Archive for the ‘Silver’ Category

Sterling Silver Charm Bracelet Or Not?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

I recently got a question from a reader who was concerned about a silver charm bracelet she had bought on eBay. I thought that others could perhaps also benefit from this Q&A, so here it is:

Q: I recently bought a vintage charm bracelet on eBay from a reputable seller who guaranteed that all 18 charms as well as the chain had been tested as sterling. I took it to my jeweler to have the clasp changed to a lobster clasp. She told me that only 4 of the charms were sterling. The others stamped STERLING were attracted to a magnet, therefore they were not sterling.

Is this magnet test accurate?

She also told me that there was a jewelry maker with a company name of STERLING that had stamped their company name on the back of items giving the impression that the metal was sterling silver when it was actually silver plate.

Have you ever heard of this type of deception or this company?

How can I ever trust if a charm I am buying is really sterling silver?

Magnet Test
A: In regards to the magnet test, it works as a basic test – if a piece is attracted to the magnet, there is some level of a ferrous metal in it. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver alloyed with (almost always) copper, neither of which is magnetic. But just because the piece is not magnetic does not mean it’s sterling silver – it could be any non-ferrous metal. But are there other alloys commonly used with silver that would create magnetism? I asked around, and here is what one professional had to say about it:

“In 30+ years of being a goldsmith, I have never run across an alloy in gold or silver that was magnetic. Not to say that somebody somewhere hasn’t tried it, but you certainly can’t use a magnet to detect gold and silver. Remember that some clasps, such as lobster clasps and spring ring clasps, have steel springs in them and will be attracted to a magnet.”

Also, if the charms are rhodium plated, they will most likely be at least slightly attracted to the magnet, even if they are sterling silver. In the plating process, sterling silver is given a nickel underplate prior to the rhodium. The nickel is magnetic and causes the magnetic attraction (rhodium is not magnetic).

In order to be absolutely certain if it’s sterling silver or not, you need to file off a tiny bit of the supposed plating and do an acid test (or better yet, have a professional do it – that acid is vicious). The silver portion of the piece will turn a milky white, and the other metal will become green. Here is a visual of how that works:

The Sterling Company
In regards to the Sterling company, there were several companies with “Sterling” in the name: the Sterling Company, Sterling Craft, Sterling Silver Mfg. Co. (Baltimore), the Sterling Silver Souvenir Co., and the Sterling Silver Manufacturing Company (Providence, RI). However, the marks used were never just a solo “Sterling”; they used S, SSS and SSMC in addition to “sterling” (from the Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers).

There are also marks that contain the word “sterling” as part of the company trade name used on silverplate. U.S. Sterling and Sterling Plate are found on silverplated flatware and souvenir spoons manufactured before the Stamping Act of 1906 made it illegal to use the word sterling in any way on anything that wasn’t actually made of sterling silver.

I have not personally heard of a company that made charms from base metals and stamped them “Sterling”. Again, I consulted an expert who told me:

“There are many frustrating pieces of American sterling that only bear the mark “sterling”. The best explanation I can give for these is that they were ordered from a silver wholesaler for resale in a retail establishment. The retailer might not have wanted to spend the money on having a store mark put on in addition to the sterling mark, or they might not have ordered enough pieces for it to be worth it to the wholesaler. This would have allowed smaller stores the opportunity to offer their customers sterling pieces without investing significant amounts of capital in stock.”

Test To Be Sure
In conclusion, I would say that the only way to be 100% sure that the charm is sterling silver, take it to a professional. And it doesn’t have to be a jeweler – pawnbrokers are actually great resources for this. They will often give you a free estimate and in order to do that, they need to know if what you have is real sterling silver or not, so they test for it, all for free and with no obligations for you.

How did things turn out for my reader?
She was lucky – she had the bracelet tested again, and it was found that the attraction to the magnet was caused by the jump rings that were used to attach the charms to the bracelet. They were soldered with something (or composed of something) that caused the attraction. Also, three of the charms were rhodium plated, which accounts for the magnetic attraction. Only one charm was determined not to be sterling; it was pewter.

For more on silver, see my post about shopping for a vintage silver charm bracelet.

Make A Charm Bracelet From Silver Rings

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

This step-by-step project is inspired by a technique called chainmaille (sometimes spelled chain maille, chain mail, or chainmail) – a really fun and relatively easy method to create both simple and very intricate pieces of jewelry from jump rings. I have been dabbling in it for a little while, and it is very addictive!

