Precious metals decoded

One of the most common questions I get on Etsy is a variation on ‘what is gold-filled? Is it real gold?’. Precious metals and their various purity ratings can be a real minefield, when all you really want is to know you’re buying something that won’t turn your skin unexpectedly green or tarnish the second you wash your hands…

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Source: tenor.com

That’s why this week I’m going to break it down for you, with a handy guide on some common metal purity ratings and how to select the right one for your needs and your budget…

I’m going to decode precious metals, if you will… (Yep, you guessed it – I’ve been watching a LOT of Ancient Aliens while fulfilling your orders this week! Sorry not sorry…)

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Source: gfycat.com

What are precious metals?

Precious metals are rare, naturally occurring metallic elements, prized for their scarcity. The two precious metals you’re most likely to come across when buying jewellery are silver and gold, so let’s focus on them for now (I might do a follow up post on other metals like palladium and platinum in the future).

The purity (and therefore value) of these metals is measured by how much of the metal is made of the precious metal, and how much is made up of ‘base metals’, or other precious metals (e.g. silver is often used in gold alloys). Base metals is the term used for any non-precious metal, such as copper, nickel and zinc. These are added to the relatively soft precious metals following mining, in order to strengthen them, and sometimes they form naturally-occurring alloys with precious metals.

Silver purities

There are three main types of silver alloy which you are likely to come across when shopping for jewellery: fine silver, sterling silver, and silver plated metal. There are other variations in fineness available, but today I’ll focus on the three main options you might come across while doing your holiday shopping…

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Source: giphy.com

Fine silver

Fine silver has a purity of 99.9% silver by weight. This means it is virtually pure silver (100% silver is extremely difficult to create, as the purer the metal, the harder it becomes to remove impurities).

Pure silver is also what is created when silver clay is fired, because the binding agents of paper, cloth and water in the clay burn away.

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Pure silver sewing scissors pendant

Sterling silver

Good old sterling silver is one of the most popular metals for less expensive jewellery designs. To be classified as sterling silver, an alloy must be at least 92.5% silver by weight, and maximum 7.5% other metals.

Many of the items I make in silver are crafted from sterling silver, because it’s affordable for most customers, good to work with, and has a high enough purity level that it’s suitable for all but the most sensitive skin.

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Sterling silver hoop & necklace gift set

Silver-plated metal

In cheaper jewellery pieces, silver plated metals are often used. Silver plating is where base metals are plated with either fine silver or sterling silver by being dipped into an electrolyte bath.

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GCSE Chemistry, anyone? (Source: Wikicommons)

Plated metals can give you the dreaded green-skin effect over time, as the layer of silver begins to rub off and the internal alloy (often copper) is revealed and comes into contact with your skin. How fast this happens depends on how thick the layer of silver on top is, and whether there’s a barrier layer between the base metal and the precious metal on top.

Gold

Gold comes in various different colours, but the purity ratings are the same for yellow, white and red/rose gold. Sometimes high-quality rose gold will be referred to as ‘red gold’ in jewellery stores, which can be a bit confusing, but it has the same pinky-gold colour that you would expect from rose gold

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Source: karryon.com.au

As you probably already know, gold is measured in carats – but what does that actually mean? Well, the carat rating system measures the amount of gold per 24 ‘parts’. So 24 carat gold is virtually pure gold (999/1000 parts gold), whilst 18 carat gold is 75% gold and 25% other metals. Gold jewellery is also commonly sold at 9, 10 and 14 carats, although 15, 20 and 22 carats are sometimes available (20 and 22 being used more widely for gold coins).

So, the higher the carat rating, the higher the percentage of gold in your jewellery, and the more you’re likely to be spending on it.

But how do I pick which purity I want?

An important thing to consider when buying jewellery is that 24 carat gold is much too soft for jewellery which will be worn regularly, particularly wedding and engagement rings.

For durability, 18 and 14 carat gold has the best balance of pure gold and other metals, so this is the one to pick if you’re choosing a wedding or engagement band, or another piece you expect will get a lot of wear over the years.

