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Nickel vs silver, not just copper substitute

One local, highly skilled, silversmith artist locally has been using
the nickel silver (sans silver) since silver is so high. And as a
metalsmith learner, my skills are not to the silver value for
practice. I am getting both positive and negative feedback about the
use of nickel and I have been steered to steel for the ‘silver look’.
Do any of you have any more comments about selling nickel pieces?
And, obviously, NOT advertising nickel AS silver. Most of the pieces
I wear myself are silver in color, and some copper and brass, so I
want to learn on pieces I could sell if someone likes what I am
wearing. I have talked to a metallurgy teacher, different metals
sales people, and so much is opinion. (Other than a nickel alergy of

Is there another silver colored metal, not hugely expensive like
platinum, that I can learn on and possibly start sales? IS steel a
better alternative to silver???


As you intimated, as long as you give your metal as being Nickel and
not silver, then you can use it. Folk are probably telling you to
use steel instead as many people are allergic to nickel and can not
wear jewellery made from it. Whereas surgical / stainless steel does
not have the allergy problem.


All my silver jewelry has been sterling. However, with it
skyrocketing… I just bought some nickel to teach myself to make
money clips (I sure wasn’t going to practice on sterling!). I had
never used nickel. Most of the Indians in OK (unless you’re Navajo)
use nickel (calling it German Silver).

I etched them (one a wolf & one a horse) & they came out good enough
for me to sell them for $35 each at my last show. I was very
thankful & this was good feed back for me. The price just came out of
the blue & it worked. Hope this helps.

Sharon Perdasofpy

Steel is wonderful if you are machining it or hot forging it or
otherwise working it as steel. But don’t expect to use or fabricate
with steel the same as you do with silver. It’s a very different
metal, different techniques, different capabilities, and different
end results if used to it’s best potentials. If you’re looking for an
inexpensive white color meta that might be abit more familiar, and
don’t want to work with nickle silver (which is essentially a white,
nickle bearing brass), you might consider trying pewter. It’s quite
different from silver, but the differences are quickly learned, and
it’s a fun metal that can be quickly worked yet is capable of some
quite sophisticated and delicate jewelry work as well.

Peter Rowe

Nickel silver contains no silver and a large proportion of the
population are allergic to it. They get “nickel itch.” I really
don’t recommend it as a substitute.

Nickel silver is actually a nickel copper alloy, usually 25% nickel.
It is harder than silver but you can braze or solder it and generally
treat it like silver, though it is a little tough to roll. Pure
nickel has a greyer appearance and oxidises to a green colour. It is
much harder to work and especially roll in its usual forms. It is
also harder to solder or braze as fluxing slightly oxidised nickel is
difficult. IT has a very high melting pont though and is resistant to
most acids.

However, there is one big down side. Nickel oxide is very toxic and a
terrible irritant. About 10% of the population is allergic to nickel
and nearer to 25% of women are. This makes nickel jwellery that comes
into contact with the skin a no-no. Cupronickel (nickel silver) is
much less of a problem because there is less oxidation and you can
treat the metal to reduce the nickel content locally.

How about silver plating your finished articles to prevent oxidtion
and skin contact? That will give you the finish you desire at the
reduced cost. If you ar plating then you can also use dutch metal, a
high copper alloy brass/bronze. There ar ther similar metals

Nick Royall

Considering the potential for skin reactions and allergies to nickel
and given the properties of silver and relative cost difference, I
would far rather recommend that you bite the bullet and order some
silver casting grain (.999 or sterling- depending on your access to
a rolling mill or forging skill level) and learn with that for
reasons from soldering, cross contamination of everything that the
nickel touches in your studio to developing a working knowledge of
the differences in fine and sterling and other precious metals if
what you are interested in is becoming a professional jeweler. First,
i am vehemently opposed to anything other than precious metals in my
studio (as are other professional jewelers i know of) as a little
dust or polishings can contaminate everything or give you very
unpredictable results when reclaiming them that take longer to trace
back to the day you used the cut-off wheel to separate a length of
nickel from its sheet than not introducing it in the first place in
terms of having to replace contaminated wheels, buffs, crucibles
etc. if not having to buy separate ones from the start.

It may mean working in only silver, a bi-metal or palladium for a
while if you can’t afford or get commissions for gold (which if you
haven’t the experience in you should really not accept out of
fairness to the client )but in the long run you will save money you
would spend cleaning up every tool and surface that retains particles
of nickel. I teach students and understand the costs involved and the
expense but also that if you are to make fine jewelry or art jewelry
and expect to support yourself solely from the sales of your work the
average consumer wants to buy real silver or gold in whatever
combination you can come up with. Palladium is even a hard sell.
Nickel -useless- unless your market is people that are opposed
entirely to precious metals - of which they represent a very very
limited market share, and in most instances that group as a whole,
isn’t buying jewelry enough to support anyone. Better to first
contract a production run of a profitable number of pieces in Nickel
than to learn to use it to it’s fullest than to have to re-learn on
silver or gold.