The charm bracelet we’re creating today is even easier though, and it’s not technically chainmaille, just inspired by it. It is a low-cost, super easy project with (I think) a very nice end result. You can either use sterling silver rings, or if you want to keep the cost even lower, use base metal or silver plated jump rings. For a more colorful version, try using a mix of gold and silver rings, or jump rings in different colors (black, red, copper, etc.)

My bracelet is 6.25″ long, and to create it, I used:

Two pliers (I use pointed flat nose ones)
74 open jump rings (5.5 mm)
1 lobster clasp

Optional additions:
Tiny lobster clasp(s)
Jump ring(s) for the charm(s)

Start by opening all your jump rings (but keep one of them closed to start the bracelet with).You want to hold each ring with both pliers and then bend one side of the ring away from or towards you. Do not pull the ends apart – very important! You want them to connect again as close to seamless as you can get, and you it won’t happen if you pull. Always bend.

Once they’re all open, you’re ready to start. Hold your one closed ring with one plier and hook two of the open rings onto the closed one. Close them by bending the ends together (as described above). Then take two more open rings, attach them to these two rings and bend together. Keep doing this until you get to your desired bracelet length (remember to factor in the clasp as well). End with a single jump ring and hook your lobster clasp onto it before closing.

(Click on the photos to see them larger)

That’s it! How unbelievably easy was that?

Now you can add charms if you want, either several, or as I did, just one large. For several, layout your bracelet flat, position the charms where you want them, and just hook them on with jump rings.

For my bracelet, I took an old earring apart (old costume jewelry pieces make great charms!) and used this fleur-de-lis piece as my single large charm. You can hook that on with a jump ring too, but I’m always changing my jewelry around, so I attached it to a small lobster clasp first and just hooked that onto the bracelet. It makes it so easy to move it to another bracelet, necklace, or anything you want to add it to.

There you have it – a simple, but stylish silver charm bracelet.

Jewelry Men Gifts For Father’s Day (And Beyond)

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Since Father’s Day is coming up soon (Sunday, June 19 in the US), I thought I’d do a post all about men’s jewelry. It’s always such a struggle to figure out what to get men – you can only use so many socks, grilling utensils and ties – and I think many forget about jewelry as an option.

Today’s featured artists are all sellers on Etsy, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you must! There is an incredible amount of talent on the site and it is the best place to shop for almost everything. You buy straight from the artist which means that you support a small business, and you get to communicate directly with the person who made whatever it is you’re buying, which makes it such a unique and fun experience. I have bought lots of things there, many of them customized just for me (a camera bag, a fleece wrap cardigan, charms, etc.). I can honestly say that my expectations have been exceeded every time.

But enough of my gushing and on to the featured items, which are obviously great for birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions too, not just Father’s Day:

Rustic Bracelet

Athens-based (Georgia, not Greece) artist Laurel Hill works manly in sterling silver and copper, and I love her rustic, slightly rough and rugged-looking pieces. This 3/8″ wide sterling silver cuff bracelet can be customized with any text you want.

Photos: Laurel Hill


Photographer and designer Joanne Simmons of SilverSculptor is originally from London but these days, she lives and works in New Jersey. She has been making jewelry since she was a young girl, and her favorite medium is precious metal clay. These adorable cufflinks are made from recycled pure silver (99.9%) and customized with text and your child’s (or children’s) hand and/or footprints.

Photos: Joanne Simmons/SilverSculptor

Key Ring with Charm

The personalized key ring from Chicago-based artist Jen of Jeneri Jewelry is not only cute – it is perfect for men who don’t like to wear jewelry. The tiny charm is made from sterling silver with a 14k gold “frame” and can be personalized both on the front and back.

Photos: Jeneri Jewelry


California artist Heather Ellis of sTuck in the Coop started making jewelry in the hopes of being able to be self-employed and stay home with her two children. It turned out to be a great decision – she has been hugely successful (her work has been featured in places like US Magazine) and is living her dream. The gorgeous hammered band is made from sterling silver and can be customized with your children’s names, birth dates, or any message you want.

