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Being upfront about non-precious metals


#1

I have been thinking about attempting to sell some designs that are
made primarily from brass and/or copper. Generally, working in these
metals would allow me to work on some of my larger, more eyecatching
designs which I cannot afford to make with precious metals at this
stage.

My own self imposed rule has always been to be up front and honest
with customers about every aspect of a piece of jewellery they may
purchase… and, realising that very few customers are aware of the
different properties of different metals I feel that I should take
responsibility to inform any potential customers that a piece made
from brass or copper will tarnish more quickly and noticably than a
piece made in silver or gold… also, that it may colour their skin
green when worn for prolonged periods.

I have been thinking about what may be the best way to inform and
educate potential customers about these things but keep coming back
to the same question - once they know these things won’t potential
customers be turned off the purchase? And, if I don’t tell them
these things, once they find these things out for themselves, won’t
I lose a potential repeat customer?

I know that there are at least a small handful of orchidians who
work in these types of metal and I wish to enquire as to how you
handle this issue? Also, I would be interested to know what type of
care instructions you give customers and what type of cleaning
instructions - if your recommend that they should clean/polish the
jewellery themselves.

Thanks for your replies,
RR Jackson


#2
I have been thinking about attempting to sell some designs that
are made primarily from brass and/or copper. Generally, working in
these metals would allow me to work on some of my larger, more
eyecatching designs which I cannot afford to make with precious
metals at this stage.

Dear RR: Personally, I love jewelry made of colorful metals, and I
really, really like copper and brass. (I know they’re not considered
"real" metals by some artists, but each to his own.) I also think
working in these other metals is a very sensible way to work out the
kinks before attempting the same thing with precious metals.

For what it’s worth, I’d love to feature some good copper and brass
projects in Art Jewelry. I’m currently working on a brass
"contemporary" torque, but as the editor my projects always seem to
come last! So feel free to send us a jpeg. If your work is good,
we’ll publish it!

Dori

Dori Olmesdahl, Editor
Art Jewelry Magazine


#3

Dear RR,

Your inconformity is right on track.

If you think your client might think that your product is made out
of silver or gold, then be sure to explain him what it is really made
of.

Remember that the jewelry market is made out of confidence. Your
clients trust that you are selling whatever they think they’re
buying.

Almost none of our clients will take our pieces and go to an
assayer, he is fine believing in our word.

If you don’t have enough funds to use gold or platinum, then maybe
you may use silver, and at last, brass.

Silver can be rhodium plated, which will render a nice
white-gold-looking finish. Depending on the quality of the rhodium
plate, this can last for decades.

Actual prices of silver, even though high, are not that much
costlier than brass, therefore, if you can work with silver, that can
be a nice solution. Silver can be gold plated also, without a
problem.

Another idea is that you prepare your samples in Brass. You will
have to plate them first with copper, then nickel and last, gold. The
finish will last a long time, depending on the quantity of gold
electrodeposited.

Whenever a client wants some of your samples, you charge upfront for
the metal and with that, you buy your gold or platinum and produce
whatever your client wants. That way, you will not have to stock a
great deal of precious metal and still carry all your beautiful and
intricate models.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Juan Pablo Martenez Mansilla
CEO
Grupo Rex Nisi, S.A.
Calzada Roosevelt 33-86 Z.7 Edificio Ilumina Of. 801.
Guatemala Ciudad, Guatemala, Centroamerica.
Tels.:++(502) 2439 7003 - 2439 7007
Fax.: ++(502) 2439 7005


#4

RR,

Could you take the items made of brass and gold plate them as
samples and price them out as prescious metal pieces and explain that
they are demos and you will make it up in prescious metal. Make
molds or something of your larger pieces and make them in brass and
then plate them sort of like salesman samples. then when you sell,
give yourself some time to render the style in prescious metals such
as gold and silver. IF you are absolutely stuck on making your
articles of jewelry from alternative metals, try different alloys
such as manganese bronze, “comumbian gold”, etc. Do you sell silver
jewelry? it tarnishes, people accept it as protocol and deal with
it. Oh, and another thought, there are some plating companies that
can clear coat plate brass and bronze jewelry to retard tarnish.

hope it helps - Zane
www.purcellgems.com


#5
   ... I love jewelry made of colorful metals, and I really, really
like copper and brass. ... I also think working in these other
metals is a very sensible way to work out the kinks before
attempting the same thing with precious metals. 

I quite agree, on both counts. It may not be “fine” jewellery but I
do a fair amount of mixed metals work and it’s a win-win situation
for me because I like doing it and my customers --the heavy silver,
alternative, “gimme sumthin’ I ain’t gonna see at the mall” crowd–
like it too. They have no problem with base metals as long as they
don’t get piggy marks on their clothes or skin from it.

I find the trick is to use precious metal wherever there is contact
with skin. Use your imagination and I know from experience that you
can make jewellery that is both “safe” to wear and incorporates the
other metals. I’m talking brass and copper here, steels and titanium,
all metals that can age nicely over time.

As to care and feeding of the base metals I can’t say I really go
there. Personally I think it’s a dead-end to try and keep the metals
from doing what the metals will do. So instead of trying stuff like
varnish or wax or whatever I design so that the ageing and
oxidization of the base metals is part of the piece. I let them know
that they can polish it up with a cloth if they like but also that
they don’t need to if they don’t want to. I have examples of work
that is one, two, three, four years old, stuff I wear myself, so they
can see what to expect. In the vast majority of cases they like the
ageing and do as I do, leave it to time and wear to do it’s work.

