off easily under wear. However, the lanyard clip I want isn’t really available in sterling. So… I use plated clips and just make sure that my customers know that. If they really want sterling, I make it clear they can request that in a different type of clip.

    This is because those sterling clips are VERY expensive, and I want people to know that it adds significantly to the price. But I also compensate by explaining that I will replace the clip for free when it starts flaking or fails. This compensates somewhat for the fact that my baseline is a plated item.

    If you do use mixed metals in your designs, it really helps to be up-front about what materials you are using with your customers. That way, if one of your plated items gets wear with time, they might start wondering if the whole piece is plated… and start wondering about your honesty, the price, and so on.

    Furthermore, magnets sticking to parts of your jewelry might also clue someone in to a difference of material that might come off to the uninitiated as dishonest.

    All of these lead to public relations problems that can be hard to fix.

    And anyway, you really want to say what everything is, because of allergy, jewelry care, and expected longevity of your piece.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 10, 2010 at 7:37 pm

      V, I always appreciate your input! You gave some nice solutions for mixing metals – thanks!

  5. avatar

    Deb Weller

    December 10, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    We teach our classes using only non-tarnish silver plated, copper or colored round wire.(GASP – shock – not teaching with square wire – what heresy! ) It keeps the cost of the class affordable and takes some of the fear factor – the “I’m afraid of messing up REAL silver and REAL gold” – out of the class so the students can have fun.

    One of my good customers only uses plated and colored wire for his wrapped pieces. Using the less expensive wire allows him to sell more pieces at affordable prices. He’s happy and so are his customers.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 10, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Deb – (too funny) depending on the design, round wire is wonderful! WS Faculty member Albina Manning uses mostly round wire in her designs too!

  6. avatar

    Natalie

    December 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Before knowing how to make jewelries, I used to shop at department stores. Many times, I’ve seen beautiful pieces displayed behind the glass and when asked, I found that they were made with non-tarnished materials. But the design is so beautifully made, the price tag was high enough to keep it behind the glass.

    As Katherine mentioned, I too sell jewelries made with inexpensive wires unless customers requrest SS or GF. Because of my own and constantly evolving designs, jewelries sell quite well.

    If you let your customers think that they’re buying one of a kind piece of jewelry, they will buy it for your design and will pay for your labor. I have not make 2 pieces exactly the same.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 10, 2010 at 7:28 pm

      Thanks for sharing Natalie!

  7. avatar

    Jane Elizabeth

    December 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I actually use quite a bit of copper, brass, GF, SS and Bronze. I love mixing the different metals as each has its own strong points. I have no problem selling product in the different metals and always label them carefully.

  8. avatar

    mary

    December 10, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    For most of us, the beauty of working in argentium sterling, sterling and gold-filled wire is what drew us to wire artistry in the first place. Boy, none of us could have foreseen what the metal markets would do to our craft. We are all in sticker shock over these increases.
    I agree with Deb in her statement of taking the “fear factor” off new students by teaching them in an affordable material. As they progress and their skills improve when they do make the switch, they will be really surprised that they can work in the other metals comfortably.
    I work a lot in both square and round copper wire and I personally love the look of copper. At first, it was a material I used to work out designs in before repeating again in what I called “the good stuff”. Well, copper is now the “good stuff” as well, as customers love the look just as much as s/s or gf.
    You have to decide yourself what appeals to you. If you are more concerned with chasing the dollar as opposed to being creative and designing, you work will pay the price and you won’t make good sales or have repeat customers
    You can save money by shopping wisely and price your work accordingly. You don’t want to be tagged as that gal that has a rep for making cheaply priced jewelry. You want to be known as that creative gal that takes advantage of her materials and lets her creativity flow no matter what the metal she is using. Her work is expressive or intricate and very appealing.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 10, 2010 at 11:28 pm

      Nice Mary – “You want to be known as that creative gal that takes advantage of her materials and lets her creativity flow no matter what the metal she is using. Her work is expressive or intricate and very appealing.”

  9. avatar

    suzanne tocci

    December 10, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Many of my customers are teens. They love the silver wrapped stones, and using craft wires makes it very affordable for them. Their mothers often return to buy my designs, either for gifts or themselves. Most of the time they request precious metals. They seem to understand the cost increase for these pieces, and buy what they like the ‘looks of’ despite the cost. As others have mentioned, I always feel it’s imperative to be upfront with what metal is used in each of my pieces.

    I sure appreciate all the different comments and ideas!

    • avatar

      Valerie

      February 13, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      I originally made all of my jewelry using non-tarnish craft wire because of the fear factor and the cost of fine wire. I did tell my customers about the wire and asked if they would want the piece made with sterling silver. I could sell pieces made with craft wire very inexpensively and they loved it. I did find, however, that all craft wire claiming to be non-tarnish did, in fact, show some tarnish…gold more than silver…it looked more like rose gold. I only use one brand of artistic wire because I have not had any trouble with it. I have gotten more brave over time and do make many pieces using sterling silver and most always use sterling silver for earwires, even if the rest of the piece is made from Artistic wire. It gives me peace of mind that my customers who may have a metal allergy or problems with cheap or base metals. You have to decide your own preference and examine the cost for your work.

