Sway pendants in Argentium
Silver is in for a scintillating year, if the bullish outlooks of alloy producers are anything to go by. Leading suppliers report steady to higher demand for silver in 2016 and expect growth to continue this year on the back of new products and initiatives.
Legor Group Spa entertained more requests for silver alloys in 2016, thanks mainly to the consolidation of some large clients, says Andrea Friso, division product manager for Master Alloy Division. In demand were silver alloys for casting with high reusability and simple processes such as absence of cracking and speed of operations, he shares.
According to Friso, while Legor witnessed an encouraging resurgence in demand for gold from some areas, this did not reduce silver consumption, particularly in the US and European Union countries. In Asia, there were some shifts from precious to non-precious metals to address specific customer requests or cover production when demand for silver was low, but this appears to be a temporary measure.
The new silver
2017 is shaping up to be a special year for Legor on the silver front. The company enhanced its offerings with the January launch of Silnova, its new silver 930 alloy with high tarnish resistance. The patent-pending alloy is the result of Legor's most ambitious R&D ever, dedicated to finding a silver alloy formulation that has extremely high resistance to tarnish.
According to Friso, Silnova’s resistance to tarnish is comparable to a 375 white gold alloy and as much as 20 times that of a standard sterling silver alloy. "These claims have been proven by a large series of laboratory tests and real-life tests, the latter involving people wearing Silnova products over the period of a year in our Bangkok, Mumbai and New York branches. Silnova avoids the need for plating, thereby reducing costs and time-to-market in the production process," he remarks.
The company is also enlarging its sales force in markets that are proving important to the business. This year, it is training its sights on the US and some South American countries, says Friso. The company will likewise strengthen the position of its branches, particularly the Legor Group China branch in the Panyu district in Guangzhou.
Legor offers more than 450 choices in gold, silver, palladium and platinum alloys available in master alloy or in ready-to-use drops, and a large variety of brasses and bronzes. Among its perennial bestsellers are its ready-to-use drops for silver production that ensure higher quality and lower rejection rates, owing to the use of extra pure raw materials and production in special furnaces using oxygen-free silver, Friso says.
Ring tree from United Precious Metal Refining Inc
United Precious Metal Refining Inc also witnessed stronger demand for its sterling silver alloys and grains in 2016. Vice president of international sales Kamal Lalvani attributes the growth to the superior quality, consistency and anti-tarnish characteristics of the products. Reasonably stable silver prices also helped maintain momentum for sterling silver jewellery last year, he adds.
"For both casting and fabrication alloys, demand came largely from Asia, Europe and the US," Lalvani remarks. "Much-sought-after are alloys with high tarnish resistance, those that offer an antique look and bright silver alloys that do not require plating."
Lalvani is confident that United PMR's silver alloys will do well this year. He is targeting similar to modest increase in business, notably from the Americas, Asia and Europe. Overall growth will however depend on the prices of precious metals this year, he says.
Demand was likewise stable for Heraeus Ltd's silver alloys last year, with the market particularly keen on alloys with better hardness and greater tarnish resistance, reveals Dr Po Hung Ko, head of sales, Functional Materials, Chemical Products for the company's Global Business Units – Heraeus High Performance Products, Heraeus Metal Management.
Dr Ko observes that 2016's challenging business conditions led some jewellery manufacturers to adjust their alloy preferences – some started using locally made alloys, while others asked for alloys with simple compositions of precious metals to ensure these are hypoallergenic and safe to use as jewellery. "Some brands also launched coloured silver jewellery but these are not sterling silver since the silver fineness is quite low. So it is difficult to say if these are still silver jewellery or higher-grade fashion jewellery," he explains.
Silver jewellery is bound to remain popular in 2017, Dr Ko says. "Famous brands such as Pandora have excellent marketing strategies as well as a strong and loyal following in the market. Other brands are likely to follow fashion and design trends, which bode well for silver. It always helps too that silver jewellery is quite affordable," he explains, adding that prices of precious metals will play an important role in manufacturing decisions.
Two-tone bangles in Argentium by Eternal Silver
Purity of purpose
Argentium International Ltd, for its part, is gearing up to expand its footprint in the market, according to operations director Elizabeth Hunt. Owned by Allied Gold Ltd, one of the UK's largest wedding ring manufacturers, the company holds the patents for Argentium Silver, which features four alloys available in two silver grades. Argentium 935 Silver has a competitive price point for the volume market, while the 960 grade conforms to the UK Britannia standard thus meeting the requirements for premium jewellery manufacturers.
Sales for Argentium have continued to grow globally, from China to Thailand through to large numbers of artisans and mass manufacturers in the US and a rising number of companies in India, Australia and South Africa, says Hunt, adding that interest in the alloy is also growing in Europe and Scandinavia.
She notes that aside from Argentium's higher purity of silver, customers also benefit from its excellent mechanical and physical properties. "Argentium can be hardened by a simple heat treatment post production to give excellent durability and scratch resistance. It is both antibacterial and hypoallergenic, making it the material of choice especially for clients making children's jewellery," she remarks.
Rings and bangles in Argentium
Also enhancing Argentium's appeal to manufacturers are its greater tarnish resistance and firestain-free production, Hunt adds. Manufacturers get to reduce some of the time-consuming and costly activities associated with traditional sterling silver; labour and chemical costs can be trimmed since Argentium does not require plating to retain its natural colour. Moreover, the fact that Argentium can be fused rather than just soldered allows for new thinking in both design and production.
"Our own range of fused ‘Promise Rings’ has been hugely popular and continues to grow in demand, showcasing beautifully the fact that other precious alloys can be fused to Argentium in wafer-thin layers to create fantastic designs," she says.
The company is stepping up advertising and promotions in a wide range of markets to further raise awareness of Argentium among manufacturers and consumers alike. These include developing online demonstrations and workshops, conducting courses across the globe, working with universities and colleges initially in the UK and actively appointing a wider range of distributors to better serve and promote Argentium Silver in local markets.
"Through our websites, we also offer both artisans and larger producers the opportunity to utilise our trademarked branding and to draw on a range of marketing support material that they can use to endorse and enhance their finished lines and explain why Argentium is better for the consumer," Hunt shares.