Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The High Cost of Silver

Today sterling silver is over $30 an ounce.

You can almost hear the tears and gnashing of teeth of jewelry designers everywhere.

If none of this really means anything, if it's the first you've heard of it, allow me to put it into perspective for you. 

These are six beads I bought a week ago, wholesale.  The largest is 20mm tall.

They cost me $27.  Wholesale.

Two years ago, the beads below, also wholesale, cost me $400.  Then, I was shaking my head and half-numb at the cost of $15/ounce.  Now?  They'd cost me double.

Many of my bracelets have four to five silver beads and a large silver toggle in the mix, so doing the math .....yikes.  What are designers who use primarily sterling silver to do?  Customers traditionally don't like change, and switching to plated silver or another metal doesn't always work.

The ten year silver price chart.  
You can keep track of the silver price at www.kitcosilver.com

Why is it so high?

Some say it started when China launched precious metal futures trading in January 2008. Some say it's due to silver riding the coat tails of gold's meteoric rise to over $1000/ounce. And of course historically, precious metals go up when the dollar is down.

So what does this mean for jewelry designers?

It means we're going to have to work even harder to create unique things. Let's take this financial hit on our supplies as an opportunity to push ourselves creatively.  We can continue to use sterling silver, but perhaps less of it.  Instead, we can start looking at beads we may never have considered before.

bracelet with ceramic, wood, and lampwork glass, sterling silver wire and toggle, linked with steel rings
In some of my jewelry, instead of using the four or five silver beads I used to, I choose a pretty toggle, ONE sterling silver bead, and make the rest of the bracelet REALLY count.  The toggle is as important as the beads I choose, and focusing on it as part of the whole, making sure it blends with the entire design, is even more important now.

bracelet made with lampwork glass, ceramic, and one large Thai silver bead
While my customers have been slow to accept copper and brass (which pains me, as there are so. very. many. gorgeous options out there), I've found that by mixing it in slowly with my usual style, it's started to be picked up more often.  If you're meeting resistance to switching metals, adding things in slowly while continuing to use your regular elements (lampwork glass, polymer clay, ceramic) might be a good way to introduce these versatile, beautiful options.

bracelet made with lampwork glass, polymer clay, and copper
Two years ago, I thought, "Surely this can't last!"  And yet here we are.  In 1980, sterling silver rose to an all-time high of $49.45 an ounce.  I certainly hope we're not headed there.  HOWEVER -- I do believe that we as designers are creative enough and resourceful enough to make the most of this.  We can not only educate our buyers as to why certain pieces now cost more, but can attract customers with our new-found creativity born of necessity.  

Bronze Metal Clay pendant, brass chain, and Czech glass

So look at this high rise in sterling silver cost as a challenge to you to work outside your comfort zone.  Look at your beads in an entirely new way.  Discover new metals.  Investigate steel, pewter, and aluminum for a silver color, and view copper and brass with a new eye.  Look at your toggles and clasps not merely as a way to close a piece, but as an integral part of your design.

How have you been dealing with the high rise in the cost of sterling silver?


Barbara Lewis said...

Lori, I knew this post was yours ... they are always filled with such good information. There are some favorites in these pieces of yours. Beautiful work!

Islandgirl said...

So far I've been attempting to ignore it... I'm a horder so I'm actually using silver that was bought at a lower price point. I'm also Canadian which means that initially our $ was going up with the silver price... so it's only recently that I've noticed the price increase at the wholesalers!

I've done a few bracelets in copper.. they do tend to be overlooked... I think they're pretty!

Gardanne said...

Very informative post. I too love sterling, but the cost has pushed me to brass and copper which I would have never done had silver remained affordable.
So adversity can be a good thing. Thank you for mentioning lampwork as an alternative, as a glass beadmaker I can add real silver to the glass for that silver sparkle you are looking for.

Sherri said...

I have been trying to convert my customers over to copper for some time now. They still love the sterling but are just getting used to the copper. I have yet to try brass. I have used some plated silver but they think they are getting a less quality product but they are not willing to pay what the sterling would cost. It makes it very hard!

