I have often been asked how you can tell when jewelry is silver. After going through the steps to determine if it is or isn’t (which I will cover in a future post; it’s a lot easier to determine than you think) the next question is, what is it? In most cases, especially for jewelry afer the 30’s, it’s pot metal.
What is pot metal, you ask? Great question!
Pot metal is a combination of different metals melted down and mixed together. There is no science behind it really, no exact recipe for how much of what kind of metal to use or not use. It was a thick, heavy metal, easily cast into molds and cheap to make.
During WWII the need for metal for weapons and troops prevented previously popular metals in jewelry from being used. This is when the use of pot metal in jewelry began to really take off. Jewelry makes used gem stones and rhinestones to dazzle up the pot metal. The metal itself resembles pewter and artists would often cover it with enamel, or a thin coating of silver plating or gold. These coatings (the latter two especially) would wear away quickly.
A good indication that you have pot metal is first the weight of it; it will be heavy in relation to its size. If it’s not coated in enamel ,(sadly some people will paint chipping enamel in an attempt to “repair it”), silver or gold plating, you’ll be able to see the slight uneven coloring in the metal. The metal itself is prone to cracking, pitting and breaching, making it hard to fix since jewelry glue doen’t really stick to the metal mixture. When you look at the texture, it will appear “wobbly”. The surface can be flattened or uneven. It will have tiny little pox marks on it and the texture will have a man made appearance rather than a cookie cutter machine made item.
What am I saying here? Just be careful with your jewelry. That’s really it. Unless you have access to sautering tools. And even then, depending on the metal mixture, sautering doesn’t guarantee a fix.
Pot metal is often overlooked, sometimes deemed a cheap metal. But it’s so much more! It contains a rich history, as people have been using it for years in a variety of accessories. When you find a bit of pot metal, know that you found not only a bit of history but also a piece of jewelry unlike any other because quiet literally, no mixture is like the last.