Though nickel is similar to silver it is not the same. It does not
preform the same nor does it require the same solders, etc. its melt
and flow points are different, annealing it is different and even
after spending hours making a piece the liklihood of finding a buyer
is slim and probably will not compensate you fairly for the time and
work that you spent. Better to go with real silver from the beginning
if that’s what you plan to work towards…alternatively-and this may
seem harsh - (though not what I am intending) but, if you can’t
afford to work in at least sterling to learn your skills with, then
find another medium more affordable.

Selling anything as fine jewelry that is not a precious metal is
difficult particularly when you are trying to identify your target
market and your place within it. Most people don’t want to buy
precious metal clays for the most part - for that reason much of it
is not sold as ‘metal clay jewelry’ but as “fine silver” which I
personally find intentionally misleading to the consumer as it will
never have the same crystalline properties as the real metals they
imitate no matter how well fired a piece is the properties are not
the same nor is it relevant how well it is or is not crafted : the
average consumer out to buy jewellery does not fully embrace metal
clays as equivalent to a similar piece made of real precious metal.
(I can already hear the metal clay enthusiasts on Orchid- I am not
necessarily speaking about any professional metal clay sculptors,
but hobbyists or better trying to sell what is usually poor quality
work at school fairs and similar non-professional venues, claiming to
be “jewelers” without knowing the first thing about jewelry making or
actual metalsmithing, However I do believe there is a huge
distinction between professional metalsmiths and metal clay sculptors
that work exclusively at making a living from either art form- not
the many primarily teaching classes in metal clays and profiting from
their sidelines in sales of metal clay and related products or true
professional metal artists and sculptors or even cross-over
metalsmiths trying to sell both metal clay and real metal production
pieces in juried shows and crafts markets for a living). Similarly, a
consumer doesn’t want to pay the cost of art jewerly or fine jewerly
to get something silver coloured though not silver…the return on
their investment is not as portable as is real precious metal- unless
they melt it down and alloy it. I was recently at a refinery when a
metal clay sculptor came in and wanted to know if they had any
problem buying metal clay scrap. the refiner said they would not
accept metal clay scrap. The sculptor argued it was still 100% .999
silver, the refiner countered with [I] don’t know how it will react
with non-clay precious metal when combined with the lot I send in to
an even larger refinery or buyer, and I don’t buy metallic powders"
so the person left in a huff and the metal was not immediately
salable. If that person had not said anythng and presented the
sintered clay as .99 silver it would have tested at. 999 with the XRF
gun and the refinery would have bought the scrap. Its all in the
perception of value. Nickel is not perceived as having ANY value nor
redeeming properties mainly due to the number of people that actually
have or claim to have allergies to it, and the larger number whose
skins react with nickel imbuing a green stain to skin that makes it
as undesirable as brass in the larger market of jewelry consumers…


There is the low temperature alternative of pewter.


Hi guys,

Just to make sure everybody knows: nickel silver isn’t actually pure
nickel. It’s really more of a white brass. A copper/zinc/nickel alloy
with a very high nickel content (as brasses go) but nowhere near
pure. (my memory is that the nickel is around ?20%? Don’t quote me on
that, but you get the idea.)


...How about silver plating your finished articles to prevent
oxidtion and skin contact?... 

(Sigh) This keeps contributing to giving silver a bad name. There
are people who admire my work but won’t buy it because they “are
allergic to silver”. They had jewelry that was really silver-plated
base metal and had a bad reaction. As non-jewelers, they don’t have
the time or inclination to tell the difference.

Signing off before I go into a rant,
Kelley Dragon

Surgical steel DOES have nickel in it. I know Wiki isn’t the
greatest source for info, but here is a link to it…

Surgical steel has chromium, molybdenum and nickel along with the


Surgical steel DOES have nickel in it. I know Wiki isn't the
greatest source for info, but here is a link to it... 

Wiki should only be used as a starting point. Regards Charles A.

Wiki should only be used as a starting point.

Wikipedia is generally very reliable on things that are of a basic
science nature like materials and chemicals, properties etc. There
are a lot of good people who monitor those entries and make sure
that they do not get screwed up by the casual moron. Where one runs
into trouble is more often the political, religious, social stuff
where it often is used as a soap box to put forward ones belief as

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

best advice on this stuff is don’t touch it. It is banned in the
European Union, because one in ten people are allergic to it. Since
being banned dermatological problems have dramatically decreased.
Nickel is the problem with silver plated objects often there is a
nickel plating under the silver and when the silver plating wears
off allergic reactions can occur.

