Pewter is a jewelry metal we rarely talk about, which is a shame given that it’s the 4th most commonly used metal in jewelry worldwide. You might be wondering:
Isn’t pewter just tin?
Pewter is indeed mostly tin, but its immense value to jewelers goes far beyond its affordability. So, below we’ll go over what is pewter jewelry, what makes it special, and why it deserves more attention than it’s getting.
What is Pewter?
Pewter is a simple alloy of about 90% tin (often more but sometimes as little as 85%), 5 to 10% antimony, and about 2% of copper. Some pewter alloys can also include trace amounts of silver and bismuth, but that’s rare and usually insignificant to the alloy’s overall properties and value.
This simple breakdown gives us some immediate insight into what pewter is: A simple alloy with a silvery-white look and low price due to how affordable its components are. Yet, there is much more to it than that.
Pros and Cons of Pewter Jewelry
Now that we know what exactly pewter is, let’s break down its pros and cons a bit more clearly below:
- As an alloy of tin, copper, and antimony, pewter is very affordable – both the alloy itself and the jewelry made out of it.
- Pewter is hypoallergenic – modern pewter contains no nickel or lead so it’s unlikely to trigger skin allergies or irritations.
- It has a low melting point (295oC or 563oF) which makes it even easier and more affordable to produce – that’s a great boon for both large-scale and smaller jewelry producers, as the energy costs you’d save alone are significant.
- It’s malleable which allows for easy and highly detailed and gorgeous jewelry embellishments. Simple silicone rubber molds are often all that’s needed to make exceptionally beautiful pieces.
- Pewter looks just as good as sterling silver but doesn’t tarnish, so, it retains those good looks even longer.
- Because it looks very much like sterling silver, jewelry pieces made using both sterling silver and pewter are becoming more popular – the silver is often used for necklace chains, cufflink fittings, or earring hooks (which need to be durable) and pewter is used for the earrings and pendants themselves (which means they won’t tarnish).
- Because of its excellent qualities and low price, pewter can also be used as the base for many gold-filled pieces of jewelry or other types of platings with precious metals.
- While the metal itself doesn’t have high monetary value, you’ll find that pewter jewelry pieces are often highly prized for their craftsmanship and artistic value. Because of this alloy’s great qualities, it’s often used to display the artistic qualities of the jeweler.
- Pewter can also be used for electroplating or electroforming – some jewelers often electroplate pewter to give certain pieces a silver-like look for a fraction of the cost and with no risk of tarnishing. This is so easy to do with a simple electroforming kit that everyone can try it at home.
- Because of how soft it is, pewter can get bent or broken easily so you need to be careful with it – that’s why it’s preferred for ornamentation pieces or jewelry that you don’t wear too often.
- That softness also makes pewter ill-suited for rings – it’s primarily used for necklaces, pendants, earrings, and costume jewelry.
- Due to the low value of the metals in its alloy, pewter itself isn’t seen as a valuable jewelry metal – so, this type of jewelry just doesn’t and can’t ever have the same type of prestige and monetary value as gold, platinum, or even silver.
History of Pewter In Jewelry
By all accounts, pewter seems to have been a part of many human societies ever since the Bronze Age. The Ancient Egyptians, Celts, and Romans, as well as the people of both the Middle East and the Far East all knew how to mix these alloy thousands of years ago thanks to how common their components are and how low their melting point is.
The reason we often talk about the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age, but not about Pewter Age, however, is because this alloy is just too soft for weapons and tools – those are the items that the stages of human civilization are named after.
Yet, pewter was still an incredibly common, useful, and popular metal all through the last several thousand years of human development. Pewter has been used for various types of utensils, plates, containers, mugs, tankards, candlesticks, jewelry, ornamentation, and other everyday household items. Up until the invention of porcelain, pewter was the main material used for most such items.
So, even if we rarely talk about it from both a historical and a jewelry world perspective, pewter has actually been around for at least several thousand years.
Vintage Pewter Jewelry
It’s not uncommon to find pewter jewelry from centuries ago if you look for it in auction houses or online. Especially in the 19th century, pewter made somewhat of a comeback when certain medieval items and jewelry designs came back into fashion.
Such vintage pewter items can fetch a good price nowadays because of their historical value and often gorgeous designs. Do be careful when purchasing vintage pewter jewelry or items of any kind, however, as many pewter alloys used to include some lead in them before people learned how dangerous lead can be for our health.
Another note would be to watch out for fake vintage pewter items – the fact of the matter is that new pewter jewelry designs are often given an old or vintage appearance on purpose because it looks good. Unfortunately, that also makes it easier to sell to unsuspecting buyers as “vintage” and therefore at a higher price.
Pewter Jewelry Value
Because of the low value of the pewter alloy, whatever value pewter jewelry has, usually comes from the intricacy and beauty of its design and/or from its historical significance, in the case of vintage pewter. Plus, sentimental value is also a thing when it comes to hereditary jewelry.
This is great, on one hand, because it makes pewter jewelry very affordable. It also allows jewelers to set the price almost entirely based on the craftsmanship that went into the production of the jewelry design. Yet, it also means that pewter value is effectively capped to just that and it can never be as high as that of a similarly-designed jewelry piece made of a precious metal.
All things considered, pewter can easily be called one of the most underappreciated jewelry metals as far as consumers are concerned. For a lot of us, this is a throwaway “filler” metal that’s seen as a knockoff or an imitation of silver.
Jewelers know better, however, which is why pewter is so commonly used. This fantastic alloy is not only affordable but also malleable, tarnish-resistant, with a low melting point, as well as very beautiful.