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Strange sterling


#1

Dear Orchideans

A young lady who supplies my shop (Seabreeze Silver in Pt Eliott,
South Australia) has brought me some delightful cast earrings. She
has supplied them before and I always thought they were hollow
constructions due to the light weight (OK yes… I should have asked
first off). She says she has them cast locally (by a well known
local firm) and was assured that they were sterling silver but a
"bright finish (oxide resistant)" sterling and they are solid pieces.

Phoned the company who she says did the casting and they gave me
density figures. Normal sterling 925 is 10.36 and this Oxide
Resistant sterling that they use if requested (they say) is 10.30.
OK it’s a little lighter but definitely not that much lighter.

I weighed her supposely solid pieces against some items of similar
volume and find that these supposedly solid sterling objects weight
half (or less than half) the weight of similar volume sterling
objects that I have in stock. They also have traces of firescale
which she says she cannot get rid of (depletion guilding did not
work).

Can anyone out there tell me what might be going on here. I’m very
skeptical about these pieces being sterling, considering the very
light weight and the very bright silvery (with patches of firescaley
appearance).

I have told the company that supposedly did the casting that I will
send them a pair of these earrings so they may explain what the
actual material is. They are as interested as I am (it seems) in
indentifying the metal.

Being new in the business of selling other people’s handmade objects,
and wishing to develop a reputation for fine, handcrafted, sterling
silver jewellery, I am very keen to keep up my reputation. This weird
situation has got me very determined to find out what this metal
might be.

Thanks, in anticipation of getting some answers from equally
dedicated silver workers out there.

Renate
Seabreeze Silver


#2

Hi Renate:

My first step would be to buy a pair for testing. Saw one of them in
half. That’ll answer the ‘hollow or not?’ question. Next step: saw
off a small chunk, and get a similar sized chunk of sterling. Put
them both on an old (disposable) charcoal block. Heat evenly to
melting.

If the funky one melts significantly earlier than the known
sterling, the sample’s likely to be aluminium. If it gives off blue
smoke, suspect nickel silver.

There’s not much out there that’s cheaper than sterling that’s
significantly lighter, save aluminium.

(Yeah, there are lighter things, but they’d cost as much as just
doing it right in the first place.)

Heat a sample to dull red. Let it cool. Take a look at the oxide.
Does it turn black? Does the oxide pickle off? (If the black doesn’t
come off, suspect nickel silver.)

If you’ve got a test kit and a scratch-stone, that’ll give you a
pretty solid answer too, but most don’t have those around any more.

If you’ve got some way to get a very accurate read on the item’s
volume and weight, you can use that to calculate specific gravity.
That’ll give you a very good idea of what it is, so long as it’s not
hollow.

FWIW
Brian.


#3

Good on you Alberic,

My first step would be to buy a pair for testing. Saw one of them
in half. That'll answer the 'hollow or not?' question. Next step:
saw off a small chunk, and get a similar sized chunk of sterling.
Put them both on an old (disposable) charcoal block. Heat evenly to
melting. 

I shall do what you suggest. They are nice simple designs but I
don’t want to have people come back to me and say I sold them
something “shonky”.

I sent one off today, to the the company that the supplier said she
used (along with a letter relating my doubts and a small wombat charm
which is less than half the volume but weighs a little more) and am
very curious as to what answers they come up with. I’ve been dealing
with this company for many years and found them good and dependable.

My supplier is asking very little for her work (I sell on
consignment) so sacrificing a pair of earrings is very tempting to
see if any of the results you document will occur. Will let you know
if I get any blue smoke!

Thanks so much
Renate


#4
My first step would be to buy a pair for testing. Saw one of them
in half. That'll answer the 'hollow or not?' question. Next step:
saw off a small chunk, and get a similar sized chunk of sterling.
Put them both on an old (disposable) charcoal block. Heat evenly to
melting. 

Just in case anyone was wondering about the results of this
investigation. The earrings were hollow and had a higher silver
content than sterling being 951. Haven’t spoken to the young lass
that claims to have made them. Still something fishy going on since
she was convinced they were solid.

Cheers, Renate


#5

Hello Renate,

It occurs to me that to some people, “solid silver or gold” means
that the metal is not plated - such as a sterling tea pot. The pot is
hollow, but the sides are solid sterling.

In your description of the earrings, the metal walls would be
"solid."

Confusing.
Just a thought,
Judy in Kansas, where the walleye are biting. Pretty good eatin’