How to Use Silver Wire and Findings on Any Budget

How to Use Silver Wire and Findings on Any Budget

It wasn’t all that long ago that I used nothing but sterling silver in all my jewelry. My ear wires, clasps, jump rings, chain, even crimps—all of it was sterling. Of course, that was back when gas was a dollar, our houses were worth more than we’d ever dreamed, and our 401Ks were making us feel like we were playing with the Big Boys. It was also when silver was going for about $4/ounce. In the past eight years, silver has climbed in price more than 200%, from around $4.00/oz in 2001 to over $14.00/oz today.

Not surprisingly, the craft jewelry market has had to rethink affordability. It would be hard to miss the sudden profusion of base-metal jewelry components available today. From steel wire for hardware chic to softly oxidized copper and brass for romantic and steampunk styles, base metals have made extraordinary inroads in the jewelry-making set. Even lead-free pewter has earned a deserved respect among jewelers. I have to admit that I’ve been won over by it all. But my first love is still sterling.

Try Sterling Silver Alternatives

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to work more frugally with silver. There are actually some fabulous sterling alternatives on the market. If you’re a lover of shiny silver, Parawire makes a silver craft wire with a copper core that has a wonderful, permanent high-shine finish.  And if you prefer oxidizing your silver jewelry, you can get German silver wire, also with a copper core. It takes oxidization with liver of sulfur just the way sterling does. Just be careful when you're buffing it, as you can buff down to the copper fairly easily. If you’re making a bracelet or necklace with beautiful beads and very little wire will show, you may want to use this less expensive wire. In the interest of full disclosure, always let your customers know if you’ve used a sterling alternative.

Use Every Scrap

There are ways to really stretch the use and the look of sterling, while conserving at the same time. If you’re using sterling wire, try to work directly from the spool, so you don’t end up with as many wasted snips. And save absolutely every scrap. Tiny scraps can be collected and turned into a precious metal recycler. Any scraps of an inch or longer can frequently be used for emergency head pins, or hammer and drill them into fun little dangles to add to a design. While I’m talking about head pins, you can save a lot of money by making your own to the length you need at the moment, instead of wasting purchased ones that may be too long.

Add Spacers, Dangles, and Chain

Another way I add sterling value to my pieces is to include a smattering of sterling spacers or dangles. And I love buying fabulous, patterned Thai or Bali silver chain and using only a few links in a piece. Be on the lookout for chain with links that are not soldered. You can use individual links as fancy jump rings.

Need more ideas? Every issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry is packed with ideas for using sterling silver.  In the new Summer issue check out Cassie Donlen’s Whimsical Wrapped Bracelet. You can use heavy gauge craft wire for the cuff since it’s completely covered up with sterling twisted wire. And seven more projects use a little sterling for a whole lot of impact!

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