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Fine silver vs sterling silver


Howdy all:

When I first started learning how to make jewelry with precious
metals, two teachers I had convinced a whole lot of us that if you
were going to hand fabricate silver jewelry you should always use
fine silver opposed to sterling. Not only does fine silver look
brighter but it is much easier to work with. Well for years I
have worked this way. Now that I am finally building up a decent
business and have been meeting a lot of other studio jewelers and
I have come across a handful of people who can’t believe I work
in fine silver because it does not “wear” well for long periods
of time because it is softer then sterling. I usually work in a
heavy gauges of fine silver (never use anything thinner then 20
gauge in sheets) and personally I haven’t noticed that my fine
silver stuff gets more beat up then sterling pieces I have
bought. But then again I am a total freak when it comes to keeping
care of my jewelry (constantly cleaning and polishing the stuff
that I like to wear).

What do the rest of you think? I starting to think that maybe I
should work only in sterling now - I want people who are not as
careful with jewelry as I am to be able to enjoy my pieces for a
long time. And by the way the schools that brainwashed me was The
School for Visual Arts and Parsons in NYC.



DeDe, The deciding point for me on this subject is the customer I
sell the piece to. Most of my work is custom and if they wear
their jewelry when they work I suggest the sterling.



When I was in college and taking an enameling course I thought
of the same idea, “Why not work only in fine silver?” No tarnish
no firescale, it’s brilliant! I was then told that it was too
soft of a metal for wear. However, I would think that in the
case of a pendant or earrings this would not be the case,
especially if you are using 20 gage or heavier. Bracelets and
rings kind of would concern me though. I know that some of the
sterling rings I have made for some customers have been quite
abused, but have held up fine. I think that I would also shy
away from using fine silver as any type of connector in a peice.
I think that the friction between the metals might cause it to
wear out faster than if sterling was used.

I currently work mainly in sterling with 14 and 18karat. Maybe
using fine silver for the backs of stones and the majority of the
peice might be an option, then in all the connecting joints or
where wear and tear might occur use sterling. I know what you
mean about obsessing over finishes, I am nortorious for that
also. Sterling can be a real pain to keep clean! Unfortuanly,
even if you use fine silver you still have all the seams from
solder that will tarnish. I don’t think there is an easy way
out of this one!



DeDe: Let the barbarians howl in the wind. You like fine silver,
your customers apparently like it so don’t change. You’re making
a quality product, why lower your standards to suit momentary


Steve Klepinger


Hi DeDe, Fine silver is a whole lot easier for beginners to use.
In the commercial world however, the realities of work practice
require some experience in working with easily oxidised metals
such as low carat golds etc. We see the same thing here in
Australia. Most of the Fine Arts-related courses use fine silver
(and recommend fine gold over carat gold) because it is a lot
easier to solder and work - plus it has a nice cache of being

All the trade schools work in copper, brass, nickel-silver and
occasionally sterling silver and carat golds, because of the
real-world trade practices of the industry. It also impresses on
the apprentices the need to work clean and prepare the metal
properly for soldering. If you can neatly silver solder and work
nickel silver or brass or copper, anything else is a doddle!

Having said that, I much prefer to use fine silver rather than
sterling silver for enamelling. Hope this helps, and happy new
year. Rex from Oz



thanks for replying to my fine silver / sterling question. I
think for rings and bracelets (jewelry worn in areas where it
might rubbed up against other materials) I will work in sterling
now. For earrings and pendants I think I am going to stick to
fine silver because I love the look more then sterling. You are
right tho it seems all the art schools encourage students to work
in fine silver. Once I started taking classes at technical
schools (where I was finally taught how to solder properly) the
emphasis was on more base metals.

I hope you have a great 1999!




A quick note on one of your comments about fine vs. sterling
silver. You can avoid some of the more obvious solder seams in
fine silver pieces by fusing, rather than soldering. The pieces
have to fit together perfectly and be meticulously clean,
preheat the whole piece first, and be VERY careful with your
torch to keep the piece from just plain melting, but with some
practice you can get very nice large seams to fuse. I see this
as a step before even the hardest of hard soldering. This works
especially well for bezels, etc. that are the most exposed part
of the piece. I try (not always successfully) to save soldering
for hidden potions of a piece. As far as wear goes, although
fine silver IS much softer than sterling, I made my wife a
fairly hefty fine silver loop-in-loop bracelet that she wears
almost daily, and has never had any major damage problems with
it. By the way, I also love the whiteness of fine silver vs
sterling. I agree with Steve Klepinger: “Let the barbarians howl
in the wind!”

Good luck,

Alan Derr
Westford, MA USA



Like you, it is important to me that my jewelry wear well for a
long time. I like to visualize my pieces passing down through
several generations and have already seen that in some cases.
I’ve been selling work through juried art fairs for about 30
years and deal with a lot of the same clients for long periods
of time. Last year I saw a piece that I made 27 years ago. One
advantage of selling like this is that I get to see how things
wear over a long period of time. If there are engineering
weaknesses the piece gets brought back. I use sterling primarily
and even sterling wears over time. Fine silver wears even
faster. One good example is pendent bails. I’m now careful to
make bails much thicker than I did at one time because I’ve seen
how a chain actually saws through the bail over a period of time
if it is not strongly made. This is on a pendent that is worn a
lot. One thing you might consider is using a combination of fine
and sterling silver, using the sterling in the parts that are
the most vunerable to wearing. ( Bails, hinges, jump rings, ring
shanks, etc.) Take advantage of the beauty of fine silver in
areas where that isn’t as much of a concern. It seems like fine
silver would be appropriate on most areas of earrings, pins and
pendents. Rings and men’s belt buckles are the items that are
amazingly abused and are often worn a lot so extra care is
needed in planning them. It seems like you could probably find a
balance between your aesthetic sense and practicalities.

Sterling is also useful for its ability to be oxidized and
colored for contrast in designs. Fine silver is very useful for
making decorative shot, it seems to have less problems with
pitting in the melting process. I use fine silver bezel scrap
for this purpose. I find myself using more heavier sheet in many
designs. I use a lot of 18, 16 and recently even more 14 and 12
gauge sheet. I like pieces to be substantial.

Just keep working and the way will come to you. Good luck.

Jima & Carlie Abbott /N. Calif/ @jica
check out our work on the web at:


DeDe – One of the projects I had in one of my enamelling classes
was to fabricate a ring that would be cloisonne enamelled both on
the inside and the outside and of course, fine silver was the
base metal to use for the project. We were always taught that
enamel was not a good material for rings, because it easily
breaks, etc. Well, my ring turned out too big for my ring
finger, so I wear it on my left hand on my first finger – which
gets the most banging around. What I have found is that the
enamelling has held up very well, but the fabricated ‘frame’ of
the ring in fine silver really shows the wear – I can see lots
of little scratches and dings and it looks pretty dull. So, for
my purposes, I wouldn’t use fine silver for something that is
going to get a lot of wear.

    Laura Wiesler