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Why I Switched to Sterling Silver for my Engraving Designs

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sterling silver personalized necklace featuring culinary grade pewter ladybug

I should clarify: why I switched to sterling silver for my engraved necklaces. For now I will still be offering bracelets in silver plate and cord, and the engraved stitch markers will remain silver or gold plate (but I’ll certainly take requests for sterling silver versions ;)). As far as my most popular items – which are my necklaces – we’re going sterling silver all the way. 🙂

Time for Change

Back in mid-January it hit me: it was time for a radical change. I was slogging through my list of sterling silver requests. The list of, “if you ever do a sterling silver version, let me know…” and I was feeling both overwhelmed and under-whelmed. There is no fun remaking something that you already make, and happen to make a decent amount of. Quite frankly, I was bored. Normally I combat boredom by developing something new. But by necessity I was pushing myself to do sterling silver versions of certain designs. People asked for them a year ago and I had to make it happen. It was the key to shaking this stale feeling, the unmotivated feeling that has been creeping up over time. I was going through the motions, with something that I am passionate and love to do.

A-H engraved stitch markers have gotten an updated look but will remain silver plated
A-H engraved stitch markers have gotten an updated look but will remain silver plated

To throw another wrench into it, I think too much. I over think everything. One reason why sterling silver versions had not yet been completed, is because I over analyze and essentially talk myself out of it. It seems too complicated. So finally one afternoon I asked myself, what do I find the most complicated about it? And the answer was juggling all the options. Having a silver plated option, vs. a sterling silver option. Then add to it a gold plated option vs. a gold-filled option. That’s up to 4 options for one necklace design. The answer was to upgrade everything to sterling silver, and concentrate on 14kt gold-filled later.

What? Discontinue successful products? Why in the world would I do that? But this time instead of thinking it over (and over) I just did it. Like, when you have a really stuck band-aid. Just rip it off really fast, rather than peeling it slowly and feeling every single tug on the skin. This is the analogy of my entire life. Otherwise, I would never make a decision!

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Culinary grade pewter teddy bear (I love the detail in this little guy!) on a personalized sterling silver necklace

You know what? The decision has been just what I needed. By discontinuing many products I was able to see more clearly what needed to be done, instead of feeling overwhelmed with too many products, too many options, and too many what-ifs. I got so much done in a week. Many prototypes were completed, and photographs taken. The pictures were okay – but they were good enough to get the items relisted and presented for the February newsletter (I have since re-taken the product photos and my photography skills aren’t the strongest, but the final set of photos has the energy and vibe I want to convey). I have that excitement again: the sweaty palm, bubbling from the pit of my stomach feeling that I get when I create something wonderful.

Value

A few years ago (okay, maybe a tad more than a few) I would never dream to use plated items or base metal for my jewelry. That’s because sterling silver was so. cheap. I used to do all my prototypes in sterling silver – I considered it scrap metal! When I purchased my manual engraver and started teaching myself engraving, I had bought some silver plated blanks for practice. The price of silver soared, and the landscape of selling handmade online totally changed. All of a sudden, everyone was selling something they made on the internet. Plus, there were mass-produced companies popping up everywhere that needed individuals to sell their products, often times masquerading as handmade. And the prices were all. over. the. place. On top of it all, many people were struggling financially so there was no room for life’s extras. I had to look at where I could cut cost, and the best way to do it was in the supply cost. My cost: AKA my time and expertise was already as low as I could go.

How cute is this little pewter turtle paired with the sterling silver engraving blank
How cute is this little pewter turtle paired with the sterling silver engraving blank

I rarely get complaints on my silver plated and gold plated items. I think most people understand that plated items are a crap shoot since there is no guarantee the level of tarnish or when tarnish will happen – everybody’s body chemistry is different. And the pieces were priced accordingly. It was certainly affordable. But even one disappointed customer is a disappointment to me, especially when you consider most of the purchases are as gifts and have stories attached to them. Many people are hurting and grieving, or have overcome a hardship that they want to honor. The silver plated items were intended to be a gesture – I never dreamed that people would become so attached to their necklace, that they would wear it often, even to the point of not taking it off.

