Hollow form beads
Hollow form beads are great for designing with because they offer chunkyness without the cost of heavy sterling silver, but how are they made? First a solid-to-the-core model of the bead is made and then a rubber mold is then created. Next, duplicates of this model are made in wax, usually with the pressurized injection method. Up to this point, the process is the same as in any regular casting.
Each wax bead is then thinly coated with a metal paint as a base for attracting silver during plating. The bead is placed in the plating tank for hours until a thick coat of sterling silver is formed over the wax bead. Once this layer of silver has reached the desired thickness, it is removed from the tank and hung on lines ready for the oven. The oven is set to a temperature where the wax is sure to melt away cleanly, but does not affect the sterling silver. What you are left with is a clean sterling silver bead
. This method is time consuming and very labour intensive so, as a result, the price of hollow form components and beads is very high.
Filigree silver beads
Usually a metal model of the bead is made, depending on the fineness of the pattern. Wax is far more delicate and difficult to work with. This model is then cut in half, with the exact placement of the cuts dependent on the design of the bead. Depending on the complexity of the bead, the model may need to be cut into even more pieces. Rubber molds are made of these pieces.
The pieces of the bead must then be cast separately, after this they are soldered together to form the bead. Extreme care must be made during the soldering stage to ensure there isn’t an excessive amount of solder inside the sterling silver bead and the pieces are securely and permanently connected. The seam must be cleaned and polished to perfection; you should never be able to see where the solder seam is. This is non-trivial and can only be done by expert silversmiths.
With intricately patterned sterling silver beads
, the quality of craftsmanship is highly visible and high quality filigree sterling silver beads are very difficult to manufacture. The price of filigree sterling silver beads is higher than solid sterling silver beads because they are lighter but difficult to make well, however, what you pay in the labour you save in silver. This is even more pronounced with larger sterling silver beads , which when solid, can easily weigh 20 grams or more.
Both solid and filigree sterling silver beads are an excellent addition to your work, and can help provide a bit of sparkle and design without too much variance in your design.