There are a lot of metals that are used in making jewellery. Some are more popular than others. Here is a quick run down on some of the more popular ones and what they are made of, their benefits and other useful info.
Is made from aluminium. Natural aluminium wire has a black residue on it so for wire used for jewellery it has been cleaned, however over time this residue may start to build up again. A simple clean in warm soapy water will usually do the trick or use a ultrasonic cleaner.
Aluminium wire is very light weight and is very soft - you can usually use your fingers to shape the wire. It is available in a range of colours which may vary between lots so keep this in mind when buying for a particular project.
Please be aware that currently there are a lot of cheap aluminium wires available from China. These can be great, but be aware that there are usually marks on the wire, which means that you see the natural silver colour of the wire. It is the way the wire is manufactured that creates these marks, I know as I have purchased some and have not been happy with the quality. The wire I stock is of a high quality and do not have issues with marked wire.
Is the newest update to Sterling Silver. It is made from 93.5% silver and has germanium and copper added to it. This means that it can be stamped 925 for sterling silver, but it is naturally tarnish resistant. So this means that there is less polishing and can be used for all sorts of decorations, not just jewellery. It is available in multiple wire gauges, shapes and tensions just like Sterling Silver. You can also hammer, solder, tumble and polish the same as Sterling Silver. This is a great alternative to those people who can not wear silver as they turn it black very quickly. I can not wear Sterling silver, but I can wear Argentium. To keep clean, just rinse in warm soapy water.
Brass is an alloy made from Copper and Zinc, typically 70% Copper and 30% Zinc. It is quite heavy in weight but has a very golden colour. These days brass wire is being used instead of gold plated wire. It does tarnish quite quickly but can be easily cleaned by placing in a bowl of lemon juice for a minimum of 10 minutes. Simply rinse off the wire in clean water and it is ready for use. Also note that some brass wires used for jewellery making have a clear coating to make them more tarnish resistant. The gold colour is determined by the ratio of copper to zinc.
Is, made of (surprise surprise) copper. It comes in different gauges and is relatively cheap to buy. It makes a perfect practice wire and these days is popular to in mixed metal jewellery. It will tarnish (as copper is prone to do) however some people like this effect. I always practice my new designs with copper, just to see how it will look and how hard it is to achieve the look I’m after. It's great to use so that you can perfect a technique before using more expensive jewellery wires.
Coloured Copper Wire
Is a copper based wire that is permanently coloured. It is easy to use, inexpensive and is available in different gauges and colours. This is one of the original wires used in jewellery making, however be aware that there are quality differences in this product. The differences are basically how many times the product has been baked to keep the colour on. Some of the cheaper coloured wire only has a very thin layer of colour which means that it is easily marked. The thicker the layer of colour, the more times it has been baked, the stronger and shinier the colour will be and the more resistant it will be to scratching. If you scratch this wire you will see the copper core. It is available in multiple wire gauges and many different colours.
Also known as Bullion wire. This is wire that is actually a coil, so it is hollow in the centre. Usually available in silver and gold and in different sizes. It is traditionally used in jewellery making to protect find threads or cords - you thread the cord through the wire and it sits over cord protecting it from rubbing which may weaken the cord. However it can be used as a spacer, as a wire, or coiled into beads.
Gold Filled Wire
Is not what it sounds like. It is actually made from a gold coloured alloy (usually jewellers brass) which is then dipped in gold (minimum of 10k’s). This results in the wire having a 5% gold content (referred to as 1/20th gold). Be aware that there are some cheap versions of this wire available which have a copper core, which means that you will see a colour difference and if you scratch this wire, it may show the different coloured core.
Sometimes you see wire advertised as “Gold filled wire 12k”, meaning the wire is dipped in 12 karat gold. 14k and 12k are the most common versions, but I have seen a 10k available. This in effect means that the jewellery wire looks like gold and wears like gold.
As gold if very hard it does not “wear off”, it does not chip or scratch while you’re wearing it and will look like new from one generation to another. You do have to be mindful of scratching the jewellery wire with your tools but light scratches can be sanded out. It is available in multiple wire gauges, shapes, tensions and now we even have solder available. This wire can be tumbled with stainless steel shop, hammered (gently) and soldered. All of the wire that I stock on this site is 14K with a jeweller's brass core, it is top quality made in the US.
Gold Plated Wire
Gold plate means that the item has gone through an electroplating process, where gold is bonded to an alloy. The gold layer is very, very thin (only microns thick). The alloy is a mixture of different metals, usually copper, brass and nickel. So gold plating is prone to wearing off, chipping and can be easily marked. A lot of findings are gold plated and some jewellery wires are as well.
These days it is very hard to tell if something is actually gold plated or has been coated to appear gold in colour. Some gold coloured wire is actually brass and not copper alloy. If you want to know that it is actually gold plate, then you need to ask about the item specifically, don't assume that gold coloured wire is gold plated!
Jeweller's Bronze Wire
Is an alloy of Copper (85%) and Zinc (15%). It is actually a variety of Brass wire (which is typically 70% copper and 30% zinc) and is also known as Merlin's gold, Red Brass and Rich low-brass. It is used mostly in jewellery making as it has a great gold colour. It is also quite a hard wire and is usually tarnish resistant.
Is a flexible steel wire that comes pre-shaped in circles. You can find it in sizes for rings, bracelets (large and small) and necklaces (large and small). It can be natural (looks like steel) or you can even get gold plated and silver plated. Due to its hardness, you must use special cutters designed for cutting Memory wire, otherwise you will quickly blunt ordinary pliers. There is also no way to straighten memory wire, it retains its same shape, hence the name!
Niobium is another type of metal that is strong but also hypo-allergenic in nature. It's naturally a silver colour, but quite often you will find it called "Anodized Niobium Wire". This means that it has been coloured by placing the wire in a solution and running an electrical current through the solution. This process means that colours can vary greatly between batches and that colours may not be consistent within a batch, so the wire may have a few hues to it.
However you do have to be careful as tools will scratch the colour off, damaging the wire. Please be aware this is NOT the same as craft wire. It is a lot more expensive and is naturally hypo-allergenic. You may also find some cutters are not suitable for cutting Niobium wire (due to it's strength), follow the manufacturers guidelines for your tools. It is available in a range of colours and gauges. Do not use a rotary tumbler with this wire, only ultrasonic.
Sterling Silver Wire
Is an alloy made up of 92.5% silver and another metal (usually copper). The copper makes sterling silver harder and therefore better to work with. It won’t lose its colour, however it may tarnish over time. It is available in multiple wire gauges, shapes, tensions and sheet. It is a classic wire that has been used for generations and can be cut, hammered, soldered, twisted, just to name a few.
Sterling Silver Filled Wire
This wire is very new to the market (late 2011). Basically it is copper wire that is dipped in Sterling Silver. There are two varieties available, at present, one is a 5% Sterling Silver and one is 10% Sterling Silver. The percentages refer to how thick the Sterling Silver is on the copper wire. I have used both varieties and now only stock the 10% version as I had problems with flaking and cracking with the other one.
This wire is a great alternative as it is cheap but still gives that great shine and colour that Sterling Silver provides. It can be hammered, twisted and bent. They only thing to watch is that you may see the copper core if you hammer it too hard or on the ends of thicker wire. It is available in multiples gauges, shapes and tensions. The version of wire that I stock is 10% sterling silver and is made in the US so it is of a high quality.
The data here is for information purposes only and may change, or be updated at any time. A best effort has been made in ensuring the information is accurate and up to date, however I will not be held accountable for any inadequate, inaccurate or misleading information.