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Working with copper vs. silver


#1

Hello again.

With the high cost of silver, which does not appear ready to go back
down any time soon, I have been working more and more with copper,
to learn new techniques and practice on, and to incorporate into
jewelry pieces. However, copper and silver (sterling and Argentum)
are not identical and possess different properties - they feel
different when working them.

I was wondering, which metal possesses superior properties, i.e.,
which is more malleable, is more ductile, etc. Sterling silver or
copper. To me, freshly annealed copper works like warm butter, but it
work hardens quickly becoming stiff again in very little time.
Silver, on the other hand, seems to compress and stretch better.
When hammering out a synclastic (or antisyclastic) bracelet, copper
has a lot of metal on the inside of the curve that just folds over
when hammering (if you get what I mean by this), whereas sterling
silver seems to stay smooth on the inside of the curve, as if the
metal compresses and there is no extra metal to fold over.

Thank you in advance for your insight. Have a great holiday and a
very Merry Christmas.

Fred


#2

Try 90/10 bronze. It is a little tricky, but it gives satisfying
results. I personally think of it as a little step up from copper
(you’ll have to excuse my personal bias :wink: ).

You just have to use the flame colour change to judge when the
bronze is annealed. Works every time, no fail, and can be done under
any lighting conditions, because you’re not looking for colour change
in the alloy.

I like to think of the Olympics when I think of metal preference
i.e. Gold, silver then bronze.

Regards Charles A.


#3
With the high cost of silver, which does not appear ready to go
back down any time soon, I have been working more and more with
copper, to learn new techniques and practice on, and to incorporate
into jewelry pieces. However, copper and silver (sterling and
Argentum) are not identical and possess different properties - they
feel different when working them. 

When the price of gold shot up, people bought gold. People will be
buying more silver now. I just sold under 3 ounces of fine gold and
got 100 oz of.999 (and some currency.) I don’t see people wearing
copper jewelry in place of silver.


#4
Try 90/10 bronze. It is a little tricky, but it gives satisfying
results. I personally think of it as a little step up from copper 

, hi where do you get 90/10 bronze??? dp


#5

Hi dp,

where do you get 90/10 bronze? 

You have to alloy it yourself, which is easy enough to do. Well I
could never buy it, so I just make it.

1 part tin, and 9 parts fine copper granules (any pure copper will
do, but granules are better), by weight.

  1. Fill your crucible with flux, then empty the crucible. Filling the
    crucible with flux then emptying, lines the crucible with a loose
    layer of flux, and helps the melt considerably. It helps to have a
    good flux.

  2. Put in your tin, and cover with the granulated copper. I put the
    tin in first, it lowers the temperature needed to melt the copper,
    also the copper granules seal the crucible, and the tin there-in. If
    you melt the copper first then drop in your tin, you will require
    more heat, and you will vaporise some of your tin. It does make a
    significant difference in the colour.

  3. Heat, stir with a green stick, pour.

Regards Charles A.


#6
When the price of gold shot up, people bought gold. People will be
buying more silver now. I just sold under 3 ounces of fine gold
and got 100 oz of .999 (and some currency.) I don't see people
wearing copper jewelry in place of silver. 

Times change, and historically people have worn copper and bronze in
the past. Even though gold and silver were available.

When gold and silver become more valuable, maybe people will look at
alternative metals to wear.

When something is unaffordable then alternatives are found.

Regards Charles A.


#7

Norman has a good point when he points out that he doesn’t “see
people wearing copper jewelry in place of silver.” At a recent show I
attended, a number of the people had switched from silver to copper.
Much of the work was lovely, but sad to report, it did not generate
much in the way of sales Those who stayed with silver, did very well,
even though they had raised their prices.

Alma


#8
When something is unaffordable then alternatives are found. 

There was 16th century goldsmith Hans Sachs, who was signing his
work like this:

I am goldsmith, making valuable things - signet rings, expensive
earrings, and other jewellery with rare precious stones, gold chains,
necklaces and bracelets, chalices and dinner platters of gold and
silver for those who can afford my wages. ( my loose translation from
German )

Work of goldsmith is not intended to those who use phrase “can’t
afford it” in their daily lexicon. This has been true since Ice Age
and probably before that.

