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How to do safe silver plating on sea shells

Q. I have recently retired as a therapist/piano teacher and want to start a business silver plating seashells as I live in the seashell capital of the USA. I've collected thousands of shells over twenty years and would like to offer them, silver plated, to select jewelry stores, hotels, etc. I was not aware of any environmental impact, but since Sanibel is a wildlife sanctuary, I have a feeling this dream will not come true. Are there any safe alternatives to the electrical process wherein one could "paint" silver onto shells? I'm sure my naivete is showing! Thanks! Karen

Karen K. Richards
- Sanibel, Florida, USA

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A. Hello, Karen. As we speak I'm reading my third Randy Wayne White novel about "Doc Ford", the marine biologist on Sanibel--and loving it.

Anything, including seashells, is electroplateable. After cleaning, the shells are carefully lacquered, with several coats, because the material they are made of would otherwise readily dissolve in the acids that are a part of the plating process. Then they are painted or sprayed with something conductive. Then they can be plated. I would suggest gold because silver will tarnish and the shells may not stand up to the necessary cleaning. But I suppose you could silver plate and then lacquer again.

You might develop all the cleaning, lacquering, and metallizing skills yourself and align yourself with a plating shop on the mainland who would actually do the gold plating step and ship the shells back to you. But you do want to be very careful about any copper or silver-bearing materials you use as these are powerful biocides. Enjoy.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up signThanks so very much for the answer to my question. I shall heed it to the letter.

Karen K. Richards
- Sanibel, Florida, USA

Q. Very excited to find this previous letter and response. I am considering doing the same thing, i.e., silver plate shells, as I also live in a shell haven. Is this process 'doable' entirely by hand or do I have to involve others? As you can see, I am very green here but I would love to start a small, totally "homemade and by hand" type product, is this a silly wild dream? Thank you for your help!

sarah Allinson
- Pontevedra Spain
January 5, 2015

A. Hi Sarah. Art & craft may involve technologies, but it's primarily about art & craft. Artistic vision and craft skills remain the most important ingredients. Then you just need to hunt for what safe materials you need to best express yourself.

There are conductive paints you can use, and then follow them up with copper plating, then silver, or gold plating if you wish. There are good youtube videos about plating such stuff.
Yes, you can do it all yourself if you wish, but remember to investigate the toxicity of any solutions you use, and follow a good safety protocol, and practice environmentally responsible disposal. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
February 2015

Q. Hi, I'm currently researching this topic too. I see a number of seashells available that are gold or silver edged. Some market them as "dipped" others as plated. The shells don't look like they have been lacquered though (they look natural) so I'm curious if there's a way to only plate areas of the shell without lacquering the entire shell (only areas to be plated).

Thank you,

Desiree de Myer
jewelry - Linden, New Jersey, USA
May 24, 2019

Q. I'm also interested in this area. I already do some other crafts with seashells and want to diversify. My first search brought this conversation up. Any advice gratefully received.

Rebecca Farren
- Musselburgh, Scotland
August 17, 2019

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