Pure Silver has a brilliant white metallic luster. It is very ductile and malleable below gold and palladium (one of the platinum metals). Pure Silver, which is at its natural state and is 999/1000 pure, and, because of it purity, makes it too soft for molding into ever day products. In order for Pure Silver to be hard enough and suitable for arts and crafts including jewelry, it must be alloyed with other metallic components which helps to make it hard enough and suitable for crafting. Designers have crafted bead chains, chokers, necklaces, earrings, pendants, rings, bracelets, hair clips, brooches and jewelry sets using Pure Silver and an alloy additive. Products that have been crafted out of Pure Silver with alloys are ecclesiastical (of the church) and domestic plate, flatware, jewelry, buttons, buckles, boxes, toilet articles to name a few. Pins/brooches, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and pendants are individually handcrafted from base Pure Silver metal and its alloy. This silver content tarnishes more slowly than sterling.
Sterling silver is the standard for beautiful, high quality silver jewelry being over 90% pure silver mixed with alloys to add strength and durability. The metal will not wear down. Sterling silver is 92.5% (925 parts) pure silver and 7.5% (75 parts) alloy metal. Jewelry buyers highly prefer Sterling Silver jewelry and accessories with the selection including classic and contemporary designs having been created by some of the finest silver craftsmen throughout the years. It has been indicated that the Sterling Silver jewelry, with a small amount of copper added, has very little effect on the metal’s value. The price of the Sterling Silver jewelry item will be affected by the labor involved in making the item, the skill of the craftsperson, and the intricacy of the design. The making of Sterling Silver jewelry involves a variety of embellishments, such as the ornamentation, filigree, and inlaying of the designers’ skills and talents brought forth on the jewelry pieces produced.
Marks used, engraved onto either the back side or the inside of each piece of jewelry include “sterling“, “ster.”, 925, or .925 and 92.5. Sterling Silver has the most ideal percentage of metal for having durability and natural bright sheen and the patina adheres to polish bringing the beautiful jewelry piece back to its original appearance when new.
Coin silver is 90 percent (900 parts) pure silver and 10 percent (100 parts) alloy metal. As its name implies, coin silver was used to produce U.S. currency during the 19th century. It is no longer a commonly used material. Coin silver is labeled as "coin silver," "coin," "900," ".900," or "90," signifying that the piece contains at least 90 percent pure silver.
Nickel or German Silver:
Nickel or German Silver contains no silver at all. It is made up of various alloys of copper, nickel, zinc and other metals including lead and tin and has a silvery white appearance. Copper alloy - that contains nickel and zinc sometimes is called German Silver. Metal content of Nickel or German Silver contains copper from 50% to 61.6%, zinc from 19% to 17.2%, nickel from 30% to 21.1%, and these proportions of metals are always specified in commercial alloys. German Silver is used to make jewelry into bangles, chokers, bead and chain necklaces, bracelets, earrings, pendants, rings, pins/brooches, and jewelry sets because of its hardness, toughness and resistance to corrosion. Many people have allergic reactions to the metal nickel, therefore, the jewelry with nickel content is not as popular if worn against the skin.
Sterling E.P. is a mark commonly found on rings and is not Sterling Silver but is silver plated.
VERMEIL (pronounced “ver-may”), jewelry pieces have a Sterling Silver base metal topped with gold plating of karat gold metal. It is often considered semi-fine jewelry, because it is made entirely of precious metals. Vermeil is a French word describing Sterling Silver that has been electroplated with at least 100 millionths of an inch of karat gold up to 24 karats. Only items of jewelry meeting this definition can be labeled “Vermeil”. Vermeil jewelry is very popular because it wears well and lasts much longer than the typical standard costume jewelry metal. It is not available in many retail jewelry departments but can be found in high end, fancy department stores. Vermeil jewelry is made into tennis bracelets, pendants, bangles, pins/brooches, men’s cuff links, necklaces, fashion rings, charms, and chains. It has the look and feel of pure, elegant fine gold jewelry with weight compared to that of karat gold pieces, but with prices more reasonable.
