The Rio Grande Guide to Types of Silver Metals for Jewelry

Explore the types of silver fabrication metal used in jewelry making and the forms they’re available in.

Last edited: 5/8/2019
A variety of silver jewelry fabrication metals

Silver Metals Types

Silver fabrication sheet
Silver sheet is a great starting point for your custom jewelry designs.

There are many types of silver of that are used in jewelry making. These include sterling silver, fine silver, reticulation silver, and Argentium® Silver. Nearly all our silver fabrication metal is manufactured from reclaimed material, allowing you to reduce your environmental footprint. Pure silver (or fine silver) is often too soft for many jewelry applications and is commonly alloyed with copper to make sterling silver, a more durable metal that retains many of silver's desirable qualities. An alloy is a mixture of two or more pure metals that are typically combined to increase strength or working capabilities, lower the melting temperature, or reduce the cost. Whatever your needs, Rio Grande offers a broad selection of silver fabrication metals.

  • 999 Fine Silver is .999% pure, with the remainder being trace amounts of impurities. It's not alloyed with any other metal and is also often referred to as pure silver. Fine silver is very soft and malleable. Because it scratches and dents so easily, fine silver is less commonly used in jewelry fabrication. Fine silver works easily but does not harden as quickly or as much as silver alloys. For this reason, it's an ideal choice for tube settings, bezels and gallery wires. It melts beautifully and is often used for head pins and granulation. Fine silver fuses very well, eliminating the need for solder, and is also an ideal foundation for enameling. Fine silver offers a lustrous bright white color and is slow to tarnish, but because of its soft nature, it's best suited for jewelry pieces not exposed to excessive wear and tear. Rio Grande offers fine silver jewelry fabrication metals in sheet metal, wire, tubing, strip, discs and stampings, casting grain, mesh and leaf.
  • 925 Sterling Silver is an alloy made of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. The addition of copper to pure silver lowers the melting temperature while increasing hardness and strength. Sterling silver is harder than fine silver but still relatively soft compared to other common metals used in jewelry making. Sterling silver is the jewelry quality standard for silver throughout most of the world. While sterling silver containing copper does not easily corrode, it's prone to tarnishing and firescale. Tarnish is easily cleaned with polishing cloths or commercial silver cleaning products. Firescale is a layer of oxidation that forms on the surface of alloys containing copper when they are heated. It usually appears as a light purple haze and can only be removed by sanding and polishing. Sterling silver forms easily, can be soldered or fused, and takes a beautiful polish when finished. Sterling silver is the traditional choice for jewelry fabrication due to its cost, working properties and bright white color. Rio Grande offers 925 sterling silver jewelry fabrication metals in sheet, wire, rod, discs and stampings, casting grain, strip, solder and tubing.
  • Argentium® Silver is a relatively new silver alloy that contains more pure silver than traditional sterling silver, containing either 93.5% or 96% pure silver. All Argentium Silver is made with reclaimed silver; however, it differs from traditional sterling in that it is alloyed with germanium. The germanium forms a transparent oxide on the surface of the Argentium Silver, making the alloy tarnish resistant and requiring less maintenance than traditional sterling silver. Argentium Silver is also firescale free, brighter in color than traditional sterling and is heat-treatable to be harder than sterling silver. Other qualities many jewelers find appealing about Argentium Silver is that it fuses beautifully, welds easily, is more malleable than traditional sterling, and has antibacterial and hypoallergenic properties. Rio Grande offers a wide selection of Argentium Silver fabrication metals including wire, casting grain, sheet and strip, discs and stampings, solder and tubing.
  • Reticulation Silver is an alloy of 80% silver and 20% copper. Reticulation is a technique that produces a beautiful texture of peaks and valleys on the surface of sheet metal in copper-containing alloys. The higher copper content of this alloy allows for far more dramatic textures when reticulating, but reticulation can be achieved on other copper containing silver and gold alloys. This alloy must be subjected to a depletion gilding process (a technique to create a layer of fine silver on the surface) prior to reticulation, but will require far fewer repetitions of heating and pickling than lower copper content alloys. Rio Grande offers reticulation silver in 18 gauge, 20 gauge and 22 gauge sheet metal, 20 gauge pre-reticulated sheet metal and 26 gauge pre-reticulated discs.
  • Silver-Filled is an economical precious metal alternative made with a layer of either fine silver or sterling silver bonded to a base metal substrate. The layer of silver on silver-filled metal for jewelry is much thicker than on silver-plated products. Rio Grande carries 1/10 silver-filled fabrication metals made with 925 sterling over a red brass alloy. With silver-filled materials, you can get the look and working characteristics of sterling silver at a lower price. The 1/10 notation indicates that the material contains 10% sterling silver by weight (you’ll also see 1/20 silver-filled material, which is 5% sterling silver by weight). The layer of silver on 1/10 silver-filled metal allows the material to be formed, textured and even lightly engraved without exposing the base metal layer underneath. Silver-filled fabrication materials are available from Rio Grande in single-clad sheet, double clad sheet, round wire, half-round wire and square wire.