For affordability, as long as you’re not planning to wear the item on a daily basis for a long period of time, 9 carat gold is well worth considering, since it is still very durable, and a lot easier on the purse strings than other options, without sacrificing quality!

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9ct gold love knot ring

Gold-plated metals

In much the same way as silver-plated metals tarnish over time, gold-plated metals are not the best pick for durability, although they are more affordable than pure gold or gold filled options. Gold plating is generally done via the same method as silver plating, but because gold is a softer metal, it wears even less well than its silver cousin. Not recommended for any jewellery you’re planning to wear a lot, but fine for more costume pieces or less frequent use.

Gold-filled metals

To be labelled as gold-filled, an alloy’s weight must include at least 5% gold. Gold-filled metal is made up of a solid layer of gold which is mechanically bonded to a base metal or sometimes to silver. Because the gold is bonded rather than just layered on top of the other metal(s), gold-filled metal is a more durable option than gold-plating, but still has the bonus of being much more affordable than purer, carat-rated gold.

This is why many Tiding of Magpies designs feature gold- or rose gold-filled materials – pretty, durable jewellery, without the hefty price tag!

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Moonstone and rose gold fill gift set

5 tips for presenting your jewellery collection

So, I may have mentioned that a selection of my work is currently being shown at Birmingham’s RBSA Gallery (once…or twice…a second…all summer…!), and I found it quite difficult to whittle down my designs to a cohesive collection of just 15 pieces.

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Source: tenor.com

When I was choosing what to include, I couldn’t find a huge amount of advice online on how to make the collection hang together whilst showing the best Tiding of Magpies has to offer.

So, here are 5 useful things I learnt about putting together a collection from your body of work:

1) Start with your favourites

These are the pieces you love, the ones you’re proudest of, the first ones you’d show someone if they asked ‘what’s your jewellery like?’. These could be old or new designs, but they should make up around 1/3-1/2 of the collection, depending on how well they fit into the theme of the exhibition.

Here are a few of mine…

 

An exhibition is also an excuse to get creative and show off something brand new, like this beauty I designed for the exhibition, which is probably now my all-time favourite:

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Coming soon to the Tiding of Magpies shop…

2) No ‘throwaway pieces’

I mean, technically speaking, none of your designs should be ‘throwaways’, so let me explain what I mean by that! It’s actually an idea I got from Project Runway (because, of course I did). When the designers show their final collections, Tim Gunn always tells them to get rid of ‘throwaway’ pieces which are just in there to fill space in the collection.

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Source: tenor.com

These pieces can sometimes be a bit less interesting than the rest, or include multiple repeats of ideas that crop up later in the show. What this means in a jewellery context is, consider whether you want to include multiples of the same design in different colours, or popular designs you’re less proud of (we’ve all got them!).

3) Try and have a relatively even spread of jewellery types & price points

Although my overall body of work is largely made up of necklaces and earrings, I made sure my display collection featured three rings as well, to demonstrate the versatility of my designs and create a more pleasing and varied overall display. If your designs skew more to one type of piece, it’s a good idea to try and even up the numbers a bit in a limited-size collection.

It’s also wise to mix it up in terms of price points; galleries might allow for a higher overall price range, but it’s still worth including some pieces on the lower and middle ends of that scale to tempt casual purchasers or gift-hunters (especially at this time of year!).

4) Echo shapes or materials, but not both at once

This one’s fairly self-explanatory, but as an example, I put these two pairs of earrings into my collection:

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The same overall shape signals that they’re part of the same collection, but the different metals, stones, and stone shapes maintain interest and variety.

5) Think about the theme of the exhibition

If it’s your first time exhibiting (or even if it isn’t), jewellery exhibitions usually feature multiple artists, so there will be an overall thematic link rather than the theme being that of your collection alone. You want your collection to stand out in a good way, but to also have a visible link to the theme of the exhibition.

 

The display Tiding of Magpies is currently part of is titled Stellar, and themed around the sparkliness of space. In response, I made sure my collection included some of my designs which feature star shapes, as well as themed stones such as moonstone (duh) & lapis lazuli (which looks like the night sky, with its blue colour and gold flecks).

