Silver plating is a great option available for jewellery makers. Silver has risen in price quite dramatically in recent years and continues to be a fairly unstable, volatile stock market commodity. Therefore silver plating offers a cheaper alternative to solid silver, especially for individuals making jewellery purely as a hobby for themselves. Plating is also useful for anyone who favours larger jewellery which would be too expensive to make in solid silver on a regular basis. Or sometimes a prototype turns out well and is deemed good enough ‘as is’ and plated. It is virtually impossible to tell the difference between real silver and a silver plated copper item.
I now make all my prototypes out of copper. I find it allows me to be much freer when I’m working out ideas. I can experiment without the high price of materials niggling away at the back of my mind. Then if I want to make the item to sell I can weigh the copper version and work out the price for the silver version without having to actually make one until I get an order. And if I like how the prototype has turned out – guess what I get it plated and actually get a version for myself and one that I can wear as an advertisement to sell from. So this can be a really handy low cost selling tool.
Silver plating does not hide imperfections. Whatever condition your work is in when it is sent for plating – it will be returned in the same condition. It will just be a different colour! So work should be totally finished, polished and tumbled. Mixed metals can be sent to be silver plated. For instance it is fine to send items made with a mixture of silver, copper and gilding metal on the same piece. I often make findings that will have to withstand a lot of friction wear out of silver. Jump rings on a bracelet will wear more quickly than the other parts on the piece so if the silver wears off silver components it won’t show up. I also often make bezels for stone setting out of silver. That way if there’s a ’slip-up’ whilst setting the stone I won’t scratch the silver off the bezel.
It is even possible to send items with the stones set prior to silver plating. Hard stones like tiger’s eye and amethyst should be fine. But porous or soft stones like amber and pearls will not fare well with the chemicals involved so it is worth researching or asking your plater first before sending anything you are unsure about. Glass and polymer will survive the process, so polymer clay or glass beads and cabochons can be added to completed work prior to sending to be plated if necessary. Resins, cold enamel, araldite and glues will not however go through the plating process intact so these must be added to items afterwards.
Any hollow items like beads with holes should have holes big enough to allow liquid to freely exit the piece. Cyanide is used in the process so your silver plater will be reluctant to plate items which may harbour trapped chemicals. Your items will be ‘wired up’ – this means that they will be strung on to a long length of copper wire along with a load of other items ready to be dipped into all the relevant chemical baths. So – make it easy for your plater to be able to wire. Drill any holes needed, like holes for ear-wires, on the finished item before they’re sent. The holes can be used to wire up. Also drilling through the metal after it is plated will show the copper / base metal, as you will be cutting the plating away with the drill.
Silver plating is relatively cheap compared to solid silver as said earlier. But plating prices will fluctuate with the fluctuating price of silver so it is normal to find that the same items sent at different times of year may be differently priced.
Well – the old adage ‘how long is a piece of string’ applies here! The plating will last forever on an item that is never worn. A ring that is worn everyday on hands used to build sand castles on the beach may not last very long at all. But if the plating wears off – shine it up, put it through the tumbler and get it re-plated. I have given some quite harsh treatment to some plated items. I’ve used silver dip to clean tarnished plated items. I’ve added liver of sulphur patina. I’ve even soldered a few items, sometimes the plating survives – sometimes it doesn’t! It depends how long it takes for the solder to flow as to whether the plating gets burnt away or not. The tumbler shouldn’t do any damage at all and I almost always re-tumble items as soon as they come back from the plater’s to remove the white matt bloom that sometimes occurs.
Some platers charge a minimum fee, so give them a call first for a chat, before you send your work for the first time. If you are attending at the studio you can hand it in and I’ll send it for you when I have several items. I use a couple of different companies for plating and neither of them have a minimum order requirement. However, I always prefer to send a ‘bag full’ of work if I can, to make the job worthwhile for them. We are lucky enough to have 2 or 3 plating companies in Sheffield so it is easy to have items plated locally. Their details are easily found on-line with a quick Google search.
We all love the lustre of silver. So don’t let the higher cost of silver inhibit your creativity. If you have found yourself stifled by the price of silver –make your items or even initial prototypes out of copper and give plating a try. You can have the lustre without the lavish price tag. This process may open up a whole new world for you. It may also make the items that you do make out of silver seem extra special.
All information above is correct to the best of my knowledge. Further information can be researched on-line if you need it: