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Sterling vs. 10k Gold


#1

Back a lot of years ago when I was transitioning from silver to
gold, I frequently made bezel cups for cabs using 22k bezel wire
soldered to a sterling silver backing. I chose this method when the
stones in the design were not particularly costly but were medium to
largish in size. It seemed wasteful to use a lot of gold on the back
of such a piece where it would never be seen, and I rarely had a
customer balk when I explained the metal composition of the item.

Eventually though, I became so comfortable with gold that I
transitioned completely (and cost be damned :-), though I sawed out
the backs where possible and recycled the gold. But it’s a different
market altogether now with gold at mid $500 an ounce and perhaps
still climbing.

The other day I completed a piece that included a psilomelane and
two turquoise cabs. For the first time in ages, I again used 22k
bezel wire on sterling silver sheet. I just couldn’t bring myself to
use gold sheet (it would have been 14k) for the backing, not when the
piece would measure 1 1/2" wide and an inch high.

Yesterday morning, I had to order more gold and it had been a while!
Even though I knew the price of gold, the totals of the items I was
ordering were shocking and I was about to switch out some of the 14k
sheet for sterling sheet when it occurred to me to ask the price of a
comparable amount of 10k. The 14k gold sheet was $393.30; the same
thing in 10k was $256.20. That’s a HUGE difference. I ordered the 10k
plus a much smaller piece of the 14k. (And, yes, I also ordered a 10k
stamp. But note that I’m not heading towards a discussion of how to
deal with the quality stamping question :-).)

So here (at last!) is the issue: Which is the best way to go in the
situation I have described – sterling or 10k? I will continue to
use 22k bezel wire and 14/18k for other visible design elements (as I
have done previously). And I will continue to make all gold pieces
when the stones and design warrant it. But when they don’t, I need to
save some bucks.

I’d prefer to use the 10k since it is yellow, after all, and it’s
still gold (of a sort). Then again, even though it’s 10k, it’s still
a lot more expensive than sterling. Also, I’m wondering if customers
might actually think of 10k gold as an inferior metal, where they
would accept sterling silver more readily.

Any thoughts?
Beth


#2

Beth,

Interesting question. I find myself personally distressed seeing so
very much jewelry here in the USA now in 10K. It does not feel right
to me at all. I often wondered how the low karat gold came to be the
English norm.

I enjoyed 14K until I became more acquainted with 18K. that was
great until I started to travel into the Middle East and then the
Orient and came to know 22K.

Now 14K is minimized in my mind. 22K is wonderful, and 18K is just
OK.

I know you and your jewelry, you do have the clientele that will pay
the current value of the gold and understand it.

The initial outlay is yours personally, and that is great. The
ultimate return will ameliorate the gold purchase price. I do feel
the lesser value metal is just not you.

Hugs
Terrie


#3

Here in Australia, the 2 main golds used and sold are 9ct and 18ct.
Of course all other carats are available, and many jewellers will
melt their own alloys to get the carat rating they desire, but for
the most part in the shops 9 and 18 carat golds are stocked and sold.

You mention you’re worried about saving costs to yourself. Surely
whatever materials you’re using, you’re taking it into account and
charging the customer accordingly? If so you should be making money
on the materials used in a design, rather than losing.

Also, most customers here buy 9ct gold items. It’s a $ issue. They
want gold, but can’t afford, or justify to themselves buying, 18ct.
The fact that 9ct is low in gold content doesn’t matter. It’s still
seen as being a step up from silver jewellery.

Dale Porter


#4

Beth

I posed the question to my wife, she said go with the 10K gold if it
is what needs to be there. She is the lady who keeps petitioning the
Olympic committee to add shopping to the list of events.

Hope consumer input helps.

Terry


#5

Beth,

I remember seeing antique jewelry where the jewelers did what you
describe, but it was generally backing platinum or sometimes white
gold. This wasn’t done just on large stones but even on the small
plates and bezels for melee. It must have been tedious work
considering the rather baroque nature of the design.