Sterling silver does not always agree with everyone’s body chemistry, I do know a few individuals who can’t wear it at all. But for the majority of people the main issue with sterling silver is tarnish. Luckily, tarnish can be removed via a polishing cloth or even with hot water, tin foil and baking soda. Offering products in sterling silver gives me piece of mind that they will stand up to much love and wear.

Keeping it affordable

The biggest issue with offering sterling silver is to how to keep it affordable. I design with the philosophy that everyone deserves a nice product that they can be proud of. Silver has stabled in price, so it makes it more attainable. I buy in bulk: wholesale lots. So I have to make sure I have the funds to front the cost of large orders. It is the only way I can offer my work at the prices I do. That, and I donate a lot of my time. A lot. That’s the truth. Being the sole designer, sales person, marketer, photographer, copywriter, graphic designer, web designer (with help from my developer husband), and accountant means I really should be tripling or even quadrupling my cost (a topic for another day…).

Knowing where my supplies come from

I buy my sterling silver engraving disks from US suppliers. The disks are made in the USA and one supplier in particular smelts scrap metal to make their sterling silver sheet (disks are cut from sheet). The culinary grade pewter charms are made in the USA. The sterling silver cast charms are European or US made. The older I get, and the more informed I get, the more I would prefer to buy as close to home as possible. Plus, I have an established relationship with these suppliers. I can trust them.

Sterling silver engraving disks and culinary grade pewter charms: Made in the USA
Sterling silver engraving disks and culinary grade pewter charms: Made in the USA

An over-all product I can be proud of

I am confident with my skills and abilities. Am I perfect? No. Do I make mistakes? Of course. I am happy to fix and honor them. It happens. But I have no control over supplies that are simply not up to par. I am at a different place in my life. My philosophy has always been, would I wear it? And these days I don’t wear many of the items I originally developed. So after it is all said and done, this is the crux of change for me.

bb3 is still a project: I hesitate to call it a business as I just don’t have the time or resources to hire or grow it. It is a labour of love born out of the belief that we truly can get back to basics, express ourselves, be creative – and support local and small industries. It’s my reflection of where we are as a society – where mass produced, non-personal, bought without a thought does not always equate to better. It’s about spreading a little joy, a little positivity, a little healing, one item at a time.

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Jewelry Inspired: Aqua Blues…

So the other day I had the opportunity to have an adventure in sea blue – or aqua blue as these particular beads are properly called. I currently have dyed quartz and fiber optic cat’s eye beads in aqua blue. I have beads of all colours of the rainbow in the cabinet…so I love to get requests for specific colours to work with esp. if it is one I have not touched in awhile. I mean really, do I need an excuse to get creative? Twist my rubber arm…

Check out these dyed faceted quartz beads paired with sterling silver hoops. I tell you, the pictures do not do these babies justice: so pretty and sparkly!

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I also have many round 4mm dyed quartz beads. Kind of boring, you know? So I had this idea to wrap them around some memory wire  – the bracelet size – with 24ga sterling silver wire to make a fun & funky hoop earring. I have not worked in memory wire in a long time, & due to the success of this experiment I think I will be doing more projects using memory wire in this way. I can also see making some cool pendants & such as well, not just earrings!

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The hoops face back-to-front when you wear them – just like a normal pair of hoop earrings. I decided to put them on sterling silver French ear hooks (earwires) for comfort.

Finally, I really love the look of this hue of blue with white, so I wanted to make a dangly pair coupled with a freshwater pearl accent…and here you have it: 4mm dyed quartz, fiber optic cat’s eye beads and 5mm frewshwater pearls on sterling silver:

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It was really fun to work with this colour amongst all the Fall colours here in Québec…really makes me long for white sandy beaches and turquoise seas! 🙂

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100 Days of Creativity: Day 70

When I started to think this morning about what would be my inspiration for today’s creations, I decided to take direction from my destash pile of beads. I have these 4mm faceted garnet beads to use up. One of those, I needed some for a creation awhile back & over bought…sooo…thinking about it, I didn’t want to make the same garnet pieces I made back in January for a birthstone theme, I really wanted to pair these up with something more light. Since we are heading into wedding & formal season,  I decided to pair them up with some freshwater pearls. This is two of four pieces that I started. These two, a bracelet and necklace, are finished & I’ll complete the other two tomorrow:

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Interesting info: garnet is the birthstone for the month of Janurary and also the planetary stone for those born under the sign of Scorpio. Pearls are the birthstone for the month of June & also the planetary stone for those born under the sign of Cancer.