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Now all you have to do is avoid the inevitable over-thinking and wondering if you put the wrong pieces forward!

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What other aspects of jewellery design would you like to see posts on? Let me know in the comments…

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Source: giphy.com

How to choose jewellery gifts

Picking jewellery for someone else can be a bit daunting – it can be hard to judge the tastes of even your closest friends when it comes to the sparkly stuff, not to mention be an expensive mistake if you choose wrong!

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However, jewellery is a long-lasting, personal and often treasured gift for the special people in your life, so here are a few tips to help you get it right…

First things first: what item of jewellery to choose

Think about what you’ve seen them wear before – do they wear studs or dangly earrings more often; rings or bracelets; or perhaps they only wear necklaces? It’s also worth thinking about whether they have one particular piece they wear often; for example, if your recipient always wears their grandma’s earrings, it might be wise to stick with a necklace or bracelet, as they’ll get more enjoyment and wear out of it.

Style

People’s personal style is just that – personal! Jewellery style can also differ from clothing preferences; what if your human wears minimalist clothes with statement jewellery? How do you know what to go for? Again, it’s best to go off what they already wear, perhaps adding an unusual flourish or different stone to what they usually choose to make the gift interesting as well as useful.

Some different styles of jewellery to consider are…

• Minimalist and modern – simple shapes, clean lines •

• Vintage (or vintage-inspired) •

• Dainty/delicate – small, elegant and subtle •

• Statement – large sizes, bold colours and shapes •

• Boho/natural – rough gemstones, curved shapes •

Colour

What colours do they wear in clothes or accessories? When you’re wading through the thousands of beautiful pieces on a site like Etsy or in a big jewellery store, colour can be a really useful starting point. If you’re refining by style, size, or something else, or you’re stumped on what colour they might like, there’s an easy solution: go for simple metal!

Hobbies and interests

A lovely way to give a personal jewellery gift is to search for jewellery that represents one of the recipient’s interests, something I discussed in a post a couple of months ago. This is where somewhere like Etsy is brilliant, because whatever niche thing your human is into, someone, somewhere will have made jewellery referencing it!

If in doubt, start small!

Etsy has tons of affordable, handmade and thoughtful designs available (including mine!), meaning that a heartfelt jewellery gift doesn’t have to be a bank-breaking gamble…

If you’re stumped for last minute gifts, I have a few last pieces ready to ship. For my lovely UK readers, tomorrow, Wednesday 20 December is my last recommended shipping date on standard 2nd class shipping, but I also offer upgrades to 1st class and guaranteed delivery, and I guarantee to ship within 24 hours for any ready-to-ship pieces. Available at the time of publishing are…

And for all my overseas friends, you can always get ahead of Valentine’s Day planning, or just treat yourself!

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Crafting for Crazy People

As you may or may not know, today is World Mental Health Day. It’s a day that is quite close to my heart and indeed my brain, because (as I may have mentioned once or twice) I have several mental health conditions. Or, as my husband so sweetly puts it, I’m ‘batshit cray’… He also started referring to me as a ‘bipolar bear’ after he bought me a fluffy dressing gown for Christmas. I guess I can sort of see his point:

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Anyway, since it’s the Day of Cray™, I’ve compiled 5 reasons crafting is so good for your mental health (in general and as a tool for managing mental illness). Some are backed up by science, some are my own personal experience, and obviously none of them are actual medical advice because I’m not a qualified doctor (go see your therapists, kids).

I’m also not saying any of this is a substitute for some combination of meds/talking therapy/however else you want to deal with your shit. This is not a ‘have you tried yoga?’, ‘just eat more vegetables’, ‘have you tried just thinking positively?’ scenario, don’t worry. It’s just one tiny, crazy human’s point of view, ok?

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5 reasons crafting is good for your mental health:

1) Sense of achievement

When your mental health is bad, it can feel like you’re going nowhere/doing nothing/a terrible and useless human/etc. Craft projects let you physically make something yourself – there’s no refuting that achievement, even if your brain is determined to tell you you’re a worthless turdbasket – the evidence is right there in front of you.

