Silver-filled wire is marketed as a precious metal alternative, providing the results of sterling silver at a reduced cost, and has moved through the artisan community with a quiet speed, gaining popularity every day, while the price of sterling silver fluctuates at an unpredictable pace. Silver-filled wire is 10% sterling plate mechanically heat bonded to a brass or copper-alloy core, with a layer of silver a hundred times thicker than most commercial silver plated metals, allowing the artist more workability as a sterling product with greater design options. I’ve had the opportunity to use this wire for a while now, and though I find it a suitable, even preferable, alternative to an enameled copper wire, craft wire or sterling plated copper, I think it falls short of a sterling or fine silver replacement.
This is not to say I’m not happy to share this product with customers. Silver-filled wire oxidizes well with Liver of Sulfur Extended Life Gel (review soon), buffs to a nice shine and wears very well. Information about this product states it can be soldered, though I’ve not had the opportunity to test this claim. It does not ball well when torch-heated, and carries thick fire scale when attempted, due to it’s copper alloy base, so this is a design element I’ve yet to enjoy with this wire. The half-hard holds it’s shape well, provides sufficient “spring” for ear wires, and doesn’t seem to effect sensitive skin in a negative manner.
I do recommend, however, special care be taken with oxidization and subsequent buffing. If you choose to oxidize, use a low temperature heated water and Liver of Sulfur solution. Better to dip multiple times than strip your piece of its plating. A gentle hand is required when buffing. A heavy handed steel wool buffing can quickly remove plating, reveal the brass beneath and result in a brown soiled or smudged finish. Though manufacturers try to market this as a bi-metal effect great for engraving, I find it unattractive.
Overall, this wire is best suited for those who appreciate an oxidized silver look without the cost of sterling, especially when buying in bulk, or for hobbyists. But for those with dollars to spare, I recommend (and prefer) sterling or fine silver. When considering the little savings, 1/10th the silver, and given it’s inherent shortcomings, seems hardly sufficient.