Sterling silver is created when another metal, usually copper, is added to pure, fine silver to make it stronger. To be legally considered sterling silver, the resulting alloy must be at least 92.5% silver, which is why you often see "925" stamped on sterling pieces. Sterling silver creates jewelry of much better quality than does plated silver, (which is simply a base metal with a thin coating of silver added to the outside) because sterling is a solid, homogenous metal. Plating can chip and wear off over time. Solid sterling costs more, of course, but is worth the investment because it produces a vastly superior piece of jewelry that will remain beautiful for years to come.
In recent years. a new kind of sterling silver alloy has begun to hit the jewelry marketplace. In Argentium sterling silver, some of the copper is replaced by germanium. Since it is the copper in sterling silver that reacts with air and causes discoloration, the Argentium alloy is highly tarnish-resistant, which is very exciting! If you look very closely, you may notice that it also has a slightly whiter appearance than regular sterling silver, looking a bit more like white gold. Argentium sterling, which is 93-97% silver, costs a bit more than regular sterling, but the tarnish resistance alone makes it worth the difference in price.
Argentium sterling can also be fused, like fine silver can, where regular sterling cannot and must be soldered instead. (This is good news, because a fused join is stronger than a soldered join.) And because Argentium is a sterling alloy, it is much stronger than fine silver, so it can bear weight. It's the best of both worlds! Most of my wire jewelry is created with Argentium sterling silver.
Fine silver, which is 99.9% pure silver, is too soft to use in most weight-bearing applications, but I often use fine silver wire for coiling and wrapping or in non-weight bearing elements that require fusing. It is much more resistant to tarnish than both regular sterling silver and Argentium sterling and its softness makes it easy to manipulate. It also fuses in the flame of a torch without needing solder.
Gold filled wire, beads and clasps are great alternatives to both solid gold components, which are extremely expensive, and gold plated items, where the thin gold top layer can chip and wear off over time. Instead of a thin plating of gold on the surface of a base metal, gold filled wire is the equivalent of a thick gold tube that is filled with another metal (usually jeweler's brass) and permanently bonded to it. Gold filled items contain 100 times the amount of gold that gold plated items do. They are much stronger and the gold will not wear or chip off. The resulting piece wears like solid gold, but is much more affordable. The gold filled wire I use is 14K/20 gold filled, which means that the wire must be at least 1/20th (5%) 14K gold, by weight.
The warm, reddish glow of copper wire and beads makes beautiful jewelry, whether polished to the bright shine of a brand new penny, darkened with antiquing treatments or allowed to naturally develop a rich patina. Purported to reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis, copper bracelets have been popular for many years. Despite the lack of support for this in the medical community, it is known that many arthritis sufferers are unable to absorb enough copper from their food, so perhaps there is some truth to this old belief, after all. And although the price of copper has risen in recent years, it is still quite affordable.
Another quality material, surgical stainless steel makes excellent ear wires, especially for the allergy-prone. Its muted grey color also allows it to work well with antiqued silver and the tones of gunmetal jewelry.
I love these exquisite, handmade sterling silver beads! Artisans on the island of Bali in Indonesia have passed down their bead making traditions through many generations and the result is pure artistry. Bali is renowned for its prolific artistic history and rich culture. As a result, every family has perfected its own style. Each bead is painstakingly created, one at a time. Every dot, every pattern and every tiny filigree is applied by hand, making each beautiful, highly polished bead a miniature work of art.
Because of their intricately detailed beauty, many have tried to copy Bali beads. Beware of jewelry that contains "Bali-style beads," as these are often mass-manufactured knock-offs from other countries that do not offer the quality and artistry of genuine, handmade, artisan beads from Bali!
The Hill tribes of Thailand have their own brand of artistry that has been passed down for centuries. These artisans create a very different kind of silver bead. Hill tribe beads are made of 95-99% fine silver and have a softer appearance that is more matte and rustic-looking than the highly polished beads from Bali. Hill tribe silver pieces are also handmade, one by one, and no two are exactly alike. Since they contain more pure silver, Hill tribe beads and pendants are very tarnish-resistant.
In Thailand, silver jewelry connotes status, wealth and spirituality and silver is even used for trading in place of money. But I'm sure you'll never trade your Hill tribe silver for anything!
PMC is an exciting new material for jewelry designers to use in creating metal pieces. It consists of microscopic particles of pure silver, gold, copper or bronze suspended in an organic binder and water, creating a malleable substance similar to modeling clay. This clay can be manipulated with the hands and simple tools into all kinds of shapes that are virtually impossible to make with conventional metalworking methods.
After the piece is formed, dried and sanded, it is fired in a kiln or with a torch, burning the binder away and leaving in its place a piece that is 99.9% pure metal. It is then burnished and tumbled to a brilliant shine or oxidized to create an antique look.
Swarovski is "the" name in crystal, whether you're talking about wine glasses or crystal beads. Since the 1800s, Swarovski has been making its brilliant crystal in the Alpine countryside of Austria. Swarovski crystals are made with the finest leaded glass and each one is absolutely precision-cut to insure that every individual facet is made just exactly right. The high lead content of the glass (a full 30-32%) along with perfect faceting creates a brilliantly dazzling sparkle and flash that is simply unrivaled by any other crystal. (Due to the lead in these pretty beads, do not allow children to swallow them.)
