Do you know the proverb ‘speech is silver, silence is golden’? It means that you better can keep your mouth shut. Anyway, that is what I make of it. It will be no surprise for you that I disagree with this ‘wisdom’. Not only because I think that women should speak up more, and stand for themselves. But also because in this proverb the precious metal gold is highly qualified.
Of course, gold is more expensive, although this can change in the future since the last mine has been closed. And the industry needs a lot of it. But it does not matter to me whether some metal or gem is more or less expensive. It is important which precious metal makes you more beautiful.
Not only the industry needs a lot more silver to make their products, but also the jewelry industry needs a lot more of this precious metal. Not only to make straight silver jewelry but as a base of ‘vermeil’, a term used for gold-plated or gold-filled silver. The white metal is the base and several layers of gold or silver cover that base.
On some types of ladies with somewhat darker (Caucasian or other) skin gold looks awesome, but for me… the stunning white precious metal looks better on me. The choice between the two precious metals depends on taste, the color of the skin, and outfit.
In this blog, I will tell you all about the types of this precious metal and some really fantastic ways or rather techniques to use it and make stunning pieces of jewelry with, filigree jewelry.
There are very many qualities. Say, you are allergic to metals and you want to buy a piece of jewelry. You choose a precious metal to avoid allergic problems. There is a possibility that your piece of jewelry still gives those problems.
That is because you have so many qualities of this metal, and every quality has its own amount of pure silver combined with another metal. The higher amount of that other metal, the more problems you will face. So it is important to know what type is used in your piece of jewelry.
Just to make things clear. A silversmith cannot work with 100% silver to make jewelry. It is too soft and a piece of jewelry will not last long. So that silversmith will add some other material to the pure precious metal to make it workable.
Pure silver is mixed with copper, zinc, or nickel. It depends on the amount of the other metals what quality becomes. For instance, sterling silver contains 925 parts of pure stuff and 75 parts of another metal. In Thai silver, you get 975 parts of the precious metal and 25 parts of another metal. Thai silver is therefore softer. And the Tibetan or Nepalese variety contains only 200 parts silver and 800 parts of another metal.
For the silversmiths in the world, it is a kind of science to use precious metal with the highest amount of pure silver, that is still strong enough to make jewelry.
For women, who are allergic to metals, it is important to know what type of precious metal is used in their piece of jewelry. And my advice is to look very carefully at what kind of other metal is used, and how much is used in your necklace or earrings. Looking beautiful is great, but a neck or ears, that looks red or otherwise unhealthy, because of the metal is not worth it.
You can recognize the pureness of this metal on its marks. I already stated that you cannot use pure stuff because it is too soft. Here is a list to see the possibilities:
|MARK||% ALLOY||% PURE SILVER|
|.999||fine or pure||99.9%|
If you see a piece of jewelry with a purity of this precious metal of less than 90%, it will not be called silver, since the quality is too low. In the tourist markets in Europe, Mexico, Asia or India they produce this metal with pureness of 50 to 80%.
Anything with a fine silver content lower than 90% ranks as low-quality silver. Much of this low-quality silver is produced for the tourist market in Europe, India, Mexico, and the Orient. The fine silver content of this material runs anywhere from 50% up to 80%.
Sometimes the base is of another metal, like copper, and the layers on top are made of this precious metal. This technique is called ‘plated’. And they can add a rhodium-colored epoxy dip over the metal to make it look more original/
It is not easy to see whether the piece is genuine or not. I will give you some tips to recognize the real stuff a bit further in this blog. Keep reading.
What types can you buy?
You can find the different types here and the amount of silver used in that type:
Hang on because there is really a great collection to choose from. Let us start with the internationally recognized standard, the 925 silver. It is used mostly in the Western world and it contains 92.5% pure silver. You make a great piece of jewelry with this quality: strong and as pure as possible. But… this metal and oxygen is not a great combination. Oxygen tarnishes it, especially when it is not plated.
This is sterling silver with a kind of rhodium coating to avoid tarnishing. People call this kind also platinum. The coating is expensive and therefore most is sterling silver without the coating.
This is my favorite kind. It is 97.5% pure and the Karen people from the hills in Thailand and Laos are experts in making fantastic Thai beads. It is softer and is easier to handle. A Karen silversmith forms a bead, puts some wood into the bead, and then it goes into a fire to harden it. It is their traditional skill, already for ages and they are so good at it.
This Thai silver is a bit more blackish than sterling variety because this type has no coating and tarnishes faster. It gets the effect of ancient or old silver, which can be the case but not necessarily so.
The price of Thai silver is higher than the sterling variety since the amount of silver is higher and because it’s all handmade.
Tibetan or Nepalese (200)
Traditional Tibetan or Nepalese silver contains 200 parts of silver and the rest is another metal or metal. Nowadays there is of this precious metal at all in this ‘silver’. But it is made of copper with a nickel alloy, with sometimes a silver-like plating. We don’t call this ‘silver’.
Now you know what types you can buy. But there are also different ways in how it is decorated.
Difference between Thai and Bali silver?
Some people think that the only difference between Thai and Bali varieties is the place it comes from. Well, there is more to it.
The Thai silver has more silver (95-98% precious metal) and it’s softer. The Bali variety contains 92,5% silver and tarnishes faster.
Thai silversmiths use simple designs, like shells, flowers, or even plain beads. The Bali silversmiths go out of their mind making their beads, with a lot of dots, lines, geometrical shapes. The designs make the Bali-type beads heavier.
