Chapter 6

There Is No Such Thing As Scrap -- The Story of Upcycled Silver

Upcycled Sterling Silver Medieval Glass Broadcollar

There is no such thing as "scrap". That's my opening gambit for how to make a small independent jewelry company pay off well enough to keep you off the welfare rolls for as long as you can produce fine jewelry at a moment's notice, and with my Method, you'll be able to turn out splendid product for as long as you can still move your fingers.

"Scrap" is a headspace, a concept of waste mismanagement that can't survive for very long in a jewelry studio, simply because it's just too doggone expensive. You need to learn how to conserve energy in the form of effort, but also in the form of gold, silver, copper and gemstones.

Tossing a piece of wire aside because it's too short, too mangled or too tangled to bother with has a very big and bad impact on your work-discipline, which has to be 100% or you'll go broke in no time.

You'd be surprised at what you can make out of "scrap" silver, gold and copper, and you can combine metals to make incredible effects -- why not? You're in charge of your own shop and you decide what product to make. Of course, the public will advise you of what they actually buy, and it may not be what you make.

Sometimes you have to bring in a line of wedding bands and solitaire diamond engagement rings, along with the local high school and college rings, to make a living from jewelry, because that's mostly what people buy.

Personal adornment is part of the boutique plan, not the jewelry store. That's the number one rule in jewelry sales, and if you don't get it, you'll pay the price. Part of buying jewelry is trying it on, seeing how it FEELS on the body– far more important than how it LOOKS. It's easy to SEE quality, and easy to detect resin fakery and petroleum byproduct factory-stamped out wearable junk jewelry -- strictly low-class baubles.

Why not wear a pair of earrings made with glass beads that once adorned an ancient Sumerian Princess? It's not only possible, it's very likely that I'll still have some of those beads by the time you get around to ordering a pair of Sumerian Steatite earrings in silver.

Silver is the Metal of Choice for Pagan Magic, and it does well in the InterDimensional and Exalted Planes as well.

18k gold used to sell very well, but silver is today's gold, meaning that it's been around the same price that gold used to be back in the day, and people are feeling really poor these days, not willing to spend precious dollars for 18 karat gold when 14 karat is available and looks just as good.

It does, but only for a few days. They tend to put an 18k or 24k film on 14k to make it look better for the market, but it comes off fast, and you're left with reddish gold that looks more like copper than gold, because that's what it is, or you end up with a whitish-grey gold that looks more like silver, because that's what it is, almost half silver and a little over half gold.

Might as well have a short lesson in metallurgy and gold amalgamation.

There are a total of 24 parts to gold when analyzing it for purity. If your gold is 10 parts gold and 14 parts "other", meaning a combination of copper, silver and whatnot, it's properly referred to as "10 karat", and should be stamped 10k or 10 karat.

What's the difference between "carats" and "karats" besides the spelling?

"Carats" refers to a gemstone's weight. To determine the Carat Weight of a gemstone, merely weigh it on a gram scale -- you can buy them brand-new online for as little as $35. Multiply the gram-weight by 5 and you get the number of carats at five carats to the gram.

"Karats" with a "k" refers to the purity of jewelry grade gold, either solid – or plated -- which would be gold over silver, called "vermeil" or gold plate over junk metal, called "plated" or "gold plate", and gold BONDED to a core, called "filled gold", which is now called "gold-fill" for the usual reasons -- people tweak things to their already existing information and understanding. It's FILLED GOLD and don't let your customers forget that. Filled gold is very very different from gold plated.

Gold plated is just a few microns of gold on the surface. Filled gold is a fat, solid sheet of gold, which is then bonded to a core for strength. It wears over the years exactly as solid gold would do, and can be built back up for just a few dollars if you wish to restore it to new condition.

  • 10k gold was introduced for folks who couldn't afford gold but wanted something that they could call "gold", not "gold-plated.
  • 12k gold is generally what you get on the core wire in gold-filled wire.
  • 14k gold is called by sophisticated European jewelry buyers "American Silver", and is the standard for American gold jewelry. Is it really gold? Not by my standards, it isn't.
  • 18k gold is where gold starts looking like gold. This is about where the ancients liked to alloy their jewelry gold.
  • 22.5k is the gold most commonly used for gold granulation, because it's slightly easier to work on the blowpipe and charcoal and is less likely to deflate and puddle out than 24k, but both can be used.
  • 24k "pure" gold can be .99 fine, .999 fine and .9999 fine, but the four nines gold is strictly military electronics usage. Nobody bothers to refine gold that pure for jewelry.

Most people can't discern any difference between a bead made yesterday somewhere in China or Pakistan and a bead that was made by hand thousands of years ago, and it's not ignorance -- it's about prejudice, and prejudice is ALL about attention.

In order to be able to buy good beads for your jewelry products, you need really good attention, and the attention has to be "tuned" to the jewelry and bead market.

I'll tell you a little secret about attention.

When you are utterly convinced that something is directly tied to your own personal benefit, you PAY attention, because you know it's worth the price. In this sense, attention is like money -- it cost you to play the game.

When you are unconvinced or disinterested in something, you don't pay attention.

That's the whole story, end of line.

People of another culture are blended into one melting pot of faceless characters UNLESS you marry one or work with one or happen to encounter that culture on a daily basis -- nothing less will do. Only then do the faceless millions start having faces.

It's the same with dogs, cats and parakeets. Unless you TAKE THE TIME to study their appearances, you tend to lump them into one thing, not even noticing the not-so-subtle differences between a pit bull and a chihuahua.

Aspectarian Charts be damned, if you aren't interested in someone or something, you won't give it your precious attention, and it's just as well. If you're cursed with untrained attention, there's a lot that you've been missing all along.

