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Silver The Most Radiant Of All Metals
Silver is the metal where you can get the real big surprise and discover that what you have bought does not contain any silver at all, although labeled as such.
A very brief history:
This precious metal was discovered after copper and gold, and is the most plentiful and least expensive of the precious metals. Its atomic symbol is AG from the latin Argentum. It has a hardness of 3.25 on the mohs scale, and is a soft and malleable metal. It tarnish and get dark fairly quick, which is the drawback with using it in jewelry.
Real, valuable argentum is called fine- or Sterling silver (SS). The name probably originated in the 1100's where several towns in Germany formed the Hanseatic league and started making their own coins from 925 silver. The coin soon became the standard for British coins, through trading with Germany. The British imported metal refiners and equipment from Germany to make coins on their own and these coin were originally called Tealby pennies or Easterling silver, which soon was shortened to SS.
SS is 92.5% argentum and 7.5% Copper. This formula was accepted in 1972 as one of three formulas by the nations that signed the Vienna Convention. This precious metal is, like gold, very soft and malleable. Therefor it has to be alloyed with other metals to improve durability. Argentum is not alloyed with Nickel and can, unlike plated metals, be used by people that are allergic to Nickel.
Know what you are buying:
It can be plated like gold, through the same procedure, and will wear off over time and use. The quality can vary quite a bit and used in jewelry you plan to sell, I would recommend you to go for a better quality, not the cheapest one . If you want the solid, real thing it should be stamped with the numbers 950. If it is not stamped it may be something of lesser quality like alpaca silver, which is a Nickel alloy with no or very little of the precious metal, Nickel- or German-silver which contains absolutely nothing of it at all.
When the name of the precious metal is mentioned, it does not necessarily mean that it is SS 925. In fact listings with only silver, may be cheap metal alloys. Silver- tone, color, effect and antiqued only means the color of the piece, not that it is made of the precious metal or even contain a fraction of it. You should be aware of this, since they often contain alloys with heavier metals like lead, to give the feel of the real thing. Lead is very toxic and may be health damaging, especially to children and pregnant women. Serious dealers gives information about this, but not all.
Bali beads are made in Indonesia, on the island Bali. Their metal smith history goes way back for generations. In the 1970 when tourism started to bloom, their argentum beads and jewelry became very in demand, and today Bali beads have become a sort of brand name for metal beads from Bali. The metal used is very pure and contains between 92,5 and 99.9% argentum.
Bali beads are quite unique and beautiful. They are made by a technique called granulation which means that it is a sharp contrast between the dark antiqued base and the shining and polished spheres of silver attached in geometric patterns. They are richly embellished with decorative applique and wire wrappings. These beads are called traditional Balinese beads. Beads from Java, another Indonesian island, are more like filigree work or beads with flat shiny surfaces with stream like plin, which means joints.
Unfortunately there are people making false Bali beads of lesser quality. Copies of Bali design can today be found in other countries. These beads are often made by casting and not hand made like a real Bali bead. If the dots/embellishments bleed into one another, this may be a sign that this bead is made by casting and not by hand.
Therefore when buying Balinese beads, you should look out for frauds. These beads may also have a more reddish blue yellowing or splotchy backgrounds which indicates that ink has been used instead of the real oxidation of the antiquing process. A very light or very heavy bead may also indicate that they are made of other metals.
Always ask the dealer to verify how much argentum the beads or jewelry you want to buy contain. If he can not provide this information, don't buy from him. Bali beads are made of SS or even purer, so the price should be accordingly. If the price is too low or you are promised a good deal, go away, and buy somewhere else.
Hill tribe silver:
Northern Thailand, close to the borders to Laos and Burma, is populated by former nomadic tribes that live up in the hills. They used to live as farmers and from crops of Opium until King Bhumibol saw their unique jewelry that had been made for generations. He made a deal with them that they could stay in Thailand, if they stopped the Opium trade and helped them to be self sufficient, commercializing their tradition in jewelry making instead. He provided them with metals and what they needed, and today the center of their jewelry production lies in Chiang Mai.
The Hill tribes are lots of different ethnic groups that migrated from China into Laos, Cambodia, Burma Vietnam and Thailand. Today there are between 15 to 20 groups and the Karen Tribe is the largest. Jewelry making is part of their culture, and today artisans are trained in making jewelry in the old tradition, where each piece is hand made. It is said that their jewelry making tradition goes as far back as to the 12th century. Earlier the tribes came down to weekly markets selling their jewelry, and wearing them themselves as a symbol of wealth.
Their jewelry is shaped as and engraved with plants, flowers, animals or geometric designs as symbols on their connection to land and water. Each piece is handmade , intricately carved and contains between 98 and 99% argentum. I have not found any warnings about copies of Hill tribe jewelry and beads, so I cannot tell you what to be aware of when it comes to these lovely beads, other than follow usual precautions about where you buy them and the price they are sold for. Cheap is not always good, and may mean that it is not the real thing.
Bali-, Hill tribe- and Thai silver is at least 97 – 99% of the real thing, so if you buy them from a decent dealer you will get the real value both in metal and looks.
Tibetan and Nepalese silver:
Jewelry and metal beads from Tibet are part of their ethnic costume. They are handmade and often large, almost oversized. The jewelry is made by women and mostly for spiritual reasons. The craft has been passed down for generations and is taught to children at an early age. Most of the jewelry is still handmade.
When Tibet was invaded by the Chinese in 1950, many Tibetans fled to Nepal and they brought the craft of jewelry making with them, hence the name Nepalese silver. The jewelry and beads are often combined with gemstones like Turquoise and Lapis Lazuli, but also coral.
The metals used are mostly argentum and copper, but also occasionally gold. The argentum used is purer than SS and very expensive. However most Tibetan silver is not real argentum and most often contain no parts of it at all, but is an alloy most common with zinc. You should check whether they contain lead or nickel before you buy beads or ear wires.
Tibetan and Nepalese beads are often combined of metal and gemstones. These beads are very distinctive with the gem in the middle and metal as kind of bead caps on the ends. Many of them are really beautiful and certainly something outstanding.
But, sadly these amazing beads and jewelry are also prone for fraud. China produces cheap beads that are sold as real Tibetan beads. So again, ask the dealer what the beads you buy are made of. If he can not properly describe this or label it, it is probably not real Tibetan silver, but a cheaper variety or a total fake one.
In general stay away from everything that says that it is xxx style, like Bali style beads or Tibet style beads. These are often of poor quality and not the real thing. And, again, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Not everything that glimmers is gold, and certainly not silver!
Metal beads. What to look for and what to avoid.
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