Photos: sTuck in the Coop

Leather Bracelet with Charm

The triple-wrap bracelet from Toronto artist CM of SPUNKbyCM is made from braided leather with a customizable sterling silver charm. The bracelet comes in black, dark brown or tan, works for both women and men, and is great for layering with other bracelets, which is such a hot trend right now.

Photos: SPUNKbyCM

For more gift ideas, also see my Unusual Pendants and Charm Bracelet Charms post.

Rembrandt Charms

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

We have talked quite a bit about European-style charm bracelets lately (Lovelinks, Troll beads, Biagi beads, Chamilia charms, and Pandora jewelry) but today’s post is about a famous brand of traditional charm bracelets: Rembrandt.

According to Rembrandt, their collection is the world’s largest, with over 16,000 traditional charms. There is indeed a huge variety of designs to choose from, and one thing that sets them apart from other brands is that each and every one is available in 5 different metals: sterling silver, gold plated silver, 14k white gold, 10 and 14k yellow gold. The same is true for the bracelets, which come in 7, 8 or 9” lengths (some only in 7 and 8”) with box, lobster or spring ring clasps.

All their charms are hand-made using an ancient technique called “cire perdue” (lost wax casting). A mold is made with the help of wax and plaster, and the charm is created by pouring liquid metal into the mold and allowed to sit and harden. When the charm is ready, it is removed from the mold and hand-finished and polished.

Rembrandt’s prices fluctuate according to market price for each metal, and also vary between the metals for each bracelet and charm. As you would guess, the silver items are the most affordable; as an example, the adorable filigree heart charm (one of my favorites) is around $34 in silver and $579 in 14k gold (at the time of writing).

Here are two bracelets I recently put together, one is all silver, the other all 14k gold. The silver version ended up at $311 and the gold at $4,926.

All photos: Rembrandt charms

There is a lot of flexibility with these charms – you have a choice between a jump ring attachment or a lobster clasp (Thomas Sabo charm style); you can get them engraved; the photoart collection charms can be personalized with your own photos; and most charm designs are also available as earrings, brooches, a variety of pins, cuff links, and charm holders.

The charm holders are essentially thin rings with a design up top and a bail. You can open the ring and slide charms onto it, and then attach it (using the bail) to a chain (or any material you want) for an instant charm necklace.

They also have “Charmdrops” – round bead-type charms with a little loop on the bottom, which fits on European-type bracelets – so you can add your favorite Rembrandt charm to your Pandora bracelet (for example).

How do you know it’s an authentic Rembrandt charm? Look for their trademark “RQC” (followed by the metal code) on either the bottom or back of the charm, and/or on the jump ring. And as always, buy from an authorized dealer.

Shopping For A Vintage Silver Charm Bracelet

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Silver is and has been just as popular as gold and used for coins, jewelry and other decorative pieces for thousands of years. I personally prefer silver to gold; to me, it provides a more restrained and minimalistic look, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s less expensive too!

Silver was first mined in what is now Turkey and that area was also where the majority of silver crafts were produced at the time. Throughout history, it has been found in many places all over the world, and today, the top 5 silver producing countries are Peru, Mexico, China, Australia and Bolivia.

Silver is soft, only a little bit harder than gold, and there are many uses for this malleable precious metal. In fact, it is so incredibly versatile that it’s almost magical. It is obviously used for silverware, jewelry and photography, but did you know it is also all around us? It is inside electric switches, under the keys on your keyboard, inside circuit breaker boxes, in eyeglasses, mirrors, behind your car’s dashboard, behind the control panel on your microwave, the list goes on.

And – here is where it gets magical – silver has antimicrobial and germicidal properties. People knew about this very early on; Hippocrates wrote about its healing properties, and the Phoenicians are rumored to have used silver containers to store water and wine. It has been used extensively for medical purposes, in many cases the same way we use antibiotics these days. In the late 1800s, a German obstetrician discovered that applying a weak silver nitrate solution to newborn babies’ eyes helped prevent gonococcal opthalmia, a disease that causes blindness. Recent findings suggest that silver can speed up healing times of both wounds and bone injuries, and you can already buy a few wound care products and band aids that contain silver.

There is also clothing with silver. Since it reduces odor and inhibits the growth of fungi and bacteria, it is perfect in workout wear. Other research has found that silver is a fantastic water purifier, both for drinking water and in swimming pools. Who knows, maybe we can do away with that horrible chlorine soon and use silver in some form instead?