Till tomorrow…

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100 Days of Creativity: Day 69

Today was mookaite day. I felt the need to add a couple more affordable pieces to my Artfire Studio, and mookaite came to mind. This bead stands really well on its own therefore I thought it was the appropriate choice for these pieces. Mookaite (also spelled moukaite) is a form of jasper native to Australia. Stone variance from a reddish brown, tan and cream colored.

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You can see by comparing the first and second pair of earrings, there really is a neat variance to the colour of the stone. Truly one of my favourites to work with. As far as lore goes, mookaite is believed to aid in in embracing new circumstances, acts as an emotional protector, encourages the desire for variety & new experiences, enhances decision making & helps us when dealing with negative situations. Indeed, a fascinating stone.

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100 Days of Creativity: Day 66

Thank you daylight savings time…I didn’t think I would be able to post my thing for today since I was out. I didn’t get anything created all day. But, I was able to put together these simple & affordable earrings at 5pm right before supper. Thanks to the extended daylight, I even got photos.

I put these earrings in my Etsy Shop & not my Artfire Studio as I had another sale today dipping my inventory below 100. I wanted to add a couple more affordable pieces, & these chip bead hoops seem to be quite popular:

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The first pair are snowflake obsidian chips. The second is crazy lace agate…I always loved the name of that stone. 🙂 Affordable at $12 & free shipping. In this economy, I can see why simple & affordable would be attractive to customers.

Hopefully I will be home tomorrow as I would like to make something a bit more intricate. But, since I can’t sit for very long comfortably I’m not sure I can swing that anyway…

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Storing Your Jewelry

It is inevitable that we must clean our jewelry from time to time, especially sterling silver jewelry, which will tarnish over time. The exposure to air, moisture, our own body oils, perfumes, lotions & makeup will eventually dull a piece regardless of what it is made out of. There are a few ways I recommend for storing your jewelry in order to slow down the tarnishing process.

I recommend wiping all pieces down with a soft cloth to remove any residual oils, lotions or makeup. Also store your jewelry separate so they do not react with metals from other pieces. One of the most effective ways for storage, although not very attractive, is to store them in a small zip lock bag. This will cut down on the air & moisture exposure & slow down tarnish. It may not be as pretty as storing them in a jewelry pouch, but there is the added plus of being able to see the piece through the bag. I store all my jewelry for sale in small plastic baggies with an anti-tarnish strip (more on these shortly) arranged in large binders. I can easily see the piece I am looking for to get it ready for shipping quickly.

When you buy a piece from me, I supply a small cloth pouch & an anti-tarnish strip. The strip helps absorb moisture that contributes to tarnishing. Wiping the pieces down with a soft cloth & storing in the pouch with the strip works well for slowing down tarnish & protecting the piece. You can purchase anti-tarnish strips widely on the internet from bead shops, auction sites and direct from the manufacturer.

Jewelry with gold-filled components will not tarnish as sterling silver will, so keeping them safely tucked away in a jewelry pouch or zip lock bag giving them a gentle wipe down with a soft cloth now & again will probably do the trick.

CARING FOR PEARLS
Jewelry containing pearls should have a little extra attention taken to them. Pearls are the most fragile of gemstones, being that they are made up of porous organic material, and tend to absorb foreign materials easily. It is recommended that you store your pearls separate from other jewelry, although I always recommend you store your jewelry separated. Pearls prefer to be stored in a cloth bag/jewelry pouch. Make sure you put on your pearls after you have applied any makeup, lotions, perfumes, or hair spray/products. If your pearls come in contact with any food, wipe clean with a moistened soft cloth immediately. Avoid chlorinated water.

It is also recommended to wipe pearls after wear to remove any residue with a soft jeweler’s cloth. Do not use commercial cleaners or ultrasonic cleaners, soaps/detergents, or steam cleaning.