Occasionally, I will use other crystal beads, especially in the larger sizes, to create a piece that has the shine of crystals, but with a more affordable price. Although no crystals compare to Swarovski, a few other manufacturers are beginning to improve their quality and precision. Some of the Czech and Chinese crystals are nicer now and I use them in some of my jewelry. The type of crystals used will always be identified in the description of each jewelry piece.
Unlike most glass pearls, Swarovski crystal pearls begin with a leaded crystal core. This gives them more weight and makes them feel like real pearls. It also creates an inward glow that permeates through the layered, pearly coated exterior.
Why use these instead of genuine pearls? In some pieces, a uniform size and shape is very important to the design. Also, these crystal pearls have larger holes than most genuine pearls, making them much easier to use with the wire I often employ to attach them to my jewelry pieces. (Again, due to the lead in these pretty beads, do not allow children to swallow them.)
A natural pearl is created when an irritant, such as a grain of sand or a bit of food, gets stuck inside an oyster's shell. The animal coats the irritant with layer upon layer of nacre, an opalescent secretion made of calcium carbonate and other organic substances that oysters and mollusks use to line the inside of their shells. After several years of layering, the irritant has become a glistening pearl.
Ever since man discovered how to cause an oyster to make a pearl by manually inserting an irritant, natural pearls have become quite rare in the marketplace. Most pearls, whether freshwater- or saltwater-grown, are started, or "cultured," by human intervention. Both natural and cultured pearls are considered genuine or "real" pearls.
Gemstones are naturally created deposits in the earth that can be cut and polished for use in jewelry. Precious gemstones include rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. Semi-precious gemstones, which are much less expensive but no less lovely, include hundreds of other stones which I use, such as amethyst, garnet, lapis lazuli, jasper, onyx, peridot, quartz, topaz, tanzanite, turquoise, agate, chalcedony, opal and many others.
Lampworked or flameworked glass beads are created by melting a slender glass rod in the flame of a torch and shaping it into a bead around a steel rod, or mandrel. Lampworking has been elevated into an art in itself by amazing artisans who can create the most incredible beads with beautiful and detailed patterns.
The process can be automated to churn out large quantities of lampwork beads, but such beads are far from the high quality you find when an artist makes each bead by hand. Also, lampwork beads must be properly annealed in a kiln, so that the glass cools slowly and evenly. This strengthens the bead and guards against the cracking and breakage that can occur when beads are not produced properly.
All lampwork beads in Limelight Designs jewelry are artisan-crafted and properly annealed, whether they have been made by me or purchased from another artist.
Furnace glass or cane glass beads are created by heating glass in a furnace and shaping it by hand. Long stretches of molten glass are blown and pulled into shape. The resulting canes are cooled and cut into individual beads. Much of the furnace glass currently used in my designs is made in the USA by renowned glass artist David Christensen, who is widely considered the top cane glass artist in the world. His excellent quality beads are properly annealed and the edges are rounded slightly to keep them from cutting jewelry stringing media.
The Czech Republic has been producing high quality glass beads of all shapes and sizes for centuries. Czech beads are pressed or machine-faceted and then polished in a hot oven to create a smooth, glazed finish. They are well-known for being very uniform and consistent in size and shape.
Seed beads are tiny glass beads of various shapes, colors and finishes that are most commonly used in weaving and embroidery. I use them in my jewelry primarily as colorful spacers between other beads.
I often use generic glass beads in my dangles on items such as key rings, zipper pulls and purse charms. These items incur more wear and tear than most jewelry so I like them to be more affordable and less delicate than pieces like bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Glass beads are pretty and brightly colored, but are often mass-produced and the prices reflect that. I use glass beads in jewelry now and then to create more affordable pieces or mix them with more expensive beads to keep the overall cost of a piece down. These options are great choices for your more casual jewelry wardrobe or for a young girl just starting her jewelry collection.
The fused glass pendants in my Stardust Collection are created using several special kinds of glass that are designed to be fused in a kiln, as well as compatible with each other. Using compatible glass is important so that all the different bits of glass in a single pendant will heat and cool at the same rate (or COE -- coefficient of expansion) to create a strong piece that will not crack or separate.
For the pendants, I use opaque black glass for the base, clear glass for the top and dichroic glass in between to create each colorful design. Dichroic glass has been treated with a metal coating in a vacuum chamber to create vibrant, sparkling colors that shift as the light hits them.
The ornaments in the collection are created using beautifully colored transparent glass that glows as light shines through the ornament.
In a fusing process that takes an entire day, great care is taken to ramp up the temperature in the kiln very slowly, fuse at just the right point, and anneal (cool) very slowly. All that time in the kiln minimizes large bubbles in the glass and ensures a very strong piece.
The resin used in my Stardust Collection photo pendants is a special UV resin specifically designed for jewelry making. I cure it in layers over a photo or collection of charms and beads to secure and protect them in pendant form.
Although this resin is durable and scratch-resistant, it is not totally scratch-proof, so please store your resin pieces carefully. Also, do not submerge in water.
The photo pendant frames, lanyard hooks, jumbo lobster clasps and key rings I use are plated or colored base metal, rather than solid sterling or gold filled. Part of the reason for that is availability; these items are difficult to find in precious metals. Another reason is cost; sterling silver or gold filled jumbo lobster clasps, for example, would make a simple purse charm quite pricey, indeed! Plated items will always be identified as such in the description of a piece.
"We are all cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." — Ray Bradbury