  10. avatar

    Tonya

    July 12, 2012 at 5:37 am

    Silver Filled is the answer! It works like Sterling, cost is 1/2 the price and you can solder and tumble! You can also sell it at a cost comparable to an item made with Sterling Silver. It doesn’t seem to tarnish as bad as Sterling Silver either. I use Arg. Ear Wires and Arg. for rings. I use Silver Filled for the components and wire wrappings on earrings, charms, necklaces and bracelets. As far as the Ear wires, use Arg. and you can sell as an Arg. piece. Explain to the customer and most already know, you are referring to the Ear wire only.

  11. avatar

    Rose Barden

    July 12, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Hey Dale, I have been working with all types of metals, but the one I find more giving to me is; the 20 or 22 gauge silver craft wires. I also use the gold as well. But, because I have been using these wires, I not sure what my venue is. wether i’s vintage, old fashoin, nostalga or what. If you can, please take a look at my crafts on http://www.etsy.com/shop/jewelsinthemaking and tell me what venue I should be gearing towards. I so want to get out there and make more of a profit. Thank for your time in this matter.

    Rose
    From Florida

  12. avatar

    susannah St. Clair

    July 12, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Love all the thoughts about this. One of the good things about silver and gold going up is that now they make silver FILLED wire too. A wee bit cheaper. The other thing I find is that the stone I am wrapping “tells” me what color it needs. Then we get to use those lovely OTHER colors. I love using bronze, copper , gunmetal and brass! It can really add to the piece.

  13. avatar

    GingerLou

    July 12, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I use a lot of wire in both my jewelry designs and my ClayArt pieces, and what I have come to absolutely LOVE is working with darkened annealed steel wire. I purchase it by the 5 lb. spool, and it’s available at many hardware stores. I like 20 gauge best. It’s very sturdy and easy to work with, but mostly I like the way it looks. I make a lot of porcelain and stoneware pendants with either holes or high-fire wire for attaching. Once the firing of the pendants is complete, I make bails from this steel wire to fit thru the holes or the high-fire wire loops, and they become interchangeable pendants. I also like to use this steel wire on bracelet links, as it is far sturdier than any 49-strand beading wire. I sometimes make connectors for necklaces using this steel wire, embellished with beads or found objects; it’s great for fabric bead construction, too. Very all-purpose. Any natural metal, such as sterling, copper, brass, steel or even aluminum holds more intrigue and value to me, personally, than a plated craft wire. This darkened, annealed steel wire gives a beautiful alternative to more expensive metal wires and can be mixed with any other metals; it has a very distinctive and vintage, unique-to-other-metals look, too. It’s my favorite wire to work with!

  14. avatar

    Christine

    July 12, 2012 at 9:20 am

    As long as you label what materials you are using, it shgouldnt be a problem. I personally don’t like the plated/colored wires since I am allergic to many metals and therefore many of this type. I look for sterling, arg, silver- filled specifically and hate it when I find a piece I love but don’t know if I will have an allergy reaction to it. Label, Label, Label! Please for those of us who it makes a difference to.

  15. avatar

    sue beebe

    July 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I, too, love the “craft” wires as I find that the different colors bring out the colors of the beads or stones that I am using. My problem is covering any nicks, which sometimes are unavoidable. so far I am using nail polish and would love to hear any other ideas.

  16. avatar

    Mary Hallengren

    July 12, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    I love all the colored wires and guages, but don’t understand why non of the wire manufactures are not making square and 1/2 round in colors. I’ve tried some of the wrapping tecniques with round wire and really am not satified.

    Mary

  17. avatar

    Jilly

    July 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    I think it depends on your market. I do not use craft wire in anything I sell in the art gallery where I work, though I do use copper and bronze quite a bit. I use only niobium or sterling earwires in earrings I sell there. Renaissance Faires and the like are different and I do use craft wire for lower-end items I sell there, but I also take along some high end (sterling) items for more discerning buyers. I will probably sell some things made with silver-filled wire there too, but not at the gallery.

  18. avatar

    Dena Ellison

    July 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I let the nature of the stone determine what metal I use, but primarily use sterling silver wire, and some gold filled. My work stands out from what other people sell at the show I frequent, and people are willing to pay more for the sterling silver, especially those folks that are sensitive to base metals. The pieces that I have made using copper and brass have sold for almost as much as the silver pieces because of the unique nature of the stones I use.

    I have recently started using silver colored copper craft wire when I teach projects that require only round wire, in order to keep the cost down. But when teaching traditional wire wrapping that requires square wire, I still use sterling silver. I don’t mark it up so much that it is prohibitive for my students, and when they show off their pieces, it generates more interest in my work. It is one of my selling points that when they walk out of class or party, they will have a one-of-a-kind handmade by them sterling silver and semi-precious stone pendant.

  19. avatar

    miriam Diamond-barber

    July 31, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I have ladies who are allergic to nickle, and others whose skin react to the silver plate so it doesn’t last, and they get irritations. I have found that the sterling silver filled 10% solves the problem (no nickle) and the silver has not worn through for them or me. I have heard that others have also used it for soldering. I would be interested in feedback on this commentary.

  20. avatar

    Michele Marushik

    February 24, 2015 at 10:07 am

    I have used a lot of Beadalon Non-Tarnish Brass in the past and noticed that a short time after making and wearing a piece the Brass gets dull. What do you recommend for cleaning and brightening it back up?

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