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Pewter jewelry is inexpensive compared to its finer counterparts, it looks lovely, and it can be treated to look a lot like sterling silver in its various forms–from polished to patina’d and everything in between.
Pewter is one of the oldest manmade alloys in the world, dating as far back as the beginning of the Bronze Age. It’s been used by the ancient Egyptians, Romans, early Norse and many other civilizations as well. Pewter is classified as an alloy made with a large percentage of tin (90% or more), combined with other metals for different results.
Pewter may have additions of copper, antimony, bismuth, silver or even lead. In the past, lead was a common addition to tin, though it’s not commonly used anymore–for obvious reasons. You can still find leaded pewter in plumber’s solder at the hardware store, but I would never recommend using this for jewelry work!
Instead, I like to use pewter with a high silver content for my jewelry-making, like Silvergleem–which has a whopping 4%! Now don’t go turnin’ your nose up at that 4%–that’s a lot more than other brands. Plus, there’s only tin and silver in Silvergleem–no other metals. It’s a nice mix that has an ever-so-slightly higher melting point than other solders I’ve used, and I much prefer it.
Why do I like pewter more than other metals? Here’s a list of pros:
- It’s SUPER easy to work with. I don’t need a torch set-up like I would with copper, brass or sterling. All I need is a basic soldering iron set-up.
- Because pewter is so much cheaper, it’s much less pressure and I can try new designs without worry of wasting materials.
- Making jewelry with pewter goes much faster than with other metals. The lower melting point makes it whip up quick, maximizing my time and output.
- The lower melting point means that molten pewter won’t harm most gemstones or other jewelry materials, like antler or bone.
- Pewter can be cast in silicone molds — finer metals melt at too high a temperature to do this. The options are pretty endless with what you can cast if you can make your own molds. Rubber stamps are an option too — as long as it’s the classic brick-red rubber stamps–anything else will melt when it touches molten solder.
- If you buy Silvergleem, it doesn’t contain the common metallic allergens that can irritate skin. With just tin and silver, it’s a pretty skin-friendly alloy.
- Pewter can be finished with many kinds of patinas for an antiqued, blackened, even copper finish. However, you must use lead-free pewter-specific patinas or they won’t work.
- The final product is much more affordable for my customers.
What don’t I like about pewter? Read on for my list of cons:
- Pewter is not as strong as other metals with higher melting points. For instance, I would never suggest a ring be made with pewter unless it was a very specific design with a copper base throughout. High-stress jewelry shouldn’t be made from pewter.
- Pewter is not as heavy as other metals, and unless it’s encasing a stone with its own weight, doesn’t dangle or drape as nicely in necklaces and earrings. This is a matter of personal preference, but it bothers me.
- It can be difficult to build up the edges of a bezel so that they’re secure. This takes experience and can be worked around with a few techniques if you’re still building your skills.
- Most people don’t know much about pewter — and many who’ve heard of it mistakenly think it’s made with lead. Although it can be made with lead, it rarely is anymore. The new alloys are easy to work with and shine up beautifully to rival silver.
- Pewter can tarnish in humid environments and with exposure to saltwater or chlorinated water (like in pools). It’s best not to wear pewter in water as a general rule.
It’s up to you of course, but I love working with pewter over any other metal. And I don’t have to use it exclusively — I can enamel copper pieces with a torch and then set them in pewter, I can work with any number of metals as long as I work with the highest melting points first and finish with the lower melting points. But for working at home, you really can’t beat the ease and accessibility of pewter. Try it — you’ll like it! 🙂