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Sterling Silver
and other Metals
Jewelry is made from many metals and metal alloys.  The most common are Gold, Sterling Silver and Platinum.  Copper, Brass and Nickel/German Silver are also sometimes used.  Sterling Silver is by far the most prevalent metal in Native American jewelry. 

Sterling Silver is an alloy of pure silver and (most commonly) copper in a ratio of 92.5% fine silver, 7.5% other metals.  Fine Silver (99.9% pure) is too soft to be used for jewelry which is why the alloy is made.    The addition of the small amount of other metal gives Sterling Silver it's strength.  Jewelry made from Sterling Silver is more valuable than that made from Copper, Brass, Nickel/German Silver or Silver- or Gold-plated jewelry.  It's durability and beauty make it very popular in both Native American and contemporary jewelry. 

Nickel Silver, also known as German Silver, outwardly appears similar to Sterling Silver.  It, however, contains no silver at all.  It is an alloy of 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc.  Some cultures covet German Silver and use it in their jewelry and artifacts.  Quite often, however, Nickel Silver is used as a substitute for Sterling Silver to lessen the cost of the final product while still making it "appear" silver.  Many people get taken by Nickel Silver that gets stamped "Sterling" by dishonest individuals.  When held side-by-side with Sterling Silver, most Nickel has a more yellow/green sheen than Sterling Silver does.  This comes from the high amount of copper in the metal alloy. 

Plating is another process used in metals for jewelry.  This occurs by taking a heavier metal (such as nickel) and sandwiching it with the other metal (Silver of Gold).  It is then laminated with a brazing alloy to make it one, inseparable piece of metal.  Once this process is done, it can be rolled out into sheets of varying sizes and made into other useful jewelry products.  "Plated Silver" and "Gold Fill" are two of the more common uses of plating in Native American jewelry.  Gold-Fill (most commonly 12K gold fill) is very popular in accenting sterling silver. 

Copper and Brass are sometimes used to accent Sterling Silver, as well.  The similarity in color to Gold made Brass a more common accent metal.  Again, like Nickel Silver, it has been passed off as Gold to unsuspecting and/or unkknowing individuals.  Brass and Copper, along with Nickel, are also commonly used to practice metal stamping, especially repose stamping such as that used in concho belts.  To get a proper stamp in one blow takes much practice and it is not feasible to waste expensive silver to get this practice.  There are some very beautiful pieces out there, made from less-desirable metals, that were quite probably made by artists "practicing" or learning.