ALPACA SILVER is a trade name for nickel silver and for electro plated nickel silver. Originally a trademark of Berndorf AG., it is now used as a generic name for nickel silver, especially in Germany and Scandinavian countries. Often mistakenly written Alpaca. Also called New Silver. There are many different formulations of alloys which fall within the general term of "Nickel Silver". All contain copper, nickel and zinc, while some formulations may additionally include antimony, tin, lead or cadmium. A representative formulation (Alloy No.752) is 65% copper, 18% nickel, 17% zinc. (Reference - Wikipedia Encyclopedia)
From the 1930 through the 1950s, within Mexico, artist colonies arose which produced enormously influential silver jewelry. William Spratling and Margot de Taxco along with many others created jewelry masterpieces. The aesthetic (art and beauty) of the 1960’s and 1970’s brought its own influences to Mexican silver jewelry and even today, it continues to be made and sold in extraordinary quantity. Older pieces have a more complicated, heavier look. Today’s Mexican jewelry is found in local malls, wherever nice silver is displayed with findings including rings, earrings, pins, necklaces, and bracelets with abalone, turquoise, or semiprecious stone inlays that were imported from Mexico.
The markings inside silver jewelry are often stamped in some motif with many pieces labeled “sterling” with other older pieces dubbed “silver” or “Mexican silver” Pieces may also include 925 to indicate the degree of purity. Some may even state “Hecho in Mexico” or “Taxco” where these pieces were manufactured. Some may carry a symbol or initials , or some combination of these elements is also stamped into the metal indicating is was being signed by the artist or studio. Many fine pieces are unmarked or the mark is indelible.
Mexican silver purity marks ranging from the 1900’s to the early 1970’s were marked “MEXICO SILVER”, “900”, “925”, “970”, “980” and “Eagle numbered”. “Mexico Silver” or “Silver Made in Mexico” are seen on jewelry pieces from the 1920’s through mid-1940’s with varies of silver standard above .925 purity. The intaglio “900” mark is found on work dating from 1900 until the 1920’s. Intaglio marks “980”, “960”, “940”, and “925” are from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. The “970” was the favorite standard of Antonio Pineda. From the 1950’s and later, most work was stamped “Sterling” or with an incuse (hammered or stamped in) “925” stamp. The “Eagle” form marks were instituted by the Mexican government in 1948. The Eagle sketched was used until 1955 and then a silhouetted Eagle was used until the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. The number on the Eagle’s chest indicated either the city of assay (the analysis of the silver content) or an individual maker, or the manufacturing company. Eagle stamp#1 was for Mexico City, stamp#3 was for Taxco, and stamp#16 was registered to Margot. This information is only a generality.
After 1979, Registry marks were required i.e. TS-24 TAXCO which is a registration system which combines letters and numbers with the first letter representing location, the second letter is the first letter of the maker’s first or last name and the number represents the order in which the maker registered his mark. The T represents Taxco, Mexico, the S is the first letter of the maker’s first or last name and the 24 shows that his maker was the 24th individual to register under the letter combination of “TS”. There were many variations and exceptions to the above markings put on Mexican jewelry. Also be aware that smaller pieces of jewelry may not have an Eagle mark due to lack of space so the Eagle would then be stamped on a hanging tag that was attached to the jewelry which most times would have be removed by the buyer.
Silver itself in not very expensive. Tin or base metal washed with silver or various other substances are much cheaper and Mexican jewelry is often made of these materials. Jewelry marked “Alpaca”, “German Silver” or “Nickel Silver” actually do not contain silver metal but many of these jewelry pieces are worked with the same care and artistic charm as those made from silver. One will find that the prices of the marked three, because they do not contain silver metal, should be considerably lower than those marked Sterling Silver.
Silver jewelry pieces are priced based on their precious metal content, design and craftsmanship for a price based solely on weight and metal content does not reflect the work that has gone into the piece. Beautiful Mexican Jewelry made through the years can still be found today. You will find that each piece of jewelry you purchase is unique, and, if cared for properly, can last a lifetime.
