One winter, about 20 years ago, I hurt my back in a car accident and couldn't ski that year. While my friends were skiing, I wandered into a small bead shop and fell in love with beading. I started out with clasps, jump rings, chains, and headpins in goldtone and silvertone "base metals." I soon learned that those base metal findings didn't maintain their original color or shine for very long.
I continued to "practice" making jewelry with base metals for a while. After all, I was a beginner and I was the only one who was going to wear those pieces—and precious metals were much more expensive than base metals. For example, I think that base-metal headpins were about a penny each while sterling headpins were about 5 cents each back in those days. You might say that's not expensive, but it meant that sterling cost 5 times more than base metal. It really added up when I was making a necklace with lots of dangles or buying clasps and chains. Once I developed skills, I moved up to sterling silver and 14K gold-filled findings.
Here is some information that some of you might not know about gold:
• Gold—cannot rust or corrode. 24K gold is pure gold and is very soft. It must be alloyed with base metals to create 22K, 18K, 14K, and 10K gold to make it hard enough for jewelry. Alloys are also used to make colors, such as rose gold.
• Gold Plate—a very thin layer of gold over base metals, such as zinc, nickel, and copper. It is relatively inexpensive, but the plating will wear off quickly.
• Vermeil—like gold plating, but is a very thin layer of gold over a core of sterling silver. It is more durable than gold plate, but not as durable as gold filled.
• Gold Filled— a layer of gold over brass or other base metal. The gold layer is 50 to 10,000 times thicker than the layer of gold on gold-plated jewelry. Therefore, it lasts much longer. The gold layer will eventually wear through, but could take many years.
Here is some information about silver:
• Fine Silver—is 99.9% pure silver and is softer than sterling. It is too soft for clasps, but is good for wire-wrapping.
• Sterling Silver—is an alloy using 92.5% silver plus other base metals.
• Argentium Silver—is a modern alloy made with 93% silver and 7% germanium. It is similar to Sterling, but is a bit more expensive. Unlike Sterling, it is resistant to tarnish and firescale.
• Silver Plate—is similar to gold plate. It is a thin layer of silver over base metals. The plating will wear off quickly.
All this brings me to the current prices of gold and silver, which have been rising quickly in the past few years. These precious metals are commodities, which makes them subject to fluctuating prices.
Average prices in 2000:
- Silver was about $5 per ounce.
- Gold was about $280 per ounce.
Closing prices on August 10, 2010:
- Silver closed at $18.146 per ounce.
- Gold closed at $1196.20 per ounce.
Of course, these prices are a huge problem for those of us who like to use precious metals in our jewelry creations. Many of us have VERY small businesses and cannot afford to buy in the quantities that most wholesalers require. We are stuck paying retail for our findings, and then we have to pass the cost on to our customers.