Thanx for the advice on the black spots on sterling silver seems I
have a problem with the quality of metal. I will speak to the
company when it re-opens and see what they have to say. I have since
heard that others have had problems with this company’s sterling. A
friend who uses their sterling tube had the last batch turn a
coppery colour like on the back of one of my earrings. Stick to the
quality companies you know seems the best advice and if you can’t
get what you want on time just wait.

Also I placed an order for 3mm by 1mm half round fine silver wire
’not a problem’ I was told. So I told the customer that I could make
what they wanted before Xmas it was a present for their girlfriend.
What arrived was a strip of fine silver 3mm wide by 1mm thick. Not
as thick as the person who drew the wire or the person who did not
check the goods before packing. The customer hit the roof and as
service keeps your customers I explained why it was not my fault and
sold them an alternative at cost they were happy with that. I spoke
to the person who packed the order and repeated what the customer
said, unprintable here, jewellery for romance can really get the
emotions going.

Happy New Year and all the best in your work.

There are a dozen or so alloys that are/have been called nickel
silver but in the jewelry trade virtually all of it is the C75200
alloy which is loosely a Cu 65, Ni 18%, Zn 17% alloy. When you order
nickel silver from the jewelry supply houses this is what you get.
Below is the listed range of actual components. Take note that there
is 0.05% lead in the alloy which is arguably more of a problem than
the nickel. The lead content is certainly significantly greater than
is allowed in the USA for children’s jewelry which is now regulated
by the CPSC.

C75200 Nickel Silver- Cu 63.0-66.5, Pb 0.05, Fe 0.25, Zn Rem. Ni
16.5-19.5, Mn 0.50

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Wiki was only given as it was an easy way to simplify and
compartmentalize the This is not from Wiki… Surgical
Steel is 316 series. I am allergic to nickel and react to surgical

Stainless Steel Grades

  • 200 Series-austenitic chromium-nickel-manganese alloys

  • 300 Series-austenitic chromium-nickel alloys

    o Type 301-highly ductile, for formed products. Also hardens
    rapidly during mechanical working.
    o Type 303-Free machining version of 304 via addition of sulfur
    o Type 304-the most common; the classic 18/8 stainless steel.
    o Type 316-the next most common; for food and surgical stainless
    steel uses; Alloy addition of molybdenum prevents specific forms
    of corrosion. Also known as “marine grade” stainless steel due to
    its increased ability to resist saltwater corrosion compared to
    type 304. SS316 is often used for building nuclear reprocessing

  • 400 Series-ferritic and martensitic chromium alloys

    o Type 408-heat-resistant; poor corrosion resistance; 11%
    chromium, 8% nickel.
    o Type 409-cheapest type; used for automobile exhausts; ferritic
    (iron/chromium only).
    o Type 410-martensitic (high-strength iron/chromium).
    o Type 416
    o Type 420-“Cutlery Grade” martensitic; similar to the Brearley’s
    original “rustless steel”. Also known as “surgical steel”.
    o Type 430-decorative, e.g., for automotive trim; ferritic.
    o Type 440-a higher grade of cutlery steel, with more carbon in
    it, which allows for much better edge retention when the steel is
    heat treated properly.

  • 500 Series-heat resisting chromium alloys

  • 600 Series-martensitic precipitation hardening alloys

    o Type 630-most common PH stainless, better known as 17-4; 17%
    chromium, 4% nickel


Surgical steel definitely has nickel in it, and sometimes it’s bound
up better than others. In theory, the nickel is supposed to be “bound
up” (whatever that means- that’s what the doctor called it) so that
the nickel is not reactive. However, when I had pins in my arm due to
a broken wrist, 2 of the 5 pins reacted like fury, and I had nasty
infections till they were removed and have big scars; the other 3
were fine.

Amanda Fisher

Hi James,

There are problems with Wiki, I agree hard facts are pretty good,
but soft facts and history are where it really falls down.

You should never rely solely on Wiki, always back up your research,
with other site, books and (if you can) email references to
professors, or experts.

Regards Charles A.

...Nickel is not perceived as having ANY value nor redeeming
properties mainly due to the number of people that actually have or
claim to have allergies to it, and the larger number whose skins
react with nickel imbuing a green stain to skin that makes it as
undesirable as brass in the larger market of jewelry consumers... 

Speak for yourself! I have been working with nickel-silver, brass,
and copper for 30 years, have never had a complaint about a nickel
allergy or skin stain and have lots of repeat customers who love my

Judy Bjorkman

In the European Union there is legislation which restricts the use
of nickel in jewellery and some other products including wrist
watches etc.

Robin Key
Clavis Jewellery
Aberdeen, Scotland