In order to really be able to appreciate and EVALULATE ancient and modern beads, you'll need to pay attention to details, lots of details, some of which are on the level of Forensic Science 101, not advanced study, but definitely one is acutely aware of factors that indicate historic information about a bead.

Beads have fingerprints. The beads from one village will look mostly identical. Beads made to imitate them will have characteristics that are unmistakeable to the practiced eye.

"Practiced Eye" does not mean the occasional jeweler.

Taking sporadic plunges at jewelry production is like swimming once a year -- it does not build muscles or confidence to spasmodically do anything except work out on a pogo stick.

Let's now examine our main theme for this lesson -- "What is Scrap Good For, Anyway???"

In the process of creating wire jewelry, you'll find yourself with piles of trim. There's always some trim -- it's unavoidable in hand-artisaning, and you'll eventually come to appreciate the scrap, because it merely means that you end up with short pieces of wire that work very well to produce the smaller elements that, when put together, form your jewelry product.

Let's examine carefully the various types of scrap that will develop on your work bench as you proceed with your crafting. We'll start with the largest diameter wire and work our way down. The thicker the wire, the smaller the number, measured as "gauge" -- note the spelling, g-a-u-g-e. Most folks get it "guage", but that's wrong. If you grew up in phonetics, pronounce it "gowge" to get the spelling, and "gayj" to get the sound. I hope that makes sense, but if it doesn't, you'll just have to live with it.

  • 12 gauge wire that's too short to make a ring shank can be used to make a heavy necklace style spoon or paddle. 12 gauge is too heavy for earrings unless it's made for a plug.
  • 14 gauge wire can be used in short pieces to make a heavy handmade bead or tube, or hammered into spoon or paddle shape for a necklace. 14 gauge is just light enough to be used for earrings.
  • 16 gauge copper wire is cheap enough, but you might find some uses for the leftover shank bits. Remember that 16 gauge is not for pro rings, just practice.
  • 20 gauge wire, normally used to make your ear-wires, can, in short lengths, also be used to produce great looking and very flashy paddles and spoons.
  • 22 gauge wire in short lengths can make smaller paddles and spoons, and has other uses which will become apparent as you find your way through the path of Stone-Age Jewelry Crafting.
  • 24 gauge wire in short lengths is pretty much useless.

As you develop skills, you'll find that lengths of silver and gold wire as short as one inch -- about 2.5 centimeters -- will make into small heart-shaped pendants or earring drops, or bent into strange abstract shapes for drops and pendants.

Only when a wire gets down to less than an inch do I give up on it as a craftable item, but I can still take a handful of those tiny silver scraps and put them into a double crystal watch case and mount that onto a solid silver money clip or key chain and sell it as upcycled silver.

Beyond that, meaning for pieces so small you can't pick them up with a tweezers, I have a long-handled crucible and a Presto Air-Acetylene torch. Note that it is not an Oxy-Acetylene torch, but an AIR Acetylene torch. There is a difference. Make sure to use smoked welding goggles and a face-protector, and you're in plenty of danger doing this, especially if you haven't been trained to do it right.

In the end, it's best to just sell the totally unusable scrap to a FEDERALLY LICENSED gold & silver dealer. Be happy with whatever price you get, because if you used up your scrap as I have indicated, you will more than make up for the loss of metal trading with a dealer.

You then take the money from this sale and put it into new wire. You can buy as little as three feet of gold wire without incurring too much premium from the seller. It's best to have a friend in the business, if you want decent gold and silver wire prices, but even if you pay too much, you can still make plenty of money if you follow directions well.

The whole point of pricing your jewelry fairly to both parties is to leave yourself enough room for mistakes, theft, bargaining, and long-term storage of items that don't sell quickly, which can mean hours of polishing pieces that have become heavily oxidized by customer handling.

Pricing the goods fairly for you, meaning that you can afford to stay in business, generally leads to prices that are out of reach to most shoppers, but you will make up for it by pricing lower, and using all the scrap you can manage to convert to goods that actually sell.

Customers really like the idea that you've made new things out of scrap. This is called "up-cycling" and differs from "recycling" in that the goods created out of the discarded material is worth far more than the discarded material from which it was made.

Actually, that's also a good description of goods made from raw materials, but the raw materials don't come out of the ground, except in the case of excavated beads.

Did you know that you can make beads from scrap?

A bead is A Thing With A Hole In It. If you look around, you'll manage to locate many items that could be a bead.

In order to use a bead for our purposes, we must limit its size. Beads that work well for rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets generally fall into the category of "smaller" beads, with a diameter anywhere from 5 to 10 mm. Bead measurements are given in millimeters, so get used to thinking "millimeters" and make sure to put some attention on getting familiar with what a 3mm bead looks like, what a 6mm bead looks like.

You should be able to easily guess the millimeter size of a 3mm, 6mm, 8mm and 10mm bead, and get it right every time. You will mostly be using beads that are 6mm in diameter, unless there's a special bead you want to get for a special project.

The drill-hole of a bead is very important. It will determine the diameter of the wire you'll be using to capture it for display. You can't drill the holes any wider than they are already without a gemstone drill, except in the case of pearls, and drilling pearls is wasted effort -- they can be obtained with large drill-holes, and so can most beads, if you know how to find them.

Scrap beads can be used in a variety of ways, so don't be too quick to discard them. Many ancient beads will have some damage from burial, weather exposure or accidents during excavation. Beads generally come up by the shovel full, so don't expect them to be like new.

You can spend money, or you can spend attention. My bet is placed on attention. How about you?