Bali and Thai Silver Components
In recent years, silver components from Bali and the Hill Tribes of Thailand have become popular in jewelry, and I use them in many of my designs. Components consist of handmade beads, pendants, toggles, clasps, charms and chain that are imported from these places. They add rich texture and contrast to jewelry made of stone, glass, and pearl, and excitement to many designs.
Sterling silver consists of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. Fine silver contains 99.9% pure silver. Bali and Thai silver can be in a range of these silver content percentages, but the majority of it, especially the Thai silver, is at the 99.9% level, making it a finer silver than much of the jewelry we buy at the counter in American shops.
Bali is an island among all the other islands that form Indonesia. Certain communities specialize in the art of silversmithing, and pass their art to succeeding generations. The artists often use very simple tools, but with them achieve little works of art! They begin with pure silver that is mined in parts of Indonesia, mixing it with a tiny bit of copper to make it stronger, and a tiny bit of borax, which helps the metals melt when heated with a torch.
Once melted, the silver is poured into a mold to create sheets or wire. From these pieces, the silver is cut into different shapes and sizes to form beads. Filagree type designs are created by cutting small holes into the metal, soldering thin wires onto the pieces, and applying granulation, resulting in a surprisingly wide variety of designs. After the beads are formed, they are cleaned with a solution made from tamarind fruit, then dipped into an antiquing solution which fills the grooves with a dark color and creates a contrast between the high and low parts of the bead. In this way, the beautiful pattern of the bead is enhanced.
Thai Hill Tribes Silver
During the last decade, Thai artisans from the Hilltribes of northern Thailand have gained a wonderful reputation for their beautiful, artistic creations in silver. Before that, these poor tribes earned much of their income from opium sales, but with government support, the growth of their new industry in silver artisanry and sales has set these people in a new direction and given them a better way of life.
The Hill Tribes consist of about 20 different tribes, including the Karen, the Hmong, and the Yao. Every member of the family becomes involved in the creation of silver beads, pendants and jewelry. After melting down the silver with torches, and pouring it into molds, very small pieces are shaped by a long process of tapping. The process is very similar to that of the Bali artisans, but the style is uniquely Thai.
Thai silver pieces are amazing works of art, all made by hand, and little or no machinery. Because of this, no two pieces are exactly alike. Beads are hammered and etched, and others are sculpted into shapes, often emulating objects from nature such as ladybugs, butterflies, fish, ocean shells, leaves, and many different types of flowers. Not only do Thai silver creations enhance jewelry, they are frequently the focal point of a piece of jewelry.
Whereas Bali and Thai silver are nearly pure silver, sterling silver is required to contain 92.5% ore. It is usually mixed with 7.5% copper, which makes it stronger than pure silver. American-made sterling is of the highest quality. Sterling silver pieces generally are imprinted with "925". Silver plate is a base metal coated with a thin layer of pure silver. It makes jewelry more affordable, but the silver tends to wear off over time and with wear.
How to Care for Your Silver
All silver tarnishes naturally, but higher content silver tarnishes more slowly, and not as badly as sterling. To help prevent tarnishing, store your silver jewelry in air tight plastic baggies in a cool dry place. Some jewelry boxes are lined with anti-tarnish fabric. Do not wear silver swimming!
You can clean off tarnish using a regular cloth, or a special anti-tarnish cloth. Clean the silver carefully and avoid polishing the other beads on your jewelry, such as crystals with an AB finish, as the anti-tarnish cloth can remove that finish. Using a cloth should not damage or remove the dark oxidation in the recesses of the silver. Also used to clean the silver are lime juice or toothpaste with a soft toothbrush, then wiped clean.
Mechanical cleaners are sold for cleaning silver and most types of jewelry, including stone and pearls. Ultrasonic cleaners are widely available. You place your jewelry in the container, turn it on, and high frequency waves dislodge dirt and grime. They are highly efficient with dense materials such as metals, but can be destructive to more porous or soft stones and pearls. They are often large enough to clean a large batch of jewelry at once.
Ionic cleaners are not as widely available, but may be the better choice. They tend to be smaller, so that a smaller batch of jewelry is cleaned at a time, but are equally efficient as ultrasonic cleaners. More importantly, they are more gentle on softer materials, including pearls. The jewelry is placed in the bowl with a special cleaning solution, and when turned on, the device uses electrically charged ions for fast cleaning. Usually there is an automatic shut-off within a minute. The jewelry is thin rinsed in water to come out sparkling.
For jewelry that has grease or fatty residue, a professional steam cleaning may be in order.
Some manufacturers produce Bali and Thai-looking beads that are actually made of pewter or other alloys. Check to be sure of what you are getting... and enjoy your handcrafted silver beads!
Gold is one of the heaviest known metals and is cherished not only for its beauty, but because it is easy to work with and it's resistant to tarnishing. When we talk about "karats", 24k means that the gold is 100% pure; 18k contains 75% gold and 14k contains 58% gold. Gold that is less than 24k is blended with base metals.
"Gold filled" jewelry is made by bonding 10k gold or higher to a base metal, and is required to be at least 1/20th of the total weight of the piece. The gold is heated and pressed over base metals such as brass, bronze or nickel, and results in a metal that is stronger and more durable than pure gold.
"Gold vermeille" is at least 14k gold applied over an interior of sterling silver and retains its beauty and wearability for a long time.
"Gold plate" refers to jewelry or findings in which a very thin layer of at least 10k gold is applied to the surface of a base metal. There is much less gold on a gold plated item, and is susceptible to wearing off with time and use.
In my jewelry at Bead Euphoria, I use primarily Bali, Thai, and American sterling silver, and at least 14k gold fill and gold vermeille.