The Sweet Spot of Pricing: Silver Plated vs Sterling

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I have been accused multiple times (and perhaps deservedly so) of pricing my jewelry too low. Every artist arrives at his/her market price differently. For me, I checked Etsy sellers who were selling similar items, as well as local vendors to check the market rate of certain pieces. But I must also always take into consideration the price of my supplies. Although my time and skill are worth X amount of dollars, at the end of the day, what the client will pay is directly related to the quality of the piece. This is true for me, as the purchaser of handmade items, as well as the creator of handmade items. When an item I’ve purchased is sturdy (although it may still be delicate), well-made (although it might have a few “imperfections,” acceptable with any handmade piece), and lasts the test of time (whether I wear it every day or once a year), I feel like any amount of money I’ve paid was a bargain. However, if (as is the case with a toy sailboat I recently purchased from Etsy) the item is falling apart before I even get it out of the box or it looks like a rush job, I feel like any money I paid was a rip-off. So, in my creation of beautiful jewelry and rosaries, one thought is ever-present: make it beautiful and make it last.

But in today’s lean economic times, it’s not always easy to honor both of those commandments. When a choice must be made between silver plated and sterling, the client most often chooses plated, simply because of the cost. And the price of sterling continues to rise so I don’t see any relief or accumulated collections of sterling pieces in our future any time soon.

So, to be an informed consumer and client, the question that must be raised is: What’s the difference?

And the short answer is: wear and tear over the life of the piece. One will look better with more wear and one will look ragged, chipped, scratched, and peeled without any way to fix it. Also, any scratches or gouges on sterling silver can be buffed out, whereas scratches on silver plated pieces are irreparable.

The skinny on silver plating:

Silver plating, which is simply a very, very thin coat of silver that’s electroplated over a base metal (usually nickel, brass, white metal, or copper…although less so with the rising cost of copper) is applied to almost all of your department store jewelry. From Target to Kohl’s to Macy’s, if it doesn’t have .925 stamped somewhere on it, it’s plated. Likewise, it’s covering all of the craft store jewelry pendants, charms, clasps, and chain, as well as most of the inexpensive supplies coming from vendors in Asia. These same vendors set up a bead show table full of electroplated silver (and painted “gemstone” beads) and sell it just cheaply enough to be quite attractive. The only exception to this are supplies that are stamped with .925, meaning it is 92.5% pure silver and the piece can be easily melted down to recover the pure silver. Price is also another excellent indicator, although it shouldn’t be relied upon solely as some unscrupulous sellers will offer up a plated item at sterling silver prices. And, quite often, it’s difficult to tell the difference under the gem show lights.

How do I know?

The “.925” stamp located on all sterling silver (even the sterling they sell in the case at Hobby Lobby) is an excellent indicator of authentic sterling silver. Occasionally, you will see the stamp “EPNS.” This stands for electroplated nickel silver…again, this is not sterling. I have actually seen the words “sterling plated” on some chains at Michael’s, but also look for the words “layered in sterling silver.” Both of these are just plated pieces that will wear and tear like plated pieces.

The best of both worlds:

I do my best to give my clients options when they are ordering custom jewelry. I know that we all want pieces that we can pass down through generations and the cold, hard fact is that anything plated is not going to withstand the test of time. But we can always incorporate both sterling silver and silver plating to keep costs affordable. One option is to purchase a sterling silver pendant and silver plated chain. The chain can always be upgraded at a later time. If the chain is more important (for example, my mom has one chain and MANY different pendants that she rotates through), then we select a sterling silver chain, which will endure daily wear. An excellent example of optimizing materials and keeping costs down is this horseshoe necklace I created for myself to wear on Derby Day this year. The actual horseshoe is handmade and sterling silver by an artist in Wyoming. But the chain is a silver plated link chain from Michael’s. I wore this necklace 24-hours a day for about 2 months. The charm still looks as new as the day it arrived on my doorstep, but the chain is tarnished and worn and will never polish to the same shine it once had. But I can always go buy a new chain (which I do frequently, anyway, to give it a new look every few months). The horseshoe was the one-time buy.

It may be difficult to tell in this picture, but the horseshoe and the surrounding chain, which falls to the front and therefore is not always against my skin is still quite shiny, but the chain that lays around the side of the neck has turned a dark gunmetal gray from the weeks of wear. And this is the difference between sterling and silver plated.

I know that when money is tight, it’s hard to justify the money spent on sterling silver. However, if it’s a piece that you want to only buy once, sometimes it’s the only way to go.

