Alternatives to sterling silver wire

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to thank everyone who helped me with the copper
lacquering and nickel questions. They were most helpful. I think I
might go with patina for copper for now, although I just saw Rio has
an anti-tarnish lacquer available. I guess the best is just to
experiment, experiment. Nickel, on the other hand, I think I might
stay away from for now since I’ve gotten used to the ease and
cooperation of copper and brass.

So here’s my next question. I’m looking if there are any alternatives
to sterling silver wire with the price continuing to rise. I realize
when I decide to make something REALLY nice, I’ll have to fork over
the money no matter what the market, but right now my pieces are more
"happy accidents" than fine jewelry. I do like to give things away
though, and I’m willing to pay for materials that get me a couple
rungs up from Target and WalMart $9.99 specials. I happened upon a
couple of sites selling artistic wire and permanently colored copper
wire. Are they worth using for jump rings, chain links and
wire-wrapping, or should I just stick with copper and brass? I’ve
also seen German Silver which I thought was Nickel silver, but
talking to the reps seems it’s something else of a “higher quality”.
And this one on eBay: 10kt 10/40 gold-filled wire & 10/40 925
sterling silver-filled wire. The last has me curious, but confused.
Is it really filled like 14/20 or 12/20 gold-filled? The price was
quite cheap. Any advice will be appreciated.


Ok, I guess German Silver wasn’t the right name exactly. Here’s what
the site calls it: This tarnish-resistant, German made half-hard
round wire is widely regarded as the finest quality wire produced
for the jewelry making industry, second only to solid sterling or

The sterling finish is actually a SS/40 fill which is bonded to a
pure copper core and will outlast by eons a standard micron-thin

It sounds good, and like I said, the price is pretty inexpensive.
Thanks again, for any and all opinions.


I used the German-made “plated” wire you refer to many years ago,
when I studied with Mark Lareau:
who may be the person responsible for importing it.

In your situation, I would definitely experiment with this wire. If
I remember correctly, it isn’t as hard to work with as nickel, and it
won’t cause the same kinds of allergies. But it was too hard for my
taste–more like gold-filled than sterling (I prefer the
butter-softness of fine silver anyway). Mark likes things hard-edged,
and he has strong hands, so he loves this stuff: uses it for jump
rings, hammers the hell out of it, etc. I like to begin with dead
soft and work-harden where necessary.

When working with textile techniques, I preferred the tinned copper
and silver-plate made by Artistic Wire. This wire certainly does not
add any perceived value to a piece, but it’s available in very fine
gauges. I think the plate has some kind of plastic coating on it, but
I wouldn’t count on it to be durable. I’ve never used it for jump
rings: although I imagine it would function much like copper in the
thicker gauges, I would hesitate to take a hammer to it.

Just remember than none of these alternatives–except for nickel, I
assume (no experience with this)–can be soldered. And I wouldn’t use
them for ear wires, etc., since the base metal will be exposed at the
cut ends. I would recommend investing in sterling wire for ear wires,
or buying commercially made findings, for your “low end” projects.

I am so glad that I began studying jewelry-making when silver was at
a relatively reasonable price. Nowadays, even copper is expensive.
This situation must be really hard on beginners.

Good luck!
Lisa Orlando
Albion, CA, US

second only to "solid" sterling or gold!! 

I guess I shouldn’t make a comment here, but I think with the word
“sterling” most of the world thinks it is “solid”, wherein we know
that sterling is 92.5 silver and 7.5 copper…and that fine silver
is “finer” than sterling being 99.9 percent silver! OK I put it out!

I want to recommend highly that you go a library or bookstore and
purchase TIm MCCreight’s Complete Metalsmith…all you want to know
is in there. Study well… colored copper fine for adding coloured
jump rings

German silver and nickel silver are essentially the same things,
German silver is copper nickel and zinc. both require constant
annealing and then most people won’t buy it as jewelry, not a good
practise material, it doesn’t solder like anything you want to use.
ad the fumes are dangerous from the zinc inclusion,

