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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Silver clay on World Thrift Day

Let’s celebrate World Thrift Day by celebrating the exceptionally thrifty jewellery-making material that is silver clay. This time last year, I’d never heard of the stuff; now it’s in integral part of around half of my designs…

So, what is it?

Silver clay is made of tiny particles of silver, combined with binding fibres (paper or cotton usually) and water. In its original state, it behaves just like the normal soft clay you’d find in an art class. When fired, the binder burns away (making a really cool-looking flame in the process), leaving behind fine silver (99.9% purity, as opposed to sterling silver’s 92.5%).

There are two main types: Art Clay Silver and Precious Metal Clay. They’re much of a muchness in many ways, and that leads us on to…

Where did it come from?

This is the good bit. So, silver clay was first developed in Japan in the 1990s by two companies. Weirdly, they both got patents on their versions of silver clay around the same time. Not quite sure how that happened, but apparently good ideas are like buses sometimes…

What’s of note for today’s theme is that silver clay is also a really sustainable material, made of recycled silver which usually comes from discarded electrical items. Turns out TVs have silver in them – who knew? The clay can even be recycled at home – if a design goes wrong and you put it back with the rest of the blob fast enough, it can be reconstituted into a new design.

So what?

As well as the environmental benefits of using silver clay (who doesn’t like feeling good about saving the planet?), I actually find the clay kind of fascinating because of the way it changes. The first few pieces, it does feel a little like magic…

It’s also interesting because of the possibilities it offers – it can be smithed like normal silver once it’s fired (albeit it’s a little softer than silver), but it behaves completely differently before that. You can use it to pick up the tiny details of a fingerprint before setting it into a bracelet, or form a ring to be hammered and shaped after firing. It’s a fusion of modern technology and ancient techniques. It can’t currently replace traditional silversmithing techniques, though, particularly stone-setting – I prefer to see it as an addition to them rather than a substitute.

If you want to have a go yourself, it’s not super expensive (around £2.50/gram in the UK), which makes it thrifty in another way, too! Here are a couple of tips for starting out with metal clay:

  • Make sure you wrap it up tightly and put it back in the packaging as soon as you’ve taken the amount you want to use – once the clay dries, it becomes very brittle and hard to work with (although it is salvageable)
  • You probably need less clay than you think – it’s very stretchable!
  • Press firmly and evenly, directly down onto your clay – if you press at an angle you risk smudging or blurring whatever impressions you want your clay to pick up.
  • Get some of this stuff – it means you can make moulds of things which you can then ‘cast’ in the clay.
  • If you have a gas hob, all you need is a metal gauze to put over one of the rings, and you’re good to start firing. If, like me, your flat is electric-only, you can use a simple camping stove and camping butane.

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Tag me on Insta or Twitter so I can see your creations!

Product Photography 101 (no experience needed)

Anyone who’s ever shopped online, let alone sold online, knows that having good photography can make or break a sale. You can make the most beautiful earrings imaginable, but if they’re presented in a poorly lit and uninspiring photo, they’re probably not going to get chosen out of the millions of pairs available online.

When you’re just starting out selling online, it can be difficult to know how to set up and execute good product photography, which is why I enlisted the help of my more camera-savvy friend, @imlfox, for my first round of pictures. (Her Instagram is great by the way, you should all go follow her now. I’ll wait here…)

Bella shoots with a Nikon D5000, which is excellent for making tiny adjustments, but my little Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot works great too. You don’t need fancy equipment unless you’re taking product photos every day, and chances are that at this stage you don’t have that many products to photograph! I would advise against using a phone camera, though, purely because I find the pictures don’t tend to blow up as well on different screen sizes.

So, to get to the point, I have 4 key tips for product photography: lighting, theming/composition, variety, and patience.

1) Lighting

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it makes all the difference in the world. Natural light is best, as much as you can get. I’m lucky my flat has tall windows, but I still need to shoot right next to them to get the best results.

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Exhibit A: Photoshoot on the windowsill with me on a stool to get the best light and angle. The glamour of a small business!

