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January 12, 2023
Heavy metal: It's a material, a style and a type of music. Over the years I have made a lot of bold jewelry for metalheads, but have always tried to steer clear of heavy metal in my material choices. In this blog post I am going to start by sharing photos of jewelry I made for heavy metal music-smith, Jerry Only from The Misfits band and end with some information on heavy metals as jewelry materials
Jerry Only found my work through Florodora, a shopping destination on Dearborn St. in Downtown Chicago, around the corner from the Harold Washington Library and Chicago Board of Trade. I think it was around 2010 that Jerry and Joanna began collecting my jewelry, the same year I started making cephalopod jewels. They commissioned a 3-piece set, to date one of the most interesting and involved commission jobs I have had the pleasure of working on. The theme was Octopus vs. Squid, and I made them a pair of dangly tentacle earrings, an octopus ring and a giant squid necklace. I still make a version of the octopus ring with various jewels in the eyes. All the pieces I made for Jerry and Joanna could click together and be worn either separately or as one epic necklace with the squid battling the octopus and the earrings forming the squid's longest tentacles. Shown here all together as one piece. The solid silver squid necklace had a detailed depiction of a squid brain/nervous system on the reverse side which I made in solid 18ky gold. Here are some photos of that set.
Heavy metal as a material includes 20 metals, many of which are used for jewelry, although they arguably should not be as they are toxic for human and environmental health. Heavy metals include lead, cadmium, mercury, nickel, arsenic, chromium, copper, iron, zinc and cobalt. Platinum is also a heavy metal, though it is safe for working and wear. The others I have noted above are either toxic, (carcinogenic, teratogenic, or neurotoxic, including lead, cadmium, nickel, cobalt and chromium) or they are allergenic, like copper. Although copper is a common component of alloys, and would not be expected to be toxic or to produce an allergy in small amounts, it is an allergen and I wear ppe when I work with it because otherwise I have found that working with copper irritates my skin and upper respiratory system.
As a consumer, how are you meant to know when heavy metals might be present in your jewelry? It is hard to know, and unless your jeweler is reviewing the MSDS for each metal and material they are using, as they should do, your jeweler may not even know the components of the alloys they are working with. It is particularly easy *not* to know what is in jewelry metal if the jeweler is not also the caster/forge. And if they do know, they are not necessarily required to tell you, depending on the country they are working in.
Lead is a common component in all brass, including jewelers' brass, so it is safe to assume that your brass jewelry contains lead.
Jewelers' bronze contains nickel and also can contain lead, so assume that your bronze jewelry contains these metals.
Steel can be many different alloys, usually containing a mixture of pure steel and iron, chromium, titanium and nickel.
Cadmium is a common component of jewelry-solder. Solders that do not contain cadmium often have nickel as the substitute. It is also worth noting that plumbers' solder tends to contain antimony, a serious neurotoxin, and electronics solder usually consists of lead, antimony and cadmium, so please NEVER use electronics solder to repair jewelry, and when soldering electronics, work with a respirator and a fume extractor.
When it comes to cheap jewelry, there is no benefit to wishful-thinking. Instead, it is good to have a smaller collection of high quality jewelry made by responsible, ethical and knowledgeable professional jewelers.
If you ever have any questions about the safety and sustainability of the materials and techniques used in the jewelry I make, please do not hesitate to ask! I have now been making and selling my jewelry for 22 years (since 2001!) and I love sharing my knowledge of metals nearly as much as sculpting metal into fine jewelry.
With any questions or for commission inquiries email me directly info@peggyskemp
Thanks for reading. Happy new year!
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