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A rare finished piece – embroidery map of where I grew up. Took many hours; have yet to iron/frame/do anything with it…

2) Distraction

From distracting yourself from destructive urges/habits to breaking the monotony of lying on your sofa for a solid week unable to go to work, craft projects have the potential to break through the mental mist in a fairly unique way. More interesting than household chores and requiring less mental input than reading, they provide a diversion that’s fun and (at least nominally) practical. Hard to beat, imho.

3) Doing something nice for others

I find a lot of my craft projects end up as presents for other people, because I can’t really justify making more clutter (aka The Goblin’s nemesis) for myself. Making something for somebody else gives you the double whammy of having achieved something and done something nice for someone you care about. Win-win.

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4) All the dopamine

Apparently when we’re knitting or sewing, our brains release the happy-hormone dopamine. Crafting makes us chemically happy, and those of us with mental illnesses will take all the chemical happiness we can get! Even if your brain is chemically sound, a bit of extra dopamine goes a long way, so get your needles out and give it a go.

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5) Repetition, repetition

Something almost all crafts, from cross-stitch to print-making, share is an element of repetition. It both occupies and empties the mind. A lot of people compare knitting to meditation, but I was never super good at that, so I wouldn’t know. I’ll take their word for it…

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So, I know I said it wasn’t going to be medical advice, but I never said I wasn’t going to spout general human advice… I know some (or many) people reading this are going to go ‘hurr durr that’s all very well but how do I actually use crafts as a coping tool? Crafts can’t improve mental illness you idiot’.

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I mean, see above for that whole disclaimer, but I am going to share some ways I’ve found of incorporating my crafty hobbies into my mental-illness-management regime.

1) Have lots of VARIED projects going at once

At any given time I have at least 3 projects going. Between work, the business, and the wedding, I’ve currently ended up with 7 (hover for descriptions if you’re interested!). Because people know I like to make things, I also tend to get little kits as presents from time to time, which is great because I can stockpile them so that if all else fails and I don’t want to do any of my current projects, I can just start a new one!

As you can see, I also have a range of projects – easy ones for when I just need something to do, harder ones for when I need to immerse myself in something. And they’re different types of crafts, because sometimes you just don’t feel like doing a pre-designed cross-stitch kit… *

I don’t finish them quickly, but that’s ok, and that leads us to point 2…

2) Set small goals

For the love of your sanity, do not go into a craft session expecting yourself to finish the whole thing. Some projects are short ones you can blitz in a few hours, but the majority won’t be, and expecting yourself to churn out piece after piece can cause more stress than it alleviates! I try and set smaller, numerical goals (number of rows knitted, finishing one section of a project, etc.) so I still feel I’ve achieved something when I put down my needle/pen/pliers. Of course, sometimes you’re just not in the right place to craft, so it’s important to remember you can always…

3) Allow yourself to give up and do something else if it’s not working

Sounds simple, but your craft project should not become another stick for you to beat yourself with. When you’re anxious/self-critical/low, it’s hard to get out of that mindset,  but the last thing you want is for your creative escape to become a chore or a source of stress. If it’s going badly or you’re just not feeling it, give yourself permission to do something else.

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So there we have it: reasons why crafting is good for your mental health and ways you can use crafty hobbies as a crazy-management tool. Bit of a long post today, but what can I say – I really believe in the healing power of faffing about with bits of thread!

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*By the way, I was going to tidy my projects up and make them look Pinterest-ready, but in the spirit of honesty – and laziness – I decided to show them as they usually are: tangled, chaotic, and stuffed into a too-small craft drawer!

How to choose your bridal jewellery in 5 easy steps

It’s an undeniable fact of life that weddings in the Western world are overwhelmingly focused around the appearance of the bride and, let’s face it, that’s a lot of pressure. There are so many things to consider, and that’s before you start looking at wedding magazines or websites for inspiration. When you’re busy obsessing over every aspect of your dress/makeup/bouquet/hair/shoes, it’s easiest to leave the jewellery till last.