I’m including flash on/flash off in this category as well. If you’ve got shaky hands like me, the balance between the darkening effects of flash and the blurry-but-light results of no flash is pretty delicate. Macro mode and patience are really your only options, unfortunately. They’re worth it for images like this, though:

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2) Theming/composition

This is the fun bit. To start with, you’ll need a rough idea of the sort of aesthetic you’re going for. This will inform the sorts of props you might use and what composition might suit your pictures best. Going for a clean, modern, minimalist look? Think plain white walls, lots of greenery, and maybe a copper candle holder or two, all shot from above. Feeling a more hippy, gap-yah vibe? Break out whatever trinkets you’ve picked up on your travels, find some warm-coloured wood as a base/background, and you’re good to go.

I was going for a vintage-meets-modern sort of thing, since my pieces are generally a mix of old and new inspirations and techniques, so books, sheet music and house plants all worked for me. In fact, I may have got a bit carried away with the themed props…

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Having someone to bounce things off is also really helpful. Don’t be afraid to try things – if they look stupid, you don’t have to ever use the photos. My lovely hand model and bridesmaid, Beth, and I tried many Valentine’s-themed prosecco photos in last weekend’s session. They were all awful, but at least we got to drink the fizz afterwards…

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And this was right next to the window!

3) Variety

I don’t know about other platforms, but Etsy will let you have 5 photos of each item, so you really have to make sure you’re showing every angle/use of the product. This means taking a ton of different shots and whittling them down to the most attractive/useful ones. Of the 40-odd photos we took of Beth wearing my S-shaped hammered ring, these 5 made the cut for the following reasons:

  1. Romantic theming (Valentine’s Day approaching); fingers slightly bent
  2. Different background (tube lines echoing lines of the ring); hand flat
  3. Close up of the texture of the ring when worn
  4. Ring alone to show its shape
  5. Ring alone from a different angle

4) Patience

So, I sort of mentioned this above, but it bears repeating (a lot, like taking pictures. See what I did there?).

My mum likes to terrorise us on holiday and at home with endless snaps (she’s a scrapbooker, it’s an occupational hazard), and always assures us it’s for our own good. We’re always a bit dubious about this, but she explains it’s because the more pictures she takes, the more likely it is that there will be a few nice ones. Despite our family being composed entirely of stumpy little goblins, she does manage to get decent pictures of us all, so it seems she has a point.

It’s definitely the case with product photography, too. Even though trawling through hundreds of photos can seem like a chore, those few shots you (and your potential customers) love will be worth it. Besides, you can always sift while you’re watching TV, and I guarantee you a good proportion will be blurry instant deletions, which speeds things up…

After the 183 pictures I took last weekend (of 5 products!), I ended up with this gem. Love knot midi ring on a hand holding a flower, posed on top of the piano music for ‘Your Song’ – Valentine’s theming at its finest.

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Check it out here

If you’ve got any particularly good product pictures you want to share, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll retweet/regram them!

Creative anxiety: some tips to get your small business moving despite yourself

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.” – Carrie Fisher*

Starting an Etsy store has been on my goals list for a good two years now, so why did it take me until December 2016 to bite the bullet and actually open Tiding of Magpies? I mean, there are obviously a ton of different factors, but if I was going to boil it down into one reason, it would be this: anxiety.

Now, anyone who knows me IRL will know that my mental health isn’t the best, but I’m talking creative anxiety, not can’t-leave-the-house, medical anxiety. It’s something that affects even the most ambitious and confident creatives from time to time, and never more so than when we’re starting out. Because, let’s face it, starting something new is scary. Putting yourself and your work out there is no small ask, and it’s so tempting to immerse yourself in market research and procrastinate by tinkering with your products and your brand and a million and one other things. I feel you. But if, like me, you’re struggling to get started, here are a couple of things that might help.

Be prepared…

There are a few things you need to be ‘ready’ to start selling: a name, some products you’re proud of, a platform on which to sell them, a way of getting products to your customers, a working brand identity, realistic prices, an idea of the market you want to enter, and an online presence. Sound intimidating? That’s where preparation comes in. Being prepared is crucial for success, but it’s also crucial for actually starting something which could be a success in the first place. Feeling like you know something about your area and your business is an essential part of overcoming creative anxiety and putting yourself out there.

