Sunday, June 30, 2013

hard, half hard, and soft... Its about metal

fine and sterling silver pendant by Fabric Dragon
A lot of people are getting involved in wire wrapping and metal work. Its great!  Its fun, can be done in a small space if you take care, and  some of the results are spectacular...
like any new art , it pays to learn the language.

This post is more for the jewelry maker and crafter, but even if you only buy jewelry, it may be nice to know.

Wire, and sometimes other metal (like sheet metal) is listed according to how flexible and pliable it is.

Soft ( often called dead soft) wire feels soft, bends in curves, and doesn't hold a shape well .
Half Hard is still easy to work with, bends in fairly tight angles, and holds its shape .
Hard is, well, hard to work with. It makes a crisp corner turn, and holds its shape very well, if you can shape it.

Everyone has their own preference on what to work with. i like soft wire myself, but most wire is sold as half hard.  The thing to remember is that wire gets harder as you work it! going from soft, to half hard, to hard,  sometimes very fast.

As you work with  it  (bend it, move it, etc) metal becomes harder and stiffer.  Eventually, it becomes BRITTLE and will snap. Most people find this out with florist wire... the cheap green stuff at the craft stores? bend it back and forth and at first it  bends easily, with a soft curve... then it gets harder, and stiffer.. and eventually it snaps.
This is called  work hardening

so if you start with soft wire, and you whip those ends around a lot working on a stone... the last bits of wire will be stiffer  and harder to work than when you started!

The way to make wire softer is to add heat... but you cannot always heat wire up to red hot once you start wrapping it around things!

so, the more you work your wire, the harder it becomes, until it finally breaks.

This can be used to your advantage as well!  by twisting or hammering wire , even a little, you can make parts of the wire harder. this is often used to make a hard pin point.  Soft wire makes lousy pins.

Different metals harden at different rates!
this confuses people, because you get used to working with one metal and when you switch the metal acts "funny". Here is my personal, totally unscientific, analysis of how each metal handles:

Gold takes the longest to work harden. it also gets stiffer very gradually and smoothly.

Silver  hardens faster than gold. At first its a gradual change but then it gets a lot harder very fast toward the end. 

Copper is tricky.  It seems very soft for a bit, as though it isnt getting harder at all, and then suddenly it gets VERY hard... and not much after that it snaps.

This is why i actually do not like to tell beginners to practice on copper.  It can be very frustrating.  Given today's metal prices, i understand that practicing with silver may not be possible.  Just keep in mind that when copper suddenly snaps on you, its NOT your fault...
and remember that when moving from copper to silver (or gold) it will not be as abrupt a change.

(i hope to add more photos when i get back from my jewelry show)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Gold, Gold-filled, Gold plate, Vermeil... what does it all mean?

When a jeweler works with metal for a while, it can be easy to forget that when you first started, you didn't know what all those words meant.
so I was posting about Jewelry and a friend of mine asked "can you explain what 'gold-filled' means?"
yes i can... and since one person asked i tend to assume there are more people who do not know... therefore i wrote a blog post about it.

Gold is an element.  It is , in jewelry, defined by its "karat" with 24 k being pure gold (and far too soft to use in jewelry usually) and 12k being half gold and half something else.
A mixture of several metals is called an "Alloy" so anything that isnt 24k gold is an Alloy of gold and .. something.

the most typical gold jewelry in the United States is 14k, or just over half Gold ...

In other countries the usual karat may be higher, most Indian jewelry is 18k, for example.
Each country has a minimum karat to be labeled as "gold" .

By itself Gold is yellow, but it can be made white by adding nickle or palladium... rose by adding more copper and less white metal,   green by adding pure silver.... (with the exception of  the white gold, the colors are subtle)

Because so many people are allergic to Nickel, if you are considering white gold for jewelry, verify what metal is being used!

Gold Plate and Gold Filled

Gold plated means that a base metal (usually brass) has been lightly coated (usually by electroplating) with gold.  The thickness of the gold can vary  between .5 microns and 2.5 microns for heavy plating, but averages somewhere around  1 micron in thickness.
for comparison purposes.... a human hair is 100 microns, and a dollar bill is about 200 microns thick

so Gold plate is really very thin.
it scratches easily, exposing the metal underneath, but this is often not immediately obvious because brass is gold colored too...
until it tarnishes.

Gold-filled does NOT mean it is "filled with gold" but instead means it is  gold... filled with base metal... usually brass.

I usually work with wire, and gold PLATED wire would be easily scratched just by handling and using metal tools and pliers...
Gold-FILLED wire, on the other hand, is at least ten times more gold... often a hundred times thicker gold!

so my Gold Filled Wire is in fact a hollow gold tube with a brass core...
(see chart )

 In addition, quite often there is an additional layer of  alloyed gold gold and brass between the brass layer and the gold top layer...