The raison d’Atre of goldsmithing is to distinguish the wearer from
all others, so it must be unaffordable to 99.99% of population, or it
is a waste of time.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#9

I work in silver, gold, brass and copper, and in my market the copper
does very well, as does the brass. Copper appeals to a certain type
of customer, and I don’t find that it has to do with price - it has
to do with the beauty of the metal in most cases, and perceived
health benefits in a few…

I DO find people buying brass instead of gold now! I create a range
of items in brass that “appear” to be gold, but are actually brass -
so the customer has that rich gold “look” - without the price. THOSE
customers are buying based on price.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio
http://www.bethwicker.com


#10

Hi Leonid,

The raison d'Atre of goldsmithing is to distinguish the wearer
from all others, so it must be unaffordable to 99.99% of
population, or it is a waste of time. 

What would happen to a goldsmith when gold, silver and platinum,
become so unaffordable, and rare that they cannot be bought.

Some of my customers want viking style jewellery, and naturally they
want 90/10 bronze, because it was commonly worn, gold was rare and
silver was used as a currency (hack silver). I’ve had to advise them
that silver may be a better option for jewellery, because I am
having difficulty sourcing a local supply of tin. I’ve only got about
800 grams of tin left, and I don’t want to import something that we
mine here in Australia. It’s more cost effective to make jewellery
out of silver, than it currently is to make it out of 90/10 bronze.

I wont use a substitute for 90/10, not because I’m fickle, but
because my customers wouldn’t have a bar of it, they demand accuracy,
and they’re educated enough to know.

Regards Charles A.

P.S. BTW: The most recent “Ice Age” was 12 thousand years ago, the
world’s oldest coin is about 2,700 years old :wink:

Some amusing factoids :-

  • The oldest piece of jewellery has been dated around 100,000 years
    old… shell beads.

  • 5000 years old for the earliest piece of gold jewellery.

  • 4600 years for lost wax casting in gold.

  • Copper and bronze with gold inlay dates about 4600.


#11
What would happen to a goldsmith when gold, silver and platinum,
become so unaffordable, and rare that they cannot be bought. 

The clients would be breaking down doors, begging for a tiny piece of
it. People only want things that others cannot get. That the whole
game. What do you think a bottle of Cognac Dudognon Heritage Henry
IV going nowadays, or Clive Christian Imperial Majesty perfume. Check
out the prices and then tell me how does it fit in your theory of
marketing.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#12

Hi Leonid,

The clients would be breaking down doors, begging for a tiny piece
of it. People only want things that others cannot get. That the
whole game. What do you think a bottle of Cognac Dudognon Heritage
Henry IV going nowadays, or Clive Christian Imperial Majesty
perfume. Check out the prices and then tell me how does it fit in
your theory of marketing. 

There was no theory of marketing involved in that question.

But using your examples, once those items have gone, that’s it, no
amount of money could buy them. The clients would have to settle for
an alternative.

Regards Charles A.


#13
People only want things that others cannot get 

Which would explain the success of all these ‘beads’ lines.

I can be as cynical and jaded as the next guy but I’d rather view my
client relationships in a positive and fruitful light. “May I help
you”, “Yes”, “Thank you for the amex”.


#14
Those who stayed with silver, did very well, even though they had
raised their prices 

At the risk of sounding, well however it may, people should not
panic. If one is learning and cost of silver is a problem then OK use
something else for awhile. But if you’re making with the intent to
actually sell…it might be good to separate one’s own sticker shock
tolerance from that of the customer. Your customer isn’t buying a
lump of silver, they’re buying a finished piece of jewelery. Copper
however, simply because of its properties, does not have the wider
appeal of sterling and gold/plat by extension. There’s a sound reason
for the hierarchy of jewelry metals. It boils down to ‘people
want…’

If you need to keep your silver price points within a specified
range, rework your designs so that you meet that range. The greater
part of your price covers added value anyway.


#15
But using your examples, once those items have gone, that's it, no
amount of money could buy them. The clients would have to settle
for an alternative. 

Not really. They would go an look for the next exclusive item.
Luxury items are not necessities. One can live whole life without
ever coming in contact with a luxury item. But, human nature been
what it is, luxury is a means to distinguish oneself from the all
others, and there is no amount of money that people will not pay to
accomplish this.