I have cleaned my own personal pieces containing pearls with the baking soda/salt method mentioned under Simple & Effective Jewelry Cleaners, just omitting the detergent, and being sure to use distilled water and not tap water (which may contain chlorine). The results were fine: clean silver, and the pearls were left undamaged. I wouldn’t recommend this on your high-end pearl pieces, though. Definitely try at your own risk.

It seems the best way to clean your pearl jewelry is to invest in a small jewelry cloth. I will be eventaully offering these for sale on my website.

Proper storage of your jewelry will mean less cleaning time for you & more time for you to enjoy your pieces.

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100 Days of Creativity: Day 62

Finally! A beautiful day! Felt like spring & the sun came out…a great way to start daylight savings time. Only, it doesn’t make me motivated to stay in and make jewelry. I did however, get 4 pairs of earrings made. Simple designs, mind you. I always feel unfulfilled when I just make simple pairs of earrings. Then today I had a sale in my Etsy Shop of a similar style…so I guess that’s all the confirmation I need that it’s well worth doing! 🙂

It was the day of the hoop earring. I made these gold-filled hoops with a cloisonné bead theme:

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Then these chip bead sterling silver hoops featuring turritella agate & red tiger’s eye:

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I’d love to get my hands on more turritella agate. I love the beautiful pattern of the stone. Anyway, I have a terrible crick in my neck so I have to keep it short & sweet tonight…

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100 Days of Creativity: Day 60

I could have made more jewelry today while this piece was in the tumbler but it was so dark I figured it wouldn’t be worth it since I couldn’t get a decent shot anyway. I started this one last night & finished it this morning:

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It was hard to get a decent shot but it truly a fun, funky ring. It contains a 10x14mm faceted quartz bead wrapped in 20 guage sterling silver wire. I make these rings on a whim for fun so I don’t pay much attention to size. This one turned out to be quite small even for my fingers; size 4. According to a fellow jewelry maker, size 7 is the most common size for rings. Ooops. I have a size 5 ring finger myself. But, it’s made & hopefully it will appeal to someone with small fingers who has a hard time finding rings to fit. Great for a teen, as well.

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100 Days of Creativity: Day 53

Holy crick in the neck!!!  This was a lot of listing…I got in the zone this afternoon and made these 5 pairs of earrings today:

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For the sake of my neck I will try to be brief…I was inspired again by the up-coming St. Patrick’s Day…actually, I was happy to have an opportunity to work with malachite again! I have quite a bit of it and no opportunity to play with it lately. 🙂

I am putting the push on to get my 100 things. I am so close, so I am motivated to just get it done! I do enjoy making earrings when I need volume. It’s like a gratifying creative snack! Once the energy gets flowing I can usually churn out several pars in such a short period of time. They are also easy to photograph so there is not a lot of time editing pictures. Hence, 5 pairs in one afternoon…and afternoon for me with a toddler doesn’t mean the full 4 hours!

A very productive day. For more on malachite & these pieces please visit heavenly flower on Etsy

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100 Days of Creativity: Day 51

Whew, I think my eyes are bloodshot tonight! Another busy day & I am still amazed at how much energy I have.  Still, I also feel myself quickly fading…so on to the shiny happy things created today…

I was struck with the luck o’ the Irish today! 4 pairs of earrings in anticipation for St. Patrick’s Day:

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I am really happy with how these turned out!  Sometimes themed items can look a bit tacky but I think these are lovely if I don’t say so myself. The first pair I entitled “Celtic Wedding” as I think they would make a lovely bridal pair as well. I am happy to work in malachite with the other three pieces. I haven’t had the opportunity to work in this rich green stone for a very long time!

What I am not happy with, is my descriptions of the pieces in my Etsy listings. They were rather…blah…because I am feeling rather brain dead tonight. So tomorrow I want to rework the wording & also add a bit of information on the history of the Celtic knot symbol. But, that is for another day. I also have ideas for a Celtic themed necklace & bracelet. I have to run into the city tomorrow to the Naturopathic Doctor to pick up my herbs for birth preparation, so I’m not sure if I’ll get to that tomorrow or not…we shall see what my head comes up with tomorrow…