KristiBowmanDesign said...

Great information Lori!!

Creatively Jeweled said...

Great article!

I have found that a lot of customers just can't wrap their brains around paying so much money for sterling silver when it used to be so affordable.

ewabeads said...

Great post! You gave some really good tips on coping with the high cost of silver. I do have to say I have warmed up ALOT to the brass and copper over the last couple of years. I think these metals look great on anybody! And they are cheap!

Gardanne said...

I blogged about this post.

Christine said...

I can't even afford to buy silver wire, so I am dealing with it by not using silver at all, unless it is for a specific client order. I have turned to copper, which I adore and am happiest working and creating with. :)

Malin de Koning said...

Great post Lori.

I only started last summer to think I could buy silver myself to make parts from. Nothing advanced, just wire I would bend and hammer on to create different parts for my jewellery. I bought an oxidizing liquid aswell (not liverofsulphur, but something else). To be honest I haven't used any of it yet, coz if it is a more pricey material I don't dare to experiment and make mistakes.
So my solution is to use other materials when possible.

Michelle B. said...

Oh my - you've read my mind with this post! LOL! I've been thinking hard on what exactly to do sinse I only use .925 sterling and .999 fine silver as well as
14K gold fill (rold gold) in my designs and the price increases in both metals is outrageously ridiculous!

When I posed the question to my customers of changing some of the designs to copper, brass, gunmetal or plated materials, they turned their noses up and said "Don't you dare! Those metals 'smell awful', look cheap, and wear especially bad!" So it's been a huge challenge, but a good one as you have brilliantly pointed out, to come up with creative ways in which to incorporate other materials with out offending or alienating repeat customers.

I'm trying to focus on different types of beads and see what I can come up with that is still pleasing to my clients and I've incorporated more 'material' into my designs as well (i.e. - silk ribbon, silk and nylon cord, leather, etc.) so as not to put too many of the materials they don't like into my designs.

Thanks for this wonderful post and the great reminder that we can use everything happening in and around us to spark creativity if we only look at it with a positive light instead of looking at it negatively!


byLGD Glass Jewelry said...

The cost of silver has me shaking in my boots too. Really. I've been worried about how it will affect my business, but like everyone else out there we're trying to use other metals. In the last year I've gone to using a lot more copper and brass, which I love! It really changes things up and makes it unique. I'd like to start using pewter more too. So many choices, not just silver.

Hopefully the price will go down a bit or I might need to take up knitting. :)

Patty said...

Great post. I look at it as a personal challenge to be more creative: http://lovemyartjewelry.blogspot.com/2010/11/silver-prices-good-and-bad.html

Have a great day!


AJ said...

It's up to $30 now? Oh my. This really hits me hard as I am running low on some silver findings and should restock at the gem show next month, but I don't think I can afford to!

My solution so far has been to switch to Tierra Cast findings for some things, cheaper brass for others, and use more vintage button clasps in my beadwoven pieces.

The problem with brass and copper is that while they are beautiful, they also leave green marks on a lot of people (me included). I can't imagine wearing brass or copper earwires!

Unknown said...

I still have Sterling silver wire from last summer and dont really plan on using it unless for something really specific. Silver just really runs the prices up. I think brass is wonderful as silver just makes the pc too expensive. Jewellery sales I think in general are really sluggish so Im def not buying findings like I did in the past. I made two Butterfly necklaces in the past all wire wrapped in SS and wont be doing that for awhile again! Silver is akin the new gold. Hopefully the prices will go down. Im sticking with my Lampwork and brass!

lunedreams said...

I don't use all that much silver in my jewelry, so this hasn't hit me too bad, and I started out using all kinds of metals anyway. I ADORE copper, it's my favorite to work with. I've never used large sterling beads b/c they're too expensive--I've used a lot of pewter beads though. Happy Mango Beads has some WONDERFUL pewter beads, charms and focals. They wear well and they look great. I do a weird mish-mash of sterling, pewter and silver plate in my jewelry, and I'm meticulous in my item descriptions. My price points reflect that. No one seems to care. Many of my customers couldn't afford it if it was all sterling anyway.