If you use gold filled or silver filled ( cheapest is Thunderbird
Supply filled silver sheet and wire) it has to, or should be plated
afterwards,no money saved there… far better to buy the real deal
and buy less, but learn on sterling Ag at least…not Argentium, or
filled, unless you want to ruin a lot of other things you pickle with
the filled material (as the brass plates everything else copper
coloured even the filled material…I don’t recommend it for
experimenting unless you want to learn problem solving, or buy lots
of cratex type rubberized wheels to remove the plating, and
essentially the gold or silver cladding as that’s what will come off
before the brass! and then you are paying allot to work with brass
which is not silver-your target metal. )., unless that is you want to
buy 2 pickle pots ( which can be two Pyrex pots with glass lids at a
thrift store)… filled = a base metal of brass, either single clad or
double clad, there is no real savings when buying it as is it can’t
be remelted and poured and get the same thing as when started. If you
do get filled, after clipping the solder off your experiments it can
be sent to a refiner and exchanged for money or product, if you buy
ounces of it at and at least five ounces at this point in time due
to the market, because of the assay fees you’ll get charged for
having filled material at all…With sterling (12. 89 per ounce, and
then fabrication costs from metals suppliers Rio being the highest
cost, Hoover and Strong lower and all around better to buy metals
from and filled and findings, Kitco next to lower but limited product
unless you want gold and silver,. Handy and Harman, David h. fell,
united metals, Ross metals, all run about the same. Thunderbird
supply has sterling silver filled sheet and wire, first place I ever
saw the stuff…cheap and fairly hard to work so it doesn’t give you
an accurate picture or feel for the metal you will probably end up
with should you continue making jewelry. spend the extra five bucks
and get sterling. it can be remelted, refined (exchanged for product
or money or credit). it is far more economical in the long run and
will help you learn the basics, and needs one pickle pot!

ebay is notoriously more expensive on wire of precious metals than
buying directly from any metals dealer…I’d go with Hoover and
Strong for metals and solder, in fact most middlemen like Rio grande
sell their products if they don’t manufacture them themselves, like
solders for instance. Most distributors sell Hoover’s solders…and
if you stay with jewelry, color matching solder with metal becomes an
issue when you go to gold.

there are far more suitable metals to practise on. Brass being one,
very much like working other metals, and copper or alloys like
shibuichi (silver copper and sometimes tin and zinc) and shakudo
(4-7% gold balance copper) and 80/20reticulation silver…all
available from hoover and strong, and alloys like their Tigold alloy
that works like gold, is gold colour, doesn’t react with most skins,
and remains tarnish free in most cases for at least a year, you can
cast cuttlefish, delft clay and other direct cast processes with it
and have something saleable in the end.

gold filled and silver filed will green where there are solder

Vermeill though is something to consider if you are hellbent on
buying filled materials, its base is a non-problematic silver…

so thunderbird supply for cheap metals hoover and strong for silver,
shakudo, shibuichi, 80/20Ag (reticulation silver) (and the more you
buy of those they get cheaper as all are based on the price of
silver) and do a bit of reading in Complete Metalsmith, it is a
reference that will answer all your questions and remain invaluable
to you for the life of your jewelry making…also Harold O’Connors,
jewelers bench reference, is another, but more technical book that
has much calculations and equations for making bezels,
ring blanks, chain length from jump rings, and other that
you will find interesting and more than referred to weekly!

good luck…

...German silver and nickel silver are essentially the same
things, German silver is copper nickel and zinc. both require
constant annealing and then most people won't buy it as jewelry,
not a good practise material, it doesn't solder like anything you
want to use. ad the fumes are dangerous from the zinc inclusion, 

Dear R. E. Rourke, have you worked much with nickel silver? I have
used it for over 25 years and must disagree with your description of
its workability, saleability, solderability, and danger. Let me
repeat an earlier posting of mine on this topic:

"Ramona, I work with nickel-silver (as well as brass and copper).
Nickel-silver is intrinsically stiffer than brass or copper, but
usually that only means that one must anneal more often, when forging
or bending. A customer wore one of my soldered-and-forged
nickel-silver bangles with several of her sterling bangles, 24/7, and
the nickel-silver developed the same lovely shine as the sterling.
Usually, I recommend oxidizing the final product, so that it is not
likely to leave a green (or other) mark on the skin. I’ve never had
any complaints about nickel allergies (perhaps since most folks know
their allergies before they buy).

"Try it; you’ll like it! It’s fun to experiment with. I understand
that nickel-silver reticulates very nicely – it’s another thing I
mean to try someday. Go to the Orchid Archives and see what other
may be there. "

I’ve never had trouble soldering nickel-silver, and if you don’t
radically overheat it, I’ve not found that zinc fuming is a problem
(any more than it is with brass, which also contains zinc). Of
course it doesn’t have the prestige of silver, and I wouldn’t expect
to find it much in high-end jewelry(!), but I love working with it. A
couple of my pieces which include nickel-silver can be seen in
Owego’s Gallery Forty-One website [see my name under “Members and
Work”]. They are hardly Great Art, but my work sells well and I get
good feedback.

Judy Bjorkman