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Pewter, Not Just A Cheap Substitute For Silver

Pewter focal in bead embroidered collar

What Pewter is:
I must admit that I always have looked upon this metal as something cheap. A substitute for more valuable metals like real silver or gold. But there actually is a huge variety in quality that range from very expensive to very cheap, depending on the quality on the metals in the alloy and the skills with witch the beads or jewelry are made.

The metal is an alloy made with 85 to 99% tin and the remaining consisting of copper, antimony and bismuth. The mix varies depending on what the alloy is used for and there are small differences in where the it is made. The Asian is slightly softer than European alloy.

Copper is added to soften the tin and make it easier to work with. Antimony is added to make it bright and slow down the tarnishing. It does oxidize, but very slowly and evenly. It darkens with time to a warm and soft patina.

A brief history:
The metal actually has a long and prosperous history. It probably came to use in the bronze age in the vest Asia. It has been found in Egyptian tombs dating 1450 BC.
Although we don't look upon it as a particularly valuable metal alloy today, it once was treasured as something only the wealthiest people could afford. The alloy is made mainly of tin. Tin is the 4th most precious metal, after platinum, gold and silver, and has been mined for more than 3000 years, cherished for it silver like look and ability to be polished to high sheen.

Pewter mug

The metal bloomed when it took over as a substitute for wood and pottery. It was used for plates, mugs, trays, forks, knifes and other table and utensils early in the middle ages up to the 19th century. The early alloys contained lead, and a roman alloy that contained only tin and lead has been found in graves in England.

In the 17th century, people started to see it as health hazard, since people got lead poisoned from drinking and eating from kitchen ware made from the metal. Britannia alloy then took over the market, since it did not contain lead. England became world renown for fine pewter craftsmanship, because of their high production, design standards, established guilds and rigorous testing procedures.

In the 18th century the metal was outshone by the mass production of porcelain, and further from the development of glass. Today it is mainly used for decorative purposes and jewelry. It does no longer contain lead, so there are no longer any health concerns around it. It must meet the requirements of the newly enacted Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act of 2008, although lead has not been used in pewter since the 18th century.

Pewter snake in bead embroidered collar Pewter in jewelry making:
The alloy actually is a very popular metal in the jewelry business. It has a low melting point, good casting properties and appearance and can be polished to a bright silver like finish or be darkened with chemicals to antique it. As beads, pendants and findings, it is sold at a lower price, but higher amount of beads, than silver or gold. It will not tarnish like silver and is highly useful when making jewelry both because of its price and qualities.

It has its own merits and qualities which make it a very fine, precious metal for jewelry making and other decorative purposes. It is also sometimes used as base metal for silver or gold plated objects.

Since it is so affordable, it is a bit odd that fake pewter actually is made and sold as the real thing from unscrupulous manufacturers. These beads are normally made of Aluminum and are much lighter in weight than real pewter.

How to clean pewter jewelry:
It gets nicer the more it is worn. When used it should be washed in warm soap water and dried with a soft cloth. If you keep it in a zipper lock plastic bag, and you expel the air, it will last for ages.

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