Topics: Tarnish, Differences Between Sterling, Fine Silver and Silver Plate

Q.
I made my first bracelets using silver-plated clasps (not from Fire Mountain Gems and Beads) and they discolored. I want to make good quality jewelry for gifts and don't want to waste money buying precious metal findings if they're not necessary, but I also don't want my pieces to tarnish easily. Can you guide me on when to use precious metal findings? What's the shelf life on silver-plate and gold-plate? I have asked others and researched online but am not getting a clear answer. Again, I might just have started with poor quality clasps and maybe both Fire Mountain's silver-plated or sterling will give me good results in all cases.
- Georgette
A.
The type of findings you buy will depend on cost, look, wearability and durability. The best thing is to know the difference between the types of metals in order to select the best metal option for your projects.

Fine silver, for instance, hardly tarnishes at all! Sterling silver has a higher percentage of copper, over fine silver, therefore tarnishes more quickly than fine silver although the tarnishing process can be slowed by storing findings, and even the finished designs, in plastic zip-top bags. Add anti-tarnish strips for an added tarnish resistance.

Plated items, which have an industry standard of 0.15 to 0.25 mils thickness of gold, silver or nickel plated to the surface of the base metal, look very similar to precious metal findings. They are somewhat more brittle and tarnish easier, although are quite a bit less expensive than the precious-metal type. What you may have been using in your first bracelets could have been gold- or silver-''finished'' clasps, also called gold or silver ''color'' or "washed.'' In these findings, the brass or steel base metal is electroplated with a non-standardized thickness of gold, silver, or nickel, so tarnishing can happen more quickly if the outer layer is very thin.

Another option is stainless steel. Though it is not the same color as fine silver, it has an attractive muted grey color and is finished in shiny or matte. Stainless steel findings provide a tarnish resistant and long wearing designs. An added bonus is that stainless steel jewelry-making supplies are an excellent alternative for wearers with allergies and sensitivity to base metals such as copper or brass.

As a rule of thumb, when designing, I choose the metal that is comparable in quality to the quality of beads and components included in each design.

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