For some things, belt buckles in particular, I do work that is all
base metals, no precious metal at all. You can really go to town here
because the cost of materials is cheapo city compared to even silver.
Brass, copper, bronze, stainless steel, steel, titanium, washers,
rivets, horsenails, even beat up bits of the world you pick up off
the street. It’s all fair game and in my experience there is no need
whatsoever to hesitate telling people exactly what they’re getting as
long as it’s designed properly (ie. won’t ruin their clothes or stain
their skin).

Tell somebody “it’s a sold brass buckle with stainless steel
fittings” and if they buy it I can almost guarantee they’ll be
telling their friends what it is. You’ll get a call from some total
stranger asking for “those cool buckles”. People love all kinds of
metals as long as it’s not a hassle for them to take care of. Give
them something cool and easy to care for and they’ll often just go for
it!

No, you won’t be able to charge $1200 for something like this, but
don’t be surprised if you get $120 for a piece of brass you’ve beaten
to death with a hammer, peppered with copper rivets and turned into a
nice, gnarly looking buckle. I started by giving the stuff away. Now
I’m getting commissions to do them.

I guess what I’m saying is don’t let yourself think that the words
"base metal" means “bad metal”. There are no “bad” metals if they’re
used properly in the jewellery designs.

Cheers,
Trevor F. in The City of Light
www.touchmetal.com


#6
I feel that I should take responsibility to inform any potential
customers that a piece made from brass or copper will tarnish more
quickly and noticably than a piece made in silver or gold... also,
that it may colour their skin green when worn for prolonged
periods. 

RR, you definitely should inform potential customers and without any
apology. (After all, silver tarnishes, too…) I work almost
entirely in brass, copper, and nickel-silver, and my customers love
the stuff.

 Generally, working in these metals would allow me to work on some
of my larger, more eyecatching designs which I cannot afford to
make with precious metals at this stage 

This is one of the fun parts about working with base metals, that
you don’t have to charge hundreds of dollars for a larger,
eyecatching design, just to recoup your metals costs, and the
colors of base metals have their own attractive features.

As for cleaning, let me repeat my usual mantra: if you patina your
base metal with something like Jax-Black, it will not leave that
green mark (or other marks) on the skin – at least, it doesn’t on
my skin, and I’ve not had customers come back and complain.

I always hand out a little squib on “how to clean multimetal
jewelry” whenever I sell a piece. If it has been oxidized, it only
needs an occasional buff with something like a silver polishing
cloth or a Sunshine cloth. If it has not been oxidized, I recommend
a quick dip in Tarn-X (watching out for sensitive stones like
pearls, etc.) + rub it with a polishing cloth. When you’re out of
town, toothpaste cleans well (gel types are less effective). I’ll
send you the text of my squib, if you like.

Go for it!
Judy Bjorkman


#7

Please do post your 'little squib on “how to clean multimetal
jewelry”, I think many of us would be benfited by another
perspective and writing style to explain what seems so confusing to
some customers.

Ed Wales


#8
Please do post your 'little squib on "how to clean multimetal
jewelry 

Here it is (see below). I don’t comment on pearls because I never
use them in my jewelry. As to time of dipping, I never leave
anything in Tarn-X for more than about two seconds because it
doesn’t need more than that to clean the metal. I have some lapis
jewelry which I’ve been dipping occasionally for several years. The
cab has a gentle matte finish which I like – I’m not sure it was
originally more highly polished. When I put on handlotion, it looks
better – I think lapis is improved by oiling a little. My lapis
beads seem only slightly less shiney, after several years of
occasional dipping. I’m guessing when I say that potential problems
relate to the porosity of the material.

I use Tarn-X less than I used to because I oxidize most of my
jewelry now.

CLEANING MULTIMETAL JEWELRY

  1. A silver polishing cloth works very well on light tarnish and on
    pieces with an oxidized finish.

  2. When you are travelling, toothpaste is a good way to clean
    brass, copper, or nickel-silver jewelry, although some of the gel
    types are not as effective. Be sure to take along an old toothbrush
    to remove the toothpaste from fingernails and jewelry crevices…

  3. A mixture of 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in a cup of white vinegar
    will also clean multimetal jewelry. [Frankly, I’ve never tried
    this… I read it somewhere. I put it in here for people who may not
    want to use Tarn-X for some reason.]

  4. For heavy tarnish and corrosion, commercial brass cleaners such
    Brasso, Wrights, etc., are effective. For remaining spots, try 4/0
    (0000) steel wool, which may (or may not) slightly dull a mirror
    finish.

  5. Dipping multimetal jewelry for a couple of seconds in a
    commercial liquid silver cleaner called “Tarn-X” is often the
    simplest method. Follow the dipping with a thorough rinsing and
    drying. Once dry, buff jewelry with the silver cleaning cloth, if
    needed. For regular cleaning, keep a small amount of Tarn-X in a
    container with a snug plastic lid; it may be re-used for months. Do
    NOT dip pieces with an oxidized finish. (Some cautions about using
    Tarn-X: (a) dipping jewelry will probably remove any antiquing or
    oxidized coloring it has; (b) most harder stones may be safely
    dipped, but the surfaces of coral and lapis lazuli are dulled by
    repeated contact with Tarn-X, and sodalite may turn from blue to
    purple. Read the Tarn-X label.)

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman


#9

I think even famous artists have proven that the focus can be more
on the art than on the materials! I also love copper and brass and
use copper in a lot of my “married metals” pieces.

J. S. Ellington