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What I Throw My Weight Behind

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Perhaps, by now, you’ve clicked over to the website or checked out the fan page and gathered that I am the proud Army wife of Captain Awesome (Captain America, Captain Bossypants on occasion). But I am also the granddaughter of a WWII veteran who served with the 78th Infantry Division (God bless the Lightning), and the daughter of a Vietnam veteran who served with the 1st Infantry Division (Go Big Red One!). Camo was my favorite color for a long time. I cry every time I hear Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, I used to raise and lower the flag with my WWII vet Papa, Elmer (yep, that’s the business name connection, along with his wife and my granny, Daisy), and if I close my eyes, I can still smell boot polish mixed with shake and bake chicken on a Friday night as Dad polished and shined to get ready for a weekend drill. So, when I sat down to contemplate the causes I would support with the profits from the business, our military was a no-brainer.

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Enter Wings for Our Troops “in loving Memory of CPL Chad S Wade.” How I came to know Tami, Tebo, Traci, Paige, Allison, Dawn and the gang is a long story that involves misdirected website links and months of blog reading by CPL Wade’s widow. But what I was left with was the opportunity to support the foundation, which purchases plane tickets for Marines and their dependents to fly home to be with family directly before and after deployment. In the wake of Chad’s death, she clings tightly to those days she spent with him and his wife before he left for Afghanistan and is making it her mission to gift those days to others.

We had our own pilgrimage home to Kentucky in the weeks prior to this most recent deployment. My husband deployed with his unit on 21 January, 2010 so we spent the entire week of Thanksgiving visiting family and friends. It’s hard to not let the fear and the sadness and the anxiety sneak into those last days, but we also laughed a lot, ate a lot, and loved a lot. I feel it is important to ensure that other families get those moments, that a Marine’s pay and expenses should not interfere with one more family reunion.

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And that brings us to RED Fridays. RED (Remember Everyone Deployed) Fridays began around the time that I worked for the DoD (Department of Defense) at the Army Depot in Avon, Kentucky. This was before uniforms with ill-fitting pants and scratchy golf shirts were forced upon us and we could dress in business casual on Fridays. We were already supporting our troops in the fact that our job was to fill uniform and supply orders for units all over the world, from those training up at Ft. Bliss, TX to the units fighting in Operation Freedom in Iraq. It was, by far, the most fulfilling job I had ever held. We wore our red and packed those boxes with efficiency and prayers. When I left Avon, I realized that I had been living in a bubble…a 1-square mile bubble of patriotism and pride. RED Fridays were not mainstream. They were barely even acknowledged outside the gates.

I launched my first RED Friday item about a year ago.

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Some weeks have featured 2 or 3 items at a time and some weeks have passed without anything. Some items are snatched up within seconds of posting and some still await purchase in my inventory. It’s not a perfect process, but Wings for Our Troops is not about being perfect. It’s about doing the very best we can to support our country’s very best. And my best is to forward 50% of each item to WFOT, which goes directly towards a plane ticket. There will only be about 3 or 4 more RED Friday items posted on the fan page before I take a 3-month hiatus. I encourage you, in those 3 months, to hop over to the Wings for Our Troops fan page and find other ways to donate. Tami has a breathtaking new t-shirt design that she advertised last week and Tammy, of After Glow Beads, has been known to hold jewelry auctions with 100% of the money benefiting WFOT. If you’re in the Rogers, Arkansas area, you can sometimes score a divine chunk of chicken with proceeds also going directly to Tami’s foundation. And, as always, remember your red on Fridays and share the love.

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The Blog Debut

As of this month, I’ve been designing, creating, selling jewelry for Daisy & Elm for 3 years. I still remember when the idea dawned on me. I was vacationing at my sister’s house in Florida. We were up past our bedtime, slinging mojitos and beads and sharing business ideas. The next morning, my ah-ha moment fell from the shower head and launched me full speed into small business mode. Three months later, I had a tax ID number, a sales tax number, and approximately 2 clients.

My, how I’ve grown!

I’m launching this blog because I’ve often found myself wanting to promote my Pink Campaign for breast cancer research or my RED Fridays for troops support or I’ve wanted to give clients a resource for learning more about jewelry materials and caring for their jewelry, but I didn’t want to cross over into my personal blog. So I just tabled the entire idea.

Until now.

My goal is to become one of your resources for all things jewelry. I’m open to questions, comments, criticisms, and love. I’m also open to random cupcake recipes and suggestions for champagne cocktails. But mostly, I just want to gather with my siblings in sparkle and perhaps bring our Polyvore closets to life.

Peace, love, and beautiful jewelry,

Ally