Silver metal beads
Silver has been used to create jewelry since time immemorial. The Navajos combined silver with turquoise to make gorgeous jewelry pieces like the Squash Blossom necklaces and silver bracelets with inlay work. These are popular even today. Silver is cheaper than gold but is equally attractive; with men and women, both wearing silver jewelry.
Available in a range of finishes – dull, bright, oxidized and a tantalizing choice of designs, silver beaded jewelry is versatile and economical – purchasing several pieces is affordable and the ornaments can be funky, traditional or formal. Silver chunky beaded jewelry often teamed with darker colored gemstones like navy blue, dark green or deep reds are now sported by men – not just as rings but also chains, bracelets and amulets. Dull or tarnished silver beads complement the tough exteriors of stylish men and make great gifts – different from the traditional clothes and perfumes. Oxidized silver jewelry can be bought off the streets at dirt-cheap prices (although the purity of the metal is questionable).
Other than silver, gold is the other precious metal popularly used to make beaded jewelry. Platinum being highly priced is also used but is available at select premium outlets which cater to an exclusive clientele.
Silver shining beads have an allure that makes jewellery sparkle and liven up the dullest outfits. Pure silver is extremely malleable and lends itself to making very thin sheets and wires. Silver can be made into sheets so thin that they are almost transparent and allow light to pass through. In fact, over one hundred thousand such sheets placed over each other will equal only one inch! Thin wires finer than a human hair can be drawn out of pure silver easily. Although good quality silver stays bright for a long time eventually, it starts to blacken as the pollutants in the atmosphere react with it.
For jewellery making purposes, silver is mixed with other metals especially copper to form an alloy which gives it strength, the addition also makes it possible to craft the silver into desired shapes and sizes.
Types of Silver beads
While all silver used for crafting jewellery is not 100% pure, it helps to know the common terms referred to while buying silver beaded jewellery. Silver is marked as per its purity – pure silver jewellery will refer to a minimum mix of copper ranging from 1% to 3% in pure silver.
Sterling silver beads have at least 7.5% of copper mixed and are approximately 92.5% pure. Sterling silver is stronger than pure silver and it is easier to carve and mold sterling silver beads. These beads usually have a dull finish and the niches are tarnished giving them a vintage appearance. In some countries, sterling silver is not called sterling but is marked .925 indicating the purity of the silver is 92.5%.
Nickel silver or German silver is so called only because it resembles silver beads. These beads have no silver in them and are actually an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc.
Handmade silver beads can make heads turn with their beautiful designs and carvings. Some of the most popular handmade silver beads come from the island nations of Bali and Thailand . The former is known as Bali Silver and the latter as Hill Tribe Silver. These gifted silver artisans create tiny works of art with their hands and usually it is impossible to find two pieces which are alike. These beads have very distinct designs – mostly depicting images from nature (animals, trees, birds, flowers etc.) and are usually tarnished or oxidized. Most of these beads are sterling silver in order to achieve the traditional effect.
Manual techniques and very few implements are employed by the artisans in these island nations to create interesting designs which have found acclaim throughout the world. Silver is melted and then either made into sheets and wires or poured into moulds. The wires or sheets are cut to create various shapes and sizes of beads. Some beads are made by poking holes in the sheets and fusing wires onto it creating gorgeous filigreed beads. Designs are sometimes engraved onto the beads giving it the distinct appearance of Bali Silver and Hill Tribe silver. The last part of the process is oxidization, where the beads are dipped into various liquids to highlight the images on the bead.
Buying & Caring tips
Hollow silver beads are lighter than the solid ones and care should be taken while using beaded jewellery with hollow silver beads as they can dent easily. Solid silver beads should be bought from reliable stores since they could easily be pewter beads with just a silver plate on top. Compare prices – solid silver beads will be more expensive than silver plated beads and will weigh lesser than them since pewter is heavier than silver. .
Always check the purity of the silver before buying beads – the price of sterling silver beads will be cheaper than pure silver although the amount of effort and time spent in carving or finishing the bead will also determine the price. Handcrafted beads will usually cost more.
Many manufacturers now machine make beads and call them Bali Silver and Hill Tribe Silver since the designs are the same as the authentic Bali and Hill Tribe silver beads. Make sure you check the authenticity of the origination on the beads before purchasing handcrafted beaded jewellery.
Buy your silver jewellery after deciding the purpose, if you require it for daily wear, buy beads which have the least amount of metals added – the silver should be at least 98% to 99% pure. Higher purity will ensure no tarnish for a longer time although the design of the beads should be such that it can tolerate the stress of daily usage.
Over a period of time, silver tarnishes. Pure silver tarnishes slowly and silver mixed with other metals has a quicker rate of blackening. This is also a test to check the purity of your silver beads.
Many silver beaded jewellery carry a tarnished appearance to give the piece depth and an antique look. One needs to be very careful while cleaning (if required) such silver beaded ornaments. The tarnish can be removed with anti-tarnish polishes, or even lemon juice or toothpaste with a soft cloth.
Cleaning silver beaded jewellery embellished with crystals or enameled beads or any other beads treated with coatings need special care. Remember the anti-tarnish polish or lemon juice will react with the coatings and normally expose the bead under the coating ruining the complete piece.
Store your silver beads away from pollutants in a soft cloth bag or airtight plastic covers. Remember to wipe the silver after use and avoid spraying harmful chemicals on it. Unless, you like the tarnished look, don’t wear your silver beads while swimming or in the shower.
Delicate filigreed beads, carved by the tribal artisans, wound around semi-precious stones, chunky large stand alone beads as pendants – silver beads are always in vogue.