About Base Metal Beads
In recent years as the prices of sterling silver and gold have skyrocketed, base metal beads have gained popularity because of their low price point. In addition, because of the variety of finishes, shapes and sizes, base metal beads offer you more options than ever in your designs.
So... What exactly is base metal? While sterling silver and gold are considered precious metals, base metals are less expensive and more plentiful metals like copper, iron, zinc, aluminum and iron; sometimes, they are an alloy of one or more of these metals. Many base metals are plated. This means that you have a base metal like copper or pewter that has a thin coating of another metal on top. Silver plated pewter beads, for example, undergo an electroplating process wherein a base metal is dipped in a thin silver coating. The advancements made in the plating process itself have allowed us more high quality options than ever for in our jewelry designs.
Antique Brass Beads: Antique brass is a brass plating that has been darkened to look antique. Antique brass beads are fairly neutral in color, allowing them to act as spacers or accents for many gemstone beads, pendants and crystals. Because of its neutral color and vintage finish, antique brass also works well with gunmetal beads and findings.
Antique Copper Beads: No matter what the base metal is, antique copper plated beads have a thin layer of a copper plating that has been chemically altered to look weathered and antiqued. Antique copper beads offer one of the most popular and versatile finishes available today. Because of its warm reddish-brown color, antique copper works well with gemstones and crystals of all colors, and is especially nice with earth tones.
Copper Beads: Copper is a reddish metal that is soft and malleable and a great heat conductor, making it perfect to use as a base metal or in an alloy of metals. In mines where large concentrations of copper are found, you will often find gemstones whose color variations and striations are affected by the presence of copper. Because of its color, copper offers nice contrast to blue turquoise and howlite beads. It works well with earthy gemstones and can be used as spacers between glass pearls and crystals.
Gold Plated Beads: Gold plated beads are a great alternative to gold filled beads. Because gold plated beads are created with a thin coating of gold as opposed to a process that bonds gold to the base metal, they are less expensive. You can use gold plated beads anywhere you would use gold or gold filled; they are especially great with jewel tones such as amethyst, ruby, sapphire and emerald.
Gunmetal Beads: Originally, gunmetal was given its name because it was a metal used to make guns. It consisted of several base metals and was brassy in color. Today, gunmetal is a plating that is almost black in color; in fact, it is sometimes referred to as black oxide. Gunmetal beads can have a shiny, metallic finish similar to hematite in color or a more matte finish. For contrast in your designs, pair gunmetal beads with silver plated chain, findings and pendants. For a more harmonious, romantic, soft, antique look, try pairing gunmetal beads with antique brass findings and components.
Pewter Beads: The base metal pewter is usually at least 85% tin with mixed with traces of copper or silver. Pewter used to contain lead, but in the past decade or so, concerns about lead safety have led many manufacturers to either remove or significantly reduce the amount of lead in this alloy. TierraCast pewter beads, for example, are made in the USA and contain no lead. Pewter, like other base metals, can be plated in gold, antique brass, antique copper and silver.
Silver Plated Beads: Silver plated beads are among our most popular base metal beads because they offer an inexpensive alternative to sterling silver and silver filled beads. Whereas silver filled beads are created using a process that bonds the silver to the base metal during production, silver plated beads are created when a base metal is dipped in a plating solution. The advances in electroplating over the years have allowed high quality silver plated beads to be manufactured that, to the naked eye, look just like sterling silver and stand the test of time without worries about the finish chipping or flaking.
While many people prefer precious metal beads such as sterling silver and gold, base metal beads do offer versatility and affordability in design. With high quality finishes and worries about lead and nickel diminishing, you can rest assured that base metal beads will enhance your jewelry designs in ways you never thought possible.