I’ve done exactly this, and only just chosen what I’m going to wear, although my wedding is in just over three weeks. Like a lot of brides, I had a couple of family/sentimental pieces in mind early on, but then I got stuck making it work as a whole ‘look’. (To be fair, it probably didn’t help that I changed my mind about my wedding dress three months before the wedding and had to find one to exchange it for… More on that in a different post, probably.)

Anyway, now I’ve (pretty much) finalised what jewellery I’m going to sport on the Big Day™, I’ve got five quick tips for any other brides-to-be who find themselves in similar circumstances…

1) Consider the style of your dress

This sounds obvious, but it’s worth saying anyway. The dress is, naturally, the focal point of your appearance, and it will look better in photos if the jewellery works well with the dress. For example, my dress has a relatively high neck and a very embellished bodice, so I’m not having a necklace because it would be too much, and would get lost in the beading. If your dress is in a vintage style, it might also be worth considering jewellery (real or replica) which suits the era you’re wearing.

2) Stay true to your own tastes and dress sense

If there’s a style or piece of jewellery you see cropping up on wedding blogs or Pinterest, it’s easy to start thinking ‘well perhaps I should wear something like that, too’, but if you wouldn’t wear something similar in every day life, think twice about whether it’s right for you. Of course, I don’t mean if you wouldn’t wear a huge tiara every day you shouldn’t wear one for your wedding, but if, say, the tiara is heavily jewelled and you usually favour clean, simple lines, look for a tiara that fits those tastes.

3) Consider wearing jewellery for sentimental reasons…

‘Jewellery reigns over clothing not because it is absolutely precious but because it plays a crucial role in making clothing mean something.’ –  Roland Barthes

Because jewellery is valuable, it’s often handed down through the generations, imbuing it with memories and emotions, so it’s no wonder many brides wear at least one piece that has sentimental value. I’m mixing old with new for my wedding by wearing three sentimental items combined with a new ring I’ve made myself, and a hairpiece I sourced from another Etsy seller.

If you’re struggling to pull your pieces into a cohesive look, consider choosing one material, style or era to make things go without having to be matchy-matchy. For example, I’ve decided to feature pearls in many of the pieces I’m wearing in order to tie the different styles together. I’m also wearing an heirloom brooch on my bouquet because it doesn’t match the wedding colours; including a piece you like but which doesn’t go with your dress on your bouquet is a great way to wear your treasured pieces without compromising on your style.

4) …but don’t feel bound by tradition if you want a shiny new set of jewels

Conversely, if you’re determined for your look to come together seamlessly, or want to create new heirlooms and memories with some brand new pieces, don’t feel you have to wear something old just because it’s ‘expected’ of you. (Let’s face it, there are enough expectations around you as a bride without adhering to tiny ones like this…) This tip is kind of an extension of point 2; essentially, you do you.

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(Source: pedestrian.tv)

5) Try not to obsess over it

I feel this should be the last point on any wedding advice list, and it’s one I’m terrible at following, but it’s so important. Your wedding outfit will never be perfect (especially in years to come when you look back and your gorgeous mermaid gown looks like those puffy-sleeved 80s monstrosities do now), but you should be so happy on the day itself that it won’t bloody matter. The best you can do is to make the choice you’re happy with now, and then try and forget about it (she says, with incredible hypocrisy).

And what am I wearing, after all that? Well…

  • My mum’s pearl and haematite earring and bracelet set (from Cellini)
  • A new diamanté and pearl hairpiece from this Etsy store
  • A new ring I’ve made to match my bouquet, with an asymmetrical setting of two garnets, a pearl and a cubic zirconia
  • A brooch The Goblin gave me when he proposed (an actual goblin family heirloom, which doubles as my ‘something blue’ and my ‘something old’)
  • My wedding ring, which I also made

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Yes, these are my actual wedding flowers (Goblin with allergies= silk all the way)
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The iridescent blue is from the butterfly wing behind the glass

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Of course, true to indecisive form, I’m thinking of swapping out the garnet ring I made with the one The Goblin gave me for our first anniversary (what a lovely Goblin he is):

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Like I mentioned earlier, the dress is seriously embellished, so it’s got to be one or the other. Any ideas? Let me know in the comments…