Back when I used to do a lot more antique work I regretted having to
clean up those type of pieces because I loved the contrast that the
darkened silver gave the stones and the design.

Since all the pieces I saw were backed in silver so I’d say you have
historical precedent on your side. Using silver, due to the contrast
in colors seems a little less sneaky somehow, but as long as you
disclose what you do I don’t see a problem with either material.

Perhaps you could consider, when possible, blackening the silver and
using that as a design element, rather than a hidden one.

I'm wondering if customers might actually think of 10k gold as an
inferior metal, where they would accept sterling silver more
readily. 

Inferiority is relative.

Larry


#6

Thanks to all for the suggestions and opinions. Comments below.

TERRIE said:

I often wondered how the low karat gold came to be the English
norm. 

It is?? I thought 18k was comparable to the U.S.'s 14k throughout
Europe. Is England an exception?

I know you and your jewelry, you do have the clientele that will
pay the current value of the gold and understand it.... 

It’s not just a question of whether my clientele will ante up; it’s
as much a question of how much I can afford to tie up in inventory. I
make exclusively one-of-a-kind pieces that have a limited audience
(i.e., they’re far from mass appeal). So my inventory does not turn
over quickly which means I can have a LOT of money tied up in
inventory. As the cost of gold has risen, that figure has become
increasingly significant!

I do feel the lesser value metal is just not you. 

Thanks :-). But at this point, it’s not a matter of whether or not I
will use a lesser value metal for some pieces, but whether that
metal will be 10k or sterling silver.

DALE said:

Here in Australia, the 2 main golds used and sold are 9ct and
18ct. 

It’s different here in the U.S. and in Europe. I guess your 9k
equals the our 14k which equals Europe’s 18k – in terms of public
perception.

Surely whatever materials you're using, you're taking it into
account and charging the customer accordingly? 

Of course. But with the current price of gold, I could easily price
myself out of the market.

TERRY said:

I posed the question to my wife, she said go with the 10K gold if
it is what needs to be there. 

Interesting. And that was in preference to sterling silver?

She is the lady who keeps petitioning the Olympic committee to add
shopping to the list of events. 

LOL!

LARRY said:

Using silver, due to the contrast in colors seems a little less
sneaky somehow, but as long as you disclose what you do I don't see
a problem with either material. 

I hope you’re right since I’m trying it both ways for now :-). I
have a show coming up in a couple of weeks and I’ll be looking for
feedback.

Beth


#7

Beth,

What about 22k, sterling bi-metal? High karat gold color, cheaper
than solid 10 k but much better color. Just a thought

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


360-756-6550


#8

Hi Jim,

What about 22k, sterling bi-metal? High karat gold color, cheaper
than solid 10 k but much better color. Just a thought 

It’s a good thought, actually :-). I used to use bi-metal quite a
lot when I worked primarily with silver; it was a great material for
times when I wanted a gold/silver contrast for design reasons. But I
found it was problematic as a backing material – for large bezels in
particular – because the two metals contract (if that’s the right
word) differently in high heat. The result was that the bi-metal
sheet would warp during the process of soldering on a large bezel,
making a simple soldering operation very tricky.

The other tricky aspect to using bi-metal was explaining to
customers what it was ("like gold-fill only with 22k over sterling"
or “a thin layer of 22k fused to a thicker layer of sterling” or
whatever). And, of course, the 22k is vulnerable and can wear off
from friction.

Yesterday, I made my first piece using 10k as a backing material.
There was a minor learning curve involved :-). I forgot about (or
rather, didn’t consider) the lower melting point of the 10k and I
managed to reticulate it slightly! (Funny how easy it is to
reticulate metal when you’re not trying to; and how hard it can be
when you are :-).)

Other than that, it worked out fine. The color is not as deep as
14k, but there’s no question that it’s gold; and since it’s only
visible on the back of the piece, it’s not really an issue. So, even
though it’s considerably more expensive than sterling (or bi-metal),
I think it’s the way for me to go in those situations when I’m using
large, relatively inexpensive stones. At least until/unless I get
feedback to the contrary from customers!

Thanks, Beth