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Articles from STERLING SILVER JEWELLERY (863 Articles)

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Silver lining

On the back of soaring gold and platinum prices, silver is enjoying surging demand as an affordable white metal. CARLA CARUSO reports.

Silver is experiencing price hikes not seen since the early 1980s, with a high to date of about $US20 an ounce. In contrast, in 2001, the shining white metal dipped to around $US4 per ounce - that's not a bad return over seven years!

According to consultant CMP Group's 2008 Silver Yearbook, silver fabrication demand is expected to increase worldwide by 2.2 per cent to 740.2 million ounces, the strongest growth since 2000. Helping the metal has been a robust world economy, but other factors have also come into play. Sky-rocketing gold prices have had a flow-on effect for silver, reinvigorating interest in precious metals as a whole.

Jo Tory, director of Sydney supplier Najo Contemporary Silver Jewellery, notes the changes since first selling Mexican silver on an Italian street corner in 1986: "Silver can either fall into fashion or precious metal categories, sometimes depending on the time of year. Now, with the price hikes, it's seen as more of a precious metal again."

As well, the popularity of other white metals has also helped silver's image. Gina Kougias, who heads up Sydney silver jewellery wholesaler Georgini Collections, explains: "People want (to achieve) that white-gold or platinum look through silver."

Some gold jewellery enthusiasts have also had to reconsider silver after being priced out of the market for their first love, with gold shooting up to $US1,000 an ounce in mid-March. "Gold has just become unattainable for some people, so they have turned to silver as an alternative," Kougias states.

Proportionately, silver's price has climbed by a greater margin than gold's, even if it appears much cheaper - a factor that is creating challenges for some wholesalers, according to Ciara Ryan, design and marketing, Pastiche.

"Prices have risen from approximately $US13 at the beginning of the year to around $US20 per ounce," she says. "This has dropped recently to about $US17 per ounce. Although silver remains a cheaper alternative to gold, the rising price has had an effect on the styles that are being produced. There seems to be an increase in the use of filigree and cut-outs for the simple reason that this reduces the amount of silver present in a particular piece, but still gives the visual effect of a larger item of jewellery. Possibly due to the increase in silver prices, we have seen a definite increase in the sales of filigree pieces."

Even so, silver remains the most plentiful and least expensive of the precious metals. Once the metal on which America's currency was based - used from 1792 to 1965 - silver remains an appealing investment precious metal today, as well as an industrial raw material.

As a precious metal, silver's appeal lies in its adaptability. Being soft and malleable, it can be shaped into a myriad of never-ending, innovative forms, has the most brilliant polish of all the metals and, of course, is economically priced.

Designers are grabbing the opportunity to work with silver, matching it with clear cubic zirconia to create cheaper alternatives to diamond and white gold pieces.

"The most popular combination at the moment is silver and CZ and we have really concentrated our efforts on creating a delicate range of high quality, beautiful and classic styles," Ryan says.

Sarah Lee of Display Plus Imports agrees: "Clear CZ jewellery is in and always sells more than the coloured-stone jewellery."

This is because consumers want the classic look of designer jewellery without the designer price tag, according to Kougias. "They don't want pieces that look like costume jewellery," she says. "They want classic and timeless designs without having to spend too much."

Georgini's new line, Black Label, emphasises just this with Asscher-cut CZ rings and matching necklaces and bracelets.

Samantha Wills, the Sydney designer behind the fashion jewellery line of the same name, says her brand is going for a darker option: "We are using a lot of black stones set in silver whereas, only a few seasons ago, it was bronze metal."

Think chunky silver cuffs, with serpent designs and raised, black roses or just a generous sprinkling of assorted black stones on the wrist accessories.

Anna Diamond, the director and designer behind Adelaide silver jewellery manufacturer Palas, says the brand is incorporating such gemstones as "obsidian, agate, lapis, cherry quartz, quartz crystal, tiger's eye, jade and rose quartz, plus pearl, coral, mother of pearl and faceted glass in bright red, emerald green, sky blue and smoky grey". Bright red, black and metallic-gold leathers cap off the colour explosion.

Tory says her brand is also using leather with silver, plus, "We are bringing in a lot of resins and enamels, so lots of bright, statement colours, such as red, orange and blue."

Pastiche's interchangeable charm bracelet range Lovelinks also employs eye-catching Murano glass. "We have invested a lot of time and energy in adding the most brilliant and beautiful Murano glass designs we could find," Ryan says. "Much of the success of the range depends on the interest and vibrancy generated by the bright colours and versatility of the coloured beads."

With metals, two-tone creations are hot, Ryan adds: "In Lovelinks, we mix gold and silver together to create two-tone beads and bracelets. This enables both wearers of gold and silver to appreciate the collection and create unique pieces that are precious to them. We are also in the process of adding more mixed metals to our core range and creating interesting pieces that appeal to a broader market."