And.. the filigree technique
Filigree is a style of making jewelry designs, in gold and silver. It is made of threads twisted together with tiny beads or dots. With the threads, a silversmith makes artistic motifs like leaves and flowers and they are soldered together into one piece of jewelry. Sometimes filigree jewelry looks like lacework.
It is very popular in Asia, but also Ecuador has a place where they specialize in filigree jewelry.
In my search for traditional jewelry of different cultures to get inspiration from my new collection, I ended up in Ecuador. My father always told me that only the best silversmith makes filigree jewelry. Since it takes a lot of craftsmanship and patience to make those tiny little pieces. And to make a piece of filigree jewelry out of it. And in Ecuador, there is a village, Chordeleg, where nearly everyone makes filigree jewelry! Let me explain how a great silversmith makes filigree jewelry.
Chordeleg, the city of the filigree jewelry
Chordeleg is a little village in the neighborhood of Cuenca, an old city with a magnificent historical center. Cuenca is on the Unesco list of most beautiful cities in the world. The name Chordeleg means ‘golden waterfall’, and although at the moment most of the pieces of filigree jewelry they make here, are made of silver, there are beautiful gold pieces for sale too.
City of silversmiths
Anyhow, the city (only around 11.000 inhabitants) is from the origin of the city of the silversmiths in Ecuador. A long time ago when the Spanish were in charge in Ecuador they implemented the Spanish ‘guild system’ in Ecuador. The guilds were the groups of artisans, merchants, or professionals, that practice the same trade or profession in a particular town. When a guild was very strong there lived only people with the same trade or profession in its own city. You have more of them in Ecuador, like Otavalo for leather products, Gualaceo for weaving, or San Bartolome, where you find most of the guitar makers and in Chordeleg they make filigree jewelry.
When we arrived in Chordeleg on a Saturday, the city was nearly empty, with no salesmen, no buyers, no tourists, and hardly any inhabitants. It was like the city was asleep, only to wake up for the big Sunday market, where the income for the whole week had to come in. Finally, we found a silversmith that wanted to show us how filigree jewelry is made.
The process of filigree jewelry making
You roll the flat thread into tiny flat balls or other shapes. When you have a few of them you make the outlines of a leaf, or flower, or any figure you want. And the silversmith places all the tiny flat balls or other shapes in the outlines. In this way, you make a piece of gorgeous very detailed filigree jewelry.
I could not help myself to buy filigree jewelry: a bracelet and a pair of earrings since I love this work that is done with such high-quality craftsmanship. This is the place where traditional crafts are used to make modern filigree jewelry. And in this way, the old craftsmanship has a great future ahead of them.
Where does filigree come from?
Making filigree jewelry is very difficult and it needs great craftsmanship to make a decent filigree piece. And although we have today all the machines and tools for the work, only a few gold or silversmiths can do or want to do the job. Imagine that in the Etruscan and Greek Times this was the daily work for a jewelry maker.
They built up a precious metal piece by soldering very small pieces of material together.
A little bit of filigree history
Filigree’s work has existed since 3000 BC. We have found filigree jewelry in graves in Mesopotamia (a country between the rivers the Eufrat and Tigris). The Egyptian jewelry makers were not that keen on making it; they likes cloisonné work better.
In India, you find a lot of this type of jewelry, especially they loved making chains of filigree. On the chains were all kinds of small filigree charms added. Even today you see this in India.
The best filigree workers are to be found in the old Phoenician cities.
Phoenicia or now Lebanon, could not cultivate enough food for the population in their country, which was mostly desert. They had many talents and one of them was negotiating and the other one was creativity. Around 1500 BC they became the best trading people, who bought raw material, bring it to their workshops, made jewelry (or something else) out of them, and sold it again.
They added the culture of their sellers into the jewelry so that it would be sold better. You might say that the Phoenician jewelry was the ‘father’ or ‘predecessor’ of our modern jewelry. The Greek and Etruscan jewelry makers brought the art of filigree to perfection.
How to recognize the pure metal?
The trained eye or an expert can see whether this precious metal is real or not by looking at the color. And the next easiest way to check is looking for a mark, which is mostly hidden near the clasp or another invisible spot. Most of the time the marks are small, so maybe you need a magnifier, but the jeweler should provide you with one.
Then there is a chemical way, used by jewelers and not recommendable by the ‘normal’ buyer. The reason I give you this information here anyway is that with this info you might impress the seller, and ask for details to check whether the piece of jewelry is made of the real precious metal, or whether it is a bad alloy.
The trick is nitric acid. With this nitric acid, you can check whether something is real silver or not, since it only reacts on silver and not on another precious metal. But be careful, since this fluid is dangerous (don’t touch it with your hands).
OK, here we go!
Make a small slot and add a drop of nitric acid in there. If the base of the item is metal, the slot will turn green, and the silver plating around it will turn gray. The combination of nitric acid and silver will result in a gray color, all the other metals in combination with nitric acid will get another color. Or does not react at all.
When you ask me…
I love Thai silver, the designs, the color, and the origin of how it is made. The Karen people really create beautiful beads and their technique hardly changes. There is about 5-6% purer and therefore they tarnish a bit less than the other ones.
This precious metal is beautiful and I think filigree jewelry, is one of the most delicate pieces of metal you can find. All the more reason to store your delicate pieces of jewelry safe. Away from dust and when you don’t wear your filigree jewelry, away from oxygen. Florencejewelshop wrote a PDF with a lot of information about how to clean and store your jewelry in a safe way. It is free. Just let me know where I can send it to.
Florence from FlorenceJewelshop