Tibetan Jewelry - 15 million and counting....
Did you know if you search Tibetan silver charms on google you will find 4.15 million hits. While searching for Tibetan jewelry you will arrive at over 15 million hits. If you love purchasing jewelry as gifts or collecting beautiful jewelry for yourself this should be disconcerting. But why? In a nutshell Tibetan silver is just an alloy covered in silver color that contains no silver whatsoever. It's the toxic metals in Tibetan silver (not silver) alloy that is concerning to researchers, doctors, and jewelry artists.
What's in a Name?
Fine Tibetan Sterling Silver - the real deal
Historically, centuries ago, 'Tibetan Silver' did contain silver, and some old items may be predominantly silver. A beautiful metal decades ago, silversmiths made Tibetan with 30% of silver. Once the market became flooded with fake and cheap jewelry from China calling itself Tibetan making real Tibetan silver become rare to find. Fine Tibetan real Sterling Silver has a metal test resulting in 92.5% of silver.
Tibetan Silver and the Theft of a Brand
China and overseas (non USA) manufacturers soon caught on that Fine Tibetan Sterling was in high demand and found a way to enterprise on the brand. I was unable to locate when this fake 'Tibetan silver' was first introduced here in the USA but my recollection is seeing it around 1998 for the first time and after researching these inexpensive charms and findings back in the late 1990's discovered that there was no silver in 'Tibetan silver' pieces, but what it was made of, as a metalsmith, I knew I would never work in this material.
Is Tibetan Silver Nickel Free?
Scientists have tested and proven that they contain toxic levels of lead, nickel and arsenic. These chemicals can cause dire health problems. Many doctors keep on condemning the use of these counterfeits. Tibetan Silver has potential health hazards because the definition of the alloy in it is uncertain.
Does Tibetan Silver Tarnish?
You can find on Etsy, Ebay, Amazon and other websites this Tibetan silver, Zinc Alloy, Silver Overlay, and even Stainless Steel. When in fact it is none of these things, but is certainly a way to get customers to purchase their products. Customers think they are getting a deal purchasing a charm bracelet for $38 or less. Your $38 charm bracelet is toxic, can turn your wrist green, and the plating wears off really quickly showing that ugly yellow/orange color underneath.
Is Tibetan Silver Toxic - you bet it is!
Some doctors will discourage you from wearing this silver if you’re pregnant because you might have pre-term delivery and fertility problems. Also, it’s not recommended for children since they might have health problems during their early ages.
Tibetan Silver' includes copper-tin, and copper-nickel alloys; zinc alloys; and other alloy compositions, as well as base metals such as iron plated with a silver alloy. An X-ray fluorescence analysis showed that six of seven items acquired online and described as 'Tibetan silver' were alloys containing primarily copper, nickel, zinc.
In conclusion, Tibetan silver has too much arsenic and lead, which cause health issues. Scientists have done fluorescent X-ray tests for the fake Tibetan silver, and the results are not great. It has 1.3 % arsenic and 54 % lead, which are very harmful.
Don't be Fooled by Zinc Alloy
Over the last few years information on Tibetan silver has started to come forward touting the dangers of the toxic metals. In order to market it in the USA they are now rebranding this metal to Zinc Alloy. While Zinc will have less toxic metals, these charms will contain Zinc, Copper, Brass and Nickel, resulting in allergic reactions. The silver coating wears off quickly, the casting is not well defined and looks cheap, they are heavy due to mixed metals, also abrasions and dents can show that may result in the jewelry piece cracking. Looking for quality jewelry to last a long time, avoid zinc alloy pieces. This is all too common in most inexpensive charms you will find on Etsy, Ebay, Amazon and around the internet.
My Conclusion and Why I work in Stainless Steel
I drive my artists in the studio crazy. Whenever we purchase new supplies, I cut it put it under the scope, test it, weight it to make sure it is true stainless steel because this is my metal of choice. Generally, we stay with the same 3 manufacturers and have our components created for us from sketches that we turn into 3D molds. Many of my charms are also stainless those that aren't are hand cast in USA Pewter, created here in the USA, Rhode Island and New York. While these charms are move expensive, you can't beat the quality and of course they contain no heavy metals.
- Helmenstine, Anne Marie (27 Dec 2017), "What Is Tibetan Silver?", www.thoughtco.com
- Adie, Gilbert U. (19 Nov 2020), " Preliminary Study of Heavy Metals in Low-Cost Jewelry Items ", National Library of Medicine