SAMS Group Australia

Najo is also combining silver with stainless steel, aluminium and titanium, while Sydney jewellery importer Aztec Gold and Silver is using gold or gold plating in silver creations.

According to Lee, Display Plus Imports is taking it one step further, "using three-colour tones together - silver, gold and bronze - in everything from rings to bracelets".

Popular finishes fall into three major categories, according to Geoff Lipton, director, Dakota Silver - highly polished, oxidised and satin. "We do a lot of Celtic and Gothic designs and the oxidised finish gives these sculptured pieces a darkened, antique look and makes the crevices stand out even more," Lipton says.

Wills also adopts this look in her fashion range. "The vintage finish on our silver metal is very sought after at the moment," she says. "Polishing the metal after the antique plating looks great. It leaves a piece that has shine, as well as dark oxide, making for a beautiful finish."

Georgini and Najo lean more towards the high polished finishes, but Najo's Tory concedes, "In the fashion area, it is all about the detailed, oxidised look."

Design trends are also wide and varied. Nature-inspired motifs are proving popular, with Najo using such motifs as flowers, while for Palas, there are apples, birds and cats, as well as script necklaces emblazoned with words such as "love", "peace", "eternity" and "dream". Heart shapes are also popular with Najo and Display Plus Imports.

Layering is another white-hot look. "We're selling pieces that can be worn simply or built up by layering necklaces of various lengths or through wearing multiple wrist bands," Diamond says. Tory, from Najo, adds that long chains, hung in multiple strands and with large pendants - such as ball shapes - are also selling well for her. Hanging earrings are proving popular for Palas, with its teardrop, faceted, gemstone designs being largely sought-after.

Whichever the fashion mode, finish or style, it seems the public's appetite for silver remains insatiable. And, with the increased popularity of inexpensive fashion jewellery on the market, silver is again having its time in the sun - and seen as a viable, more long-lasting alternative that is certainly cheaper than gold.

A snapshot of silver

While silver is enjoying solid popularity in the jewellery market, its other uses and purported powers should not be glossed-over. Silver is a shining white light in the precious metal world - and this generation is not alone in worshipping its existence.

Since ancient times, the soft, lustrous metal has been considered highly precious and used for all manner of top-end ornaments, jewellery, tableware and utensils.

Today, its use has extended to electronics, batteries, photography and more.

In the past, silver has even been associated with magical powers, believed to promote healing and good luck and ward off evil spirits for the wearer. In Ancient Egypt, it was once considered to be even more precious than gold.

In the 18th century, things started slowly changing. A new fashion fad emerged in Europe - silver shoe buckles, in place of laces. Still, it was a trend enjoyed by just a privileged few.

It was not until the Industrial Revolution - and the birth of mass-manufacturing - that the shiny metal became readily accessible to all.

First mined in Asia in about 4000BC, the metal is generally produced as a by-product of copper, gold, lead and zinc mining today. Major silver sources include ores in Peru, Mexico, China, Chile and here - Australia. Peru and Mexico, in particular, have been producers since 1546 and remain major players.

Susan Campbell, the director of Sydney jewellery importer Aztec Gold and Silver says, while her business had turned to other foreign countries to fulfil demand, such as Italy and Thailand "Mexico is still the best source for silver jewellery."

Generally, sterling silver - 92.5 per cent silver and 7.5 per cent copper - is the standard for jewellery of its type worldwide and has been so since the 14th century. The copper toughens the silver for use as jewellery.

In the global marketplace, Geoff Lipton, from Melbourne jewellery importer Dakota Silver, says not all manufacturers do the right thing. "Unfortunately, there's silver that comes out of some places these days stamped 925 when it clearly isn't," Lipton says. Buyers beware.

Nickel silver and German silver should also not be confused for the real deal as neither contains the precious metal - both are merely alloys of copper, zinc and nickel.

Silver has similar working qualities to gold, although it can actually achieve a more brilliant polish. And, Silver 925, an international association of silver manufacturers, fabricators and designers, says today's most creative and innovative designers - from America's Tiffany and Co to Denmark's Georg Jensen - are attracted to the metal due to its low price and flexible workability, which allows it to be shaped into many varied creations. "Unlike costume jewellery, sterling silver endures and can be enjoyed for a lifetime, and is more affordable than other precious metals," Reads a statement from the association.

For this reason, retailers around the world are stocking up on a wide selection of the hottest silver looks at prices unlikely to really dent the wallet.

Carla Caruso • Journalist
Carla Caruso has been a jewellery junkie for as long as she can remember, has covered the Vicenza gold fair in Italy and one day hopes to pen a novel about all that glitters. She has been a freelance contributor to Jeweller since 2005.
Australian Diamond Trading Corporation (ADTC)

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