“Argent “ and its variants is the Latin word for silver derived from the Latin word Argentum found on Mexican Silver and Silver beads.
“Plata” can be the name of Mexican silver jewelry and silver beads or designers or silversmiths named Plata from Spain or Mexico.
“Alpaca” is a name found on Mexican jewelry that stands for an alloy similar to German Silver but is primarily made up of nickel and not silver.
Decorative techniques used in silver jewelry
Filigree - a technique where thinly twisted silver or gold wire produces fine intricate patterns, shapes, and designs in metal and are soldered into place to create open, airy, lacy decorative jewelry pieces. Semi-precious stones may be used in the filigree jewelry piece. Filigree construction on jewelry pieces include Italian, Middle Eastern, German and Mexican jewelry. Openwork Filigree is not soldered onto a sheet of metal. It is difficult to make. Imitation filigree is made of stamped metal.
Repousse - is a method of decorating sheet metal. Raised designs are produced by hammering or punching into the base of the metal, (silver and gold etc.) using special punches to form the raised designs on the surface of the metal. This technique is also known as embossing.
Inlay - is created when a piece of material (often stone, shell, or glass) is partially embedded in another material (usually metal) such that the two materials make a level surface ornamenting the surface of jewelry pieces..
Enameling - is a product of fusing colored powdered glass to metal creating a vitreous, glass-like decorative surface. It is a decorating technique, a melting together of the glass and metal under very high temperatures using colored pigments to fill part or all of a design on a piece of jewelry, or to completely cover the surface. The process not only provides great contrast, sometimes of various colors, but also a shiny and glazed surface. Enameling is most frequently found on the jewelry from Norway and Denmark, but also the jewelry from other countries such as France, Germany, and China.
Channel Set - is when jewels stones each rest in a metal channel that is held in only by a slight rim that holds the stone, without prongs. The channel or grove runs along the edges of each of the stones. It usually contains round or baguette shaped stones.
Channel Work - it is a decorating technique of covering a part or the entire surface of a silver piece with a matrix which outlines the design and fills each compartment with semi-precious stones of contrasting colors to complete the design. The sum of the pieces held in the cells creates the over all design like a mosaic panel. Channel work is found most frequently on Native American jewelry, particularly WW11 Zuni jewelry.
Carving - is a decorating technique similar to wood and stone carvings whereby a motif is carved on silver vessels and jewelry. Carving is seen on some Middle Eastern and Oriental jewelry pieces.
Niello - Is an alloy of a black mixture of silver, copper, lead and sulfur. It is a technique in which an engraved design in metal is filled with the powered niello alloy, melted and fuses with the underlying metal, then polished resulting in an enamel-like effect. In older pieces, the niello fills an engraved design in metal. In newer pieces, the niello forms the background and the niello alloy is simply painted onto the metal because this process is found to be simpler, cheaper, and less durable. Niello is found most frequently on Siamese silver jewelry and can also be found on some Russian and Middle Eastern jewelry such as Persian jewelry.
SILVER GEM STONE JEWELRY
Gem stones are used extensively to improve the fashionable look and attractiveness of silver jewelry making it more eye appealing to the buyers. The various kinds of gemstones that beautify silver jewelry must contain beauty, rarity, and durability with optical properties which highlight luster, fire, and color.
PRECIOUS & SEMI PRECIOUS GEMSTONES
The precious stones include diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topaz, and amethyst. Semi precious stones are acquamarine, amethyst, topaz, garnet, tourmaline, spinel, peridot, chrysobery, quartz, opal, turquoise, moonstone and jade. The organic gems include pearl, ambe, coral, and jet, and of these, pearl can also be counted as a precious stone.
Artificial and imitation gems can be synthetic stones made in the
laboratory, to look almost like, in appearance, the same chemical elements as
natural stones and include rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and spinels. Diamonds
of gem quality have also been manufactured. Synthetic stones can be detected
because of air bubbles that cause a cloudy appearance, or by their unnatural