Pretty fascinating stuff. But now, back to silver jewelry. As I mentioned earlier, silver is soft, and in jewelry, you will most often find it alloyed with another metal, often copper. The most common and well-known blend is sterling silver (stamped .925) which consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.

Let me tell you right from the get-go here, that shopping for antique or vintage silver is not easy. If you want to become a pro, you can spend the better part of a lifetime learning and memorizing all the markings and stamps.

When you’re shopping for silver charm bracelets, you need to check not only the charms, but the chain as well, if you want to make sure you get a quality piece and not something that’s only plated, or not even silver at all. Oh, and make sure to bring a magnifying glass – even if you have perfect eyesight, it can be very difficult to see the marks without one. (For more, check out my Puffy Silver Heart Bracelet post).

German silver (sometimes marked G. Silver) looks like silver, but it’s not. It is a blend of copper, nickel and zinc, so watch out for that if you’re shopping at a flea market or yard sale (where they can often be found). Also, keep an eye out for things marked Alpacca (or Alpaca), Nickel (NS) or New silver (also called Nysilver) – these are not silver either, but that same type of copper-nickel-zinc alloy. Sometimes you will see 1MA, Prima or Extra Prima nysilver – same thing, the alloy again.

Then there is also silver plating, where a less expensive metal has received a thin coating of silver – probably not what you want if you are looking for a collectible (unless you fall in love with the design and don’t care about the materials).

I touched on silver markings briefly in my gold charms post, but we will go into in in more depth here. All (quality) silver pieces of jewelry will have at least one, but often many stamps on the back. The number tells you the fineness of the silver (like .925), and the “hallmark” tells you who made it and where it was made. It can be just 925 with the initials of the silversmith, or it can be a whole little “picture book”.

Reading the hallmarks can be quite a challenge. Sometimes everything is spelled out, and sometimes, it’s just little squares or symbols with barely visible letters and digits. Most of us are not able to decipher them on the spot, but there are forums, experts and even entire hallmark encyclopedias online. If you are going to be shopping for antique or vintage silver jewellery made by a specific designer at an auction for example, it doesn’t hurt to read up on the typical marks he/she used beforehand.

American hallmarks tend to be easy to read, often written out in plain English, even including the word “Sterling”. Those from other countries can be a bit more cryptic, and each country has its own marks and standards, which varies from each part of the country as well as time period. Often, if you go way back, there were no standards at all. Holland, for example, did not have a national standard until 1814.

Standards for silver purity are also different from each country and has often changed within the countries throughout history. In Denmark for example, the standard for silver used to be .826, then .830, and then, from 1936 and on .925. However, since jewelers had to pay a fee to the assay office for changing to .925, a lot of silver made around that time is still stamped .830 when it is in fact 925 sterling.

In Britain, the standard for Sterling has always been .925 and the British hallmark system is wonderfully organized. It always consists of 4 to 5 marks telling you the fineness of the silver, where the piece was made, who made it, when it was made, and for pieces made between 1784-1890, a duty mark, which certified that the appropriate taxes had been paid.

The French system presents quite a challenge. Instead of using numbers, they use images of animals and human heads, different ones for different parts of the country and for specific time periods, so you need to memorize quite a few if you’re going to be able to tell when and where the piece was made right there at the flea market vendor’s table.

Below is a short list of a few different common grades of silver and where they are from:

999 – Pure silver
980 – Mexico (ca 1930-1940)
958 – Britannia silver
950 – France (1st standard), Japan, U.S. (19th century), the Netherlands (before 1814), Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Mexico
947 – Russia (91 zolotnik)
925 – Sterling silver
916 – Finland, Russia (88 zolotnik), Latvia, Poland, Romania, Spain, Portugal
900 – US coin silver
835 – Germany, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands
830 – Scandinavia (older pieces), Portugal
826 – Denmark (1893 – 1972), Norway (before 1892)
800 – Germany (after 1884), France (2nd standard), the Netherlands (before 1814), Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Japan, Canada, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon. Sometimes called “Continental silver”.

Again, this is only a short list, there are other grades out there too, so if you see one that is not on this list, definitely look it up online.

As you can see, shopping for vintage silver is a whole science, but if you like me love silver, and enjoy the hunt for a true treasure, it is a fascinating and enjoyable one to study and learn.

For tips on how to authenticate silver, see my “Sterling silver charm bracelet or not” post