Metal Gauge for Sheet and Wire

Sheet and wire gauge
The Brown & Sharpe gauge accurately measures sheet and wire.

Rio Grande measures precious metals using the Brown & Sharpe (B&S) gauge, also known as the American Wire Gauge (AWG). The AWG system of measurement is a stepped, standardized gauge system used for measuring the diameters or thickness of wire and sheet metal. Larger gauge numbers indicate smaller wire diameters or thicknesses. This chart shows B&S gauges and the corresponding millimeter and inch thickness equivalents. Rio Grande offers silver jewelry wire in gauges from 0 to 34, depending on the desired type of silver and shape. Silver sheet for jewelry making is available in a range of thicknesses from 6 gauge to 30 gauge, also depending on the type of silver. In general, the heavier the gauge of silver, the more difficult it is to form and shape, but the stronger it is. Thicker silver materials will require more heat when soldering; in contrast, thinner silver pieces will require less heat for soldering. Thinner gauged silver is easier to work with but does not hold its shape as well, and it's not as strong. This chart shows some common uses for specific gauges of metal.

Metal Hardnesses

Silver wire and sheet are available in hardnesses from "dead-soft" to "spring hard." These terms refer to the malleability of the metal. Metal hardness is relative to each specific metal or alloy. Some metals and metal alloys are naturally more or less malleable than others, and what constitutes "hard" in one metal doesn't behave the same way as "hard" in a different metal. Read more about metal hardness in this helpful article. Rio Grande offers silver jewelry fabrication metals in spring hard, ¼ hard, ½ hard and dead soft. This chart compares the hardnesses of the different types of silver. When purchasing silver, consider the intended use, and choose a starting hardness that serves that purpose, minimizing the time needed for annealing as much as possible.

Precious Metals Recycling Service

Sorted silver scerp
Easily turn your precious metal scrap into the jewelry-making tools and materials you need.

Did you know that you can recycle your precious metal scraps? Save time and money at the bench by using Rio Grande’s Precious Metal Recycling Service for your jewelry fabrication metals, and turn that scrap back into jewelry making supplies. Offering recovery options for silver, gold, silver-filled, gold-filled, palladium and platinum, you can recover up to 85% of the value of your properly sorted scrap. Rio Grande makes sending in your scrap metal and bench sweeps easy and scrap metal returns are usually processed within five business days. Once we receive your metal and asses the value, you can choose to add credit directly to your Rio Grande account, receive a check or a direct transfer to your bank account. You can even donate your bench sweeps to our Sweeps for CERF+ program to help support craftspeople through devastating natural disasters and other emergencies.

Get Started on Your Silver Jewelry Projects!

With an understanding of the different types of silver fabrication metals available for use in jewelry, you can make informed decisions when purchasing silver for your own jewelry-making needs. Rio Grande makes selecting and buying different types of silver fabrication metals easy and affordable. With very low or no order minimums, metal can be cut by the inch, the foot or almost any increment you need. All forms (sheet, wire, etc.) of the same metal are combined by weight to give you the best overall price break for each metal. The greater the quantity you purchase of each particular metal (regardless of shape or size), the greater the price break you enjoy. Shop our entire selection of silver fabrication metal to get started on your jewelry pieces today.