Very common mistake that jewelers make is thinking that jewellery is
not a necessity, so we cannot charge a lot for it. Wrong! Give them
something special, something unique, something that separates them
from the all the others and they will pay, pay, and pay. That is
what the whole luxury industry is based on.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#16
Copper however, simply because of its properties, does not have
the wider appeal of sterling and gold/plat by extension. There's a
sound reason for the hierarchy of jewelry metals. It boils down to
'people want...' 

Sorry, but I just gotta say it - quite the humorous thread. Once
again Neil breaks through the nonsense and the snobbery… Copper
is copper, silver is silver, and gold is gold and never the twain
shall meet. “Copper vs Silver - The Motion Picture!” It’s obvious -
if you work in copper, you are a coppersmith and you will inhabit the
copper jewelry world, which is quite limited. (it’s dirty, it smells,
it’s toxic). Same for silver and gold and platinum and white metal.
I’m a gold/platinum smith and we’re going like gangbusters. There’s
plenty of room in this wide, wide world, you just need to get yer
head on straight and know which end is up.

People who want to buy a gold wedding band are ~not~ going to buy a
gold-plated copper ring, no matter how much you wish they would or
think they should. And people who are looking for a $25 pair of
earrings have plenty to choose from, too. It’s not either/or and it
never has been and it never will be.


#17

Hello Orchidland,

I’ve been a purist regarding the use of precious metals, but my
attitude is changing. This last year I was pleasantly surprised by
the enthusiastic reception of mixed metals (sterling and gold or
copper) in art jewelry. I have plans for new work that incorporates
"picture" stones and copper on a silver base. It seems to me that
the ART part generates more interest than the jewelry part - wearable
art seems like the way to go.

Just my thoughts,

Judy in Kansas, where yesterday temps were in the 60s and today they
hover at freezing with sleet pellets falling.


#18
But using your examples, once those items have gone, that's it, no
amount of money could buy them. The clients would have to settle
for an alternative. Not really. They would go an look for the next
exclusive item. 

That’s an alternative.

Luxury items are not necessities. One can live whole life without
ever coming in contact with a luxury item. But, human nature been
what it is, luxury is a means to distinguish oneself from the all
others, and there is no amount of money that people will not pay
to accomplish this. 

I agree with this.

Very common mistake that jewelers make is thinking that jewellery
is not a necessity, so we cannot charge a lot for it. Wrong! Give
them something special, something unique, something that separates
them from the all the others and they will pay, pay, and pay. That
is what the whole luxury industry is based on. 

Well it’s not a necessity, as we can live without jewellery, however
I agree that luxury items massage the ego, and make you feel special.

That’s what jewellery should do, regardless of the material (imo).
THe item doesn’t necessarily have to be unique to make you feel
special. My wife likes pearls, they make her feel special, pearls can
be very uniform.

I have no problem with unique, I make unique knives, no two are the
same… ever. The blade profiles may look the same, but that’s as
far as it goes. Due to the construction methods employed and the
material selection, none of the knives (swords also), will ever look,
or be the same. I don’t think I’d ever want them to.

Regards Charles A.
P.S. Yes people pay wads of cash for knives :wink:


#19
It seems to me that the ART part generates more interest than the
jewelry part - wearable art seems like the way to go. 

Judy - this is absolutely what I find! People don’t buy most of my
work just to buy jewelry, but to buy “art jewelry” - and they care
about it as art AND as jewelry, which means if whatever materials I’m
using work visually in the piece, they are fine with it. This is NOT
the same market as someone buying or selling wedding bands or most
engagement rings (although some of those do sometimes move into the
"art jewelry" market). Most of the buyers of my “major” pieces are
ladies of great confidence, who want “statement” pieces - something
people will comment on, that will be noticed in a positive way. Same
old/same old does not cut it for them.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio
http://www.bethwicker.com


#20

Beth, You said the words…‘statement pieces’. Nothing against
’fine jewelry’…I know many of our fellow Orchidians make nothing
but that and in years past I did too. But these days, how can the
jewelry artist compete with the big houses and the overseas makers?
The answer is don’t even try!! I have been making large and/or
unique jewelry for quite a few years now and enjoy it. Lately, using
Charles Lewton-Brain’s book on fold forming, I have been getting more
and more into copper and brass/bronze. I love it and it doesn’t cost
an arm and a leg. (My last silver order was hundreds of dollars and
lets not even discuss gold). It is surprising how many people will
buy a well made piece of copper art jewelry!

Cheers from Don in SOFL.