Anonymous said...

Lori, I enjoyed reading this info. I think it's a good thing we work outside of silver. Explore all alternative jewelry-making metals. Broaden our design skills. Thanks for posting!

I LOVE color! said...

Very thought provoking. and such good information. I'm a gold girl so in this economy I think is a good thing to consider copper. I have gone balistic over copper It may be our new gold. Take a look ay some of my creations

Beth Hikes said...

Thank you so much for this post! I've been wondering if others have noticed this too. Chain I bought last year has doubled and getting my charms cast in sterling silver while watching the prices rise gradually over the last couple years is quite a head turner. I contemplate casting in other metals, but honestly I love the quality of sterling silver and the reflective light that seems to come from within. Bronze is beautiful but it just doesn't sing to me. I like the idea of using it sparingly which will make it all the more precious in jewelry designs.

Numinosity said...

I have been experimenting more with copper and brass as well as silk ribbons and wire lace perhaps as my own taste is leaning more toward found object/ mixed media art at the same time. I have been using up stashes of previous supplies and mixing up my metals and materials more. I haven't gone out and bought anymore Thai silver in awhile and now I'm reluctant to use or sell much of it which I had bought to resell. I think I'll hang on to it for awhile.
Thanks for asking,

Cynthia said...

Embrace brass! It is a naturally nickel-free alloy of copper and zinc and so easily tolerated by many with metal allergies, widely available and very reasonably priced.

Oh, and it's pretty!

Beads said...

Prices have been rising across the board on everything! If in doubt, steel looks great and bronze gives a distinguished look.

The sooner people catch on the better.

Dee said...

wow! It's so ironic that you posted this. I was just looking at silver prices tonight, having not purchased anything in a while, I was interested and all I could say was ouch!!! You're right, creativity is definitely going to have to be key right now.

Leslie Todd said...

I don't think silver is going down much, if any. I think it will get more expensive. There's only about 15 years worth left that can be accessed with current mining technology.

I've started using some copper and brass, as well as a few pewter pieces. I'm going to experiment with stainless steel wire.

Maneki said...

Yes, if you're creative then there's always alternatives. Always ways to turn obstacles into opportunities. Exploring and evolving as an artist.

I feel lucky that I've never really got on the "silver bandwagon". I prefer brass, copper and bronze as it fits my style. As for "white" metals, I love stainless steel, titanium and pewter/tin. Pewter doesn't have to be low quality as some unfortunately seem to think: there are fab pewter art beads using high quality lead-free alloys and not to forget the jewellery made by master pewtersmiths -- it's not just equal with cheap massproduced parts, but a real art form.

I think a high silver price can be good for us as jewellery makers if it gets people to think about the materials they use or buy. Do we use silver because it's better and more beautiful or just because we perceive it to be the metal for jewellery? The thing to distinguish between cheap tat and quality craftmanship?

I think it's important to think about the amount of silver used in a piece too, if one worries about costs. There are great examples of fab jewellery that uses silver sparsely without compromising the look of quality and/or lushness. Do you have to use that silver bead or does it look better with a stone bead instead? Do I need this element? Could a smaller clasp look better while at the same time be cheaper? Why use that silver part, which will just be obscured while worn? How can you use little silver, but in a way that makes it look like there's much more? Are there similar parts to this one that looks the same, but are more lightweight? Small alterations can mean great savings when they accumulate. And you can use it to analyze your use of different parts in your designs. Perhaps cut away parts that just are there because you're used to add them, but doesn't really add to the design.

stacilouise said...

I am so glad to see this article. I couldn't believe that every jewelry artist wasn't blogging about this. Its killing me. I just got my work into that "fine" jewelry category- with LOTS of chunky fine silver parts (made by me in PMC), and now, I'm not sure who can afford them. Thankfully I hoarded some before the prices got too high, but really- its bad. I am trying bronze clay- and even using copper with just some silver highlights, to add the bulk and chunk of my style, without the cost of silver. I really hope my customers can make the change to base metal chains, because the sterling chain I like to use costs $20 for one necklace- MY COST! Now I know why I just sold my last three HUGE chunky silver pieces.......they were priced with last seasons prices! Someone thought ahead:)
I am also using more art beads to add value to my pieces, without all the silver. LOVIN the artbeads this year!!!