…but know when to stop preparing

That said, there’s no such thing as having every possible duck in a row with this sort of business. Honestly, you’ll never feel ready. The closest you can get is to have the key details in place and a decent idea of the market you’re about to enter. It’s mostly the practicalities which will trip you up in the early days, so once you have got the details sorted, you’re ready to go. You can tweak your brand and everything else once you know what works and what doesn’t, and the only way you can know that is to just take the leap. If you sit around forever trying to know ‘everything’ before you start, you risk never actually doing it. Plus, online platforms like Etsy make it so easy and so cheap to start selling your handmade goods that you basically get a free pass to try things out. Still need a push? Consider relinquishing a bit of that control (easier said than done when it’s your ‘business baby’, I know, but bear with me).

External factors

My dad, who is a wonderful human (but always right and, my God, he knows it) was actually the catalyst for the ‘grand launch’ of Tiding of Magpies. We were on the phone last November when he came straight out with it: ‘So, when are you opening your shop? It’s nearly Christmas, just pop some things online and see what happens. You might not sell anything but you’ll get your jewellery out there.’ In his annoyingly-right way, he had given me the shove I needed. I stopped fussing over every word on my Twitter bio and obsessively polishing the various pieces of jewellery that were mounting up on my workbench, and decided to open my shop by the start of December.

My dad had given me the encouragement, but it was setting the target and telling people about it that finally got my store open. I fixed Friday, 2nd December as my opening date and started telling everyone who’d listen what date my stuff would be on sale – partner, friends, family, Instagram followers, both of my parents’ dogs… Once the outside world was ‘holding me accountable’, I felt a real obligation to get my shit together. Of course, nobody would have been upset or angry with me if I hadn’t met my target, but I knew I would, and that everyone else would know I’d failed. That turned out to be enough.

Look for some inspiration

This helps before, during and after you start out, in my experience. These are a few podcasts, blogs and Instagram accounts that help me if I’m feeling negative about my business.

Being Boss – These ladies never fail to get me motivated to work hard and aim high, plus they do it all in a chatty, entertaining way.

Create and Cultivate – A ton of inspirational women doing feminist crafting and sharing ideas. Discourse + inspiration + creativity = my dream! Their Instagram is pretty fab, too.

Rachel Lucie – Yorkshire-based jewellery designer whose blog is full of lush photography and interesting behind-the-scenes posts.

Rising Tide Society – Gorgeous, motivational images and advice. Need something to kick off a business brainstorm? Look no further.

Silver Pebble – I booked onto one of Emma’s workshops for my Mum’s birthday present after seeing her in Mollie Makes Magazine, and it was a pretty key moment in figuring out my design process. Her Instagram feed is stunning (and makes me wish I could draw).

Quick disclaimer: Inspiration is great, but if, like me, you’re prone to perfectionism and self-criticism remember that your success and someone else’s success aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s easy to scroll through Instagram for a bit and become paralysed with the thought that you’ll ‘never be as successful as x, y or z, so why bother?’, but that’s bullshit. Inspiration, not comparison, is the way forward.

Look, I know ‘just do it’ is basically a crap piece of advice unless you’re selling sportswear, so…

…do your homework, make things you’re proud of, and then kick anxiety in the face and go out and start your business! It’s hard and it takes time but it’s so incredibly exciting to do something you really love and to discover that people outside of your immediate circle actually value your work (literally and figuratively). I know anxiety deals in ‘what ifs’, but what if you get an order, or two orders, or even just someone favouriting a product? The emotional boost that gives you will be worth it, and anxiety can do one.

Fiiiiinally, if anyone else has tips or opinions on starting a small creative business, let me know – I’m still figuring this stuff out myself…

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*Obviously I’m still gutted about Carrie’s passing and may or may not be quoting her at every opportunity, but it’s also solid advice.