Emerald Turquoise Ring
For centuries, traditional Sterling silver has been the choice of jewelry artisans due to its light color, strength and malleability. However, Sterling does present some challenges. Specifically, it is prone to fire scale and tarnishing. While thoughtful, simple solutions can keep both at bay, it’s good to know that there is an alternative to traditional Sterling: Argentium.
I began working with Argentium about a year ago, and I love it. Its properties are similar to traditional Sterling (92.5% silver), yet it offers some rather nice perks. Due to its Germanium and lower Copper composition, Argentium is a fire scale-free alloy and is highly tarnish resistant. This makes fusing/soldering and finishing times much more efficient. However, a few technical aspects should be noted.
- Argentium displays a paler color than Sterling when heated. Proper annealing temperatures range from 1050 degrees to 1150 degrees fahrenheit. Overheating can be avoided by working in a darkened area. The pale red color can be difficult to see in a well-lighted area. Flux can be used as an indicator of proper heat, as when the flux becomes fluid yet still bubbling, proper annealing is achieved.
- If just beginning to work with Argentium, you can use this little trick: mark the silver with ink from a permanent marker. When the ink fades, the Argentium has reached its annealing point. Once, you get the hang of it, no markers are needed
- Argentium has a lower melting temperature than traditional Sterling (about 60 degrees less). Due to this lower temperature, hard silver solder is not recommended. Most suppliers now offer solder specifically fashioned for Argentium.
- Flux is only necessary on the joint – not the entire piece. Flux on the entire piece prevents the Germanium oxide from being formed which counteracts its tarnish properties.
- Argentium does not conduct heat very well. So when fusing or soldering, give the entire piece a general heating then focus the heat on the joint (not the solder itself) rather than the whole piece.
- Argentium can be fragile when red-hot. Wait a few moments before moving a heated piece.
- Using a separate soldering board for Argentium is recommended. Contamination with traditional Sterling can occur when soldering boards are used for both metals.
- Argentium does not need to be quenched in order to be hardened. Simple air-cooling does the trick.
- Additional heating in a kiln or oven at 580 degrees fahrenheit for about 45 minutes and then air-cooling will achieve a greater hardness
- It is important to keep buffs and other finishing tools used with Argentium separate from those used with traditional Sterling in order to avoid contamination.
- If separation is not possible, then clean buffing wheels by raking them before using then with Argentium.
- Use soapy water when using brash brushes to avoid too much copper (from the brass) coming in contact with Argentium thus causing contamination and tarnish.
These are just a few of the technical aspects of Argentium. More in-depth information on Argentium can be obtained at: www.argentiumsilver.com
I think once you begin working with Argentium, you’ll soon discover it’s seductive power. Have fun creating, but most importantly, always follow proper safety procedures.