Cathryn said...

I love sterling, silver plate, copper, AND brass! I'm not so much into gold. And since I'm just starting out, most of my pieces are made from alternatives of copper and brass and silver-plate. One of these days, I hope to combine them all into knockout pieces!

I love the article--so insightful AND thought provoking!

Michelle Mach said...

Such a great post! I've started using some high-quality pewter charms for earrings, but I still use a lot of sterling silver ear wires since I know they work well for people with allergies.

Jackie said...

Great post! Lately I've been using lots of copper and gold-filled components with my pieces in part because of this issue. For a long time I didn't like the look of anything yellow or brassy, but now I'm starting to appreciate the warmth these metals can bring to a piece. It takes commitment to make the switch though - because if you use, for example,a copper component, you usually then want to match it in the wire, clasp, crimps, spacers, etc.

ViviBijoux said...

Buying SS is even more expensive when wholesale prices and quantities are unatanable for you. It is only a hobby for me which I have been wanting to develop a bit more. But just covering the price of artisan lampwork and SS has been a struggle. It made me rethink and widen out a bit... Great tip to include other materials and seriously considering copper now. ^_^ V. vivibijoux.com

lynsey said...

I've noticed how sterling silver has got expensive, luckily i'm tending towrads beadweaving these days, so i don't have to worry about it too much. I've got some PMC but once i use it all i dont think i can afford to buy any more. It is such a shame that poeple turn their noses up at copper and brass and bronze i think they create some beautiful effects. We as artists should educate people about these beautiful metals, then maybe people wouldn't give them such a wide birth

Sue Doran said...

I'm doing more with beads (non-silver variety). I've put my prices up on my all silver items and they're either bought or not. I just couldn't afford to keep absorbing the extra cost of materials into my overhead.

My customers don't like copper, I love it and am cross that I don't sell more items made with copper beads. Copper goes so well with the sagey greens of recycled wine glass beads and particularly brown beer bottles, especially if you add in some nice amber nuggets.

I was very interested in Leslie Todd's comment, I had no idea there was a chance silver was in danger of becoming scarce fairly soon.

Karen Zanco said...

The price of silver is something I hear about often from fellow jewelry crafters. Many moons ago, I was strictly sterling silver, swarovski, and pearls but have branched out over the last few years to incorporate more glass, wood, ceramic, brass and copper. I still use sterling for earrings as many people have sensitivies to other metals. Recent bead shows I've attended have had fewer sterling booths and more alternatives. Great article about something that touches us all.

Lisa Godfrey said...

This is a great post! I was wondering how others were dealing with the high cost of silver these days. When I started making jewelry in 2005 silver was downright cheap in comparison to now. I learned all of my wire techniques in silver and when I started experimenting in copper and brass I found it really hard to control the wire. It just doesn't bend the same way silver does. I've had to practice and adjust my techniques with other metals. I still love silver though and will continue to use it but in smaller amounts. I used to have a silver spacer between nearly every bead I strung! I've had to cut back a lot as my horded silver stash is dwindling!

Anna Lear said...

Great article; I definitely needed this perspective! Last year I ran low on sterling components but didn't restock because I thought $15 an ounce was outrageous... and I'm kicking myself now that the price has doubled. But I'm also venturing further into copper and am starting to use brass as well, taking new creative directions and all that. I've also started taking apart older pieces that haven't sold so I can stretch out all the sterling I used to pack into them!

Anonymous said...

Great article, Lori. I opened my Etsy store last April when silver was about $16/ounce, so I feel like this roller coaster ride has hit me in a big way.

However, I've taken to making some of my favorite components in slightly smaller scale (every inch counts) and with smaller gauges when possible. Ultimately, I have faith we'll see a turnaround in the market (fingers crossed!)