How to Use Silver Wire and Findings on Any Budget

Jun 29, 2009

How to Use Silver Wire and Findings on Any Budget

It wasn’t all that long ago that I used nothing but sterling silver in all my jewelry. My ear wires, clasps, jump rings, chain, even crimps—all of it was sterling. Of course, that was back when gas was a dollar, our houses were worth more than we’d ever dreamed, and our 401Ks were making us feel like we were playing with the Big Boys. It was also when silver was going for about $4/ounce. In the past eight years, silver has climbed in price more than 200%, from around $4.00/oz in 2001 to over $14.00/oz today.

Not surprisingly, the craft jewelry market has had to rethink affordability. It would be hard to miss the sudden profusion of base-metal jewelry components available today. From steel wire for hardware chic to softly oxidized copper and brass for romantic and steampunk styles, base metals have made extraordinary inroads in the jewelry-making set. Even lead-free pewter has earned a deserved respect among jewelers. I have to admit that I’ve been won over by it all. But my first love is still sterling.

Try Sterling Silver Alternatives

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to work more frugally with silver. There are actually some fabulous sterling alternatives on the market. If you’re a lover of shiny silver, Parawire makes a silver craft wire with a copper core that has a wonderful, permanent high-shine finish.  And if you prefer oxidizing your silver jewelry, you can get German silver wire, also with a copper core. It takes oxidization with liver of sulfur just the way sterling does. Just be careful when you're buffing it, as you can buff down to the copper fairly easily. If you’re making a bracelet or necklace with beautiful beads and very little wire will show, you may want to use this less expensive wire. In the interest of full disclosure, always let your customers know if you’ve used a sterling alternative.

Use Every Scrap

There are ways to really stretch the use and the look of sterling, while conserving at the same time. If you’re using sterling wire, try to work directly from the spool, so you don’t end up with as many wasted snips. And save absolutely every scrap. Tiny scraps can be collected and turned into a precious metal recycler. Any scraps of an inch or longer can frequently be used for emergency head pins, or hammer and drill them into fun little dangles to add to a design. While I’m talking about head pins, you can save a lot of money by making your own to the length you need at the moment, instead of wasting purchased ones that may be too long.

Add Spacers, Dangles, and Chain

Another way I add sterling value to my pieces is to include a smattering of sterling spacers or dangles. And I love buying fabulous, patterned Thai or Bali silver chain and using only a few links in a piece. Be on the lookout for chain with links that are not soldered. You can use individual links as fancy jump rings.

Need more ideas? Every issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry is packed with ideas for using sterling silver.  In the new Summer issue check out Cassie Donlen’s Whimsical Wrapped Bracelet. You can use heavy gauge craft wire for the cuff since it’s completely covered up with sterling twisted wire. And seven more projects use a little sterling for a whole lot of impact!

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KimberlyH@30 wrote
on Jun 29, 2009 9:38 AM
Is Parawire different from Artistic wire?
kzoretic wrote
on Jun 29, 2009 10:44 AM
I am wondering how one could submit a wire project to Step by Step Wire. I make a wonderful little hammered wire heart and I have created a method of doing them that is relatively easy. (I've never seen anyone else do this and I've never seen a explanation of the way I do them. You can see a necklace made with the hammered heart here: Thanks you Kay Zoretic
on Jun 29, 2009 11:11 AM
I was a student in the 1960s. The price of silver was about $1.30 an ounce. Gas was well under a dollar. You could rent a house for under $150.00 for a whole month. Silver is still underpriced. Everyone should stop complaining about the price. Working in silver is still a bargin. Try working in something more expensive like silk. In weaving waste is really waste and must usually be thrown away.
BobR@3 wrote
on Jun 29, 2009 4:59 PM
I have tried the Parawire silver craft wire to make jump rings, but it is VERY soft. I always try to use half-hard wire, but sometimes a seller does not state the hardness properties. If you assume a standard of half-hard, then you might get a surprise. Now that I know more about wire, I use German made sterling filled wire with a copper core. Works and looks like sterling.
MetalGrannie wrote
on Jun 30, 2009 1:01 AM
I'd like to know as well the comparison of Artistic Wire (which I've been using) to Parawire. Has anyone used both? Price-wise, Parawire is a bargain. I get Artistic Wire from and they have free shipping, though. Parawire's shipping is $7.95 for the minimum $20 order.
MetalGrannie wrote
on Jun 30, 2009 11:24 AM
Update: I called Parawire and spoke to Kevin, and he graciously offered to send me a sample of the wire I was inquiring about, so I can compare it to Artistic Wire. If it's comparable, then I can go ahead and get the BIG roll from Parawire. That was very nice of him to send me the sample, dontcha think?
Denise Peck wrote
on Jun 30, 2009 11:42 AM
I'm afraid I don't know how the two wires (Parawire & Artistic Wire) compare in hardness. It is true that Parawire is very soft and easy to work with, however, it will work-harden, as any wire will. It can also be hammered, generally, with success, though if you hammer too much, you can get down to the copper core. Regarding submitting projects to Step by Step Wire Jewelry, all you need to do is send a jpeg to me at We review submissions regularly, and will get back to you fairly quickly with a decision. I encourage EVERYONE to send along pictures of their work. We are always looking to fill issues!