But the main thing you need to bear in mind is that Gold Filled jewelry has been around in a few cases since the early 1900s.. still in great shape!  Unlike gold plate it doesn't easily chip, flake or scratch,  and will retain its appearance indefinitely.

I, personally, am hard on my jewelry.  I have never had any plated jewelry last longer than a season... i have items of gold-filled jewelry that are now over 20 years old and look great.

The main advantage of Gold-filled jewelry is simply cost.  While it is a lot more gold than gold plate, and therefore more costly than gold plate; its a lot less gold than solid gold, and therefore much less expensive than that.

So what the heck is Vermeil?

Vermeil is gold plate.... but instead of gold plate on top of brass or some other base metal, Vermeil is gold plate on top of Sterling Silver!  This can be a nice option when you want the look of gold, but can only pay silver prices....
with silver prices going up as high as they have, its not usually much savings over gold-filled jewelry. (it used to be)

Speaking of Silver...

With the cost of silver being as high as it has been, and people being on tight budgets due to the recession, it has finally been economical to create "silver-filled" wire and jewelry.  Previously it just wasn't worth it.

Silver-filled is lovely to work with, thicker than silver plate, and less expensive than solid (see Gold Filled, above)
If  it is used with a silver colored core /base metal....(instead of brass) then you have to wonder what metal is white/silver colored, and cheap... and the usual answer is Nickel.  I always advise asking what the base /core metal is if you have Nickel allergies.

(and remember, Sterling Silver is .925 silver. It is an alloy of silver and copper.  Pure Silver is often called "fine silver" and i love working with it. )

I hope that answers your questions! Please feel free to comment on my blog, or my Facebook page, with any other jewelry related questions you may have...

Links, and more

artisan plating company the source of the chart on gold filled  (single, double, etc) and a LOT of charts and information on comparing plated with gold filled, etc

source of header photo plus more information on periodic table and elements

Wikipedia on colored gold

Rio Grande on Silver Filled also a nice chart on thickness comparisons.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Precious Metal and the Law

Now most people have noticed that the market price of metal (how much money is it worth just as metal) can affect jewelry prices, but there is another thing about precious metals that is very important to a Jeweler:
the law.

As a jeweler, or a jewelry buyer or seller, one of the things you have to understand is how the law affects the metal your jewelry is made from. 

If I sell you jewelry that is supposed to be solid 14k Gold, and it is not (lets say i got something mixed up and i sold you  gold plate instead) then i am guilty of...


yes, counterfeiting.  Gold, especially, is governed by some very very strict labeling rules because of its use in currency. it is protected in the USA by the treasury department!

This is why, on one memorable occasion that i spilled a container of Gold-filled beads, into a container of 14k solid gold beads, that i had to list them ALL as Gold filled! (ouch)

if I sold you gold filled and you found out it was solid gold? no problem
if , however, I sold you "gold" and it was only gold filled?  big problem.

If you ever see a small independent jeweler selling  something that says "a mixture of  14k gold, gold plate, and base metal" or something like that, it probably means they forgot to label their supplies...

This is why some of us (cough cough) have chosen to only  use one thing (in my case gold filled) unless we have a special request. We cannot get it mixed up if we only have one thing!

The bigger jewelry stores and even some of the smaller jewelers now have testing equipment that makes this a lot less of a problem, but when a single mistake can mean multi thousand dollar fines, you tend to be a bit paranoid.

Sadly this primarily affects the honest jewelers. The fly by night folks who set up at a show, knowing they will never be able to be found again? They are not going to be concerned about the fines, because you have to track them down first.

This can also affect the individual selling   or re selling jewelry at things like flea markets. Yes, even if you just set up a table to sell a few old pieces you do not want anymore! If you label something as "gold" you become completely liable for that!

Advice :

* I have seen some individuals who have sold what was actually White Gold, at Sterling Silver prices... and likewise seen people selling "German Silver" (Nickle) as Sterling.  The issue of labeling is not limited to yellow metal... as a seller, its worth having it tested to be sure, as a buyer it pays to be cautious.

*Many antique and older items of jewelry have FAR more value as an antique than they are worth in material!  As an example: vintage Bakelite (a type of plastic) is worth a small fortune to a collector, but its "just plastic".
It is often worth getting it officially appraised and tested by a reputable jeweler (preferably one who handles estate sales and antiques if it is an older piece)  before making any decisions.

* Its easy to take advantage of a customer, if they are trying to cheat you.
sounds weird, doesn't it?

If the customer is trying to take advantage of the "poor merchant" because "they don't know how valuable this is" then they are easy targets for a merchant who has something that looks valuable, and really  is not.

so if you think you are cheating the merchant? ... you may be getting cheated...
ah Karma....