Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Do You Have Problems with Argentium Silver?

        About a year ago, I decided to try to convert my silver stock into Argentium silver. Argentium is a patented alloy of silver that includes some germanium for the purpose of reducing the tendency to tarnish. While the alloy is available in wire and sheet metal, it was utterly unavailable in any kind of special shaped wire, like half round for ring shanks, or the strip that I often use for bezels. Findings were limited, but available, and chain was scarce. In dealing with sourcing problems, I found that I could use the argentum for sheet and wire, and get most of a piece made that way, but when it came to using the proper findings and chains, I had to use some traditional sterling.
      I did as much research as I could on this new alloy, but even though it has been around for at least 5 years, I could not find a single review of the material from a person using it. There was no information from a first hand account about how malleable it was, if it was easily scratched, or if it took a polish well. The only information available was put out by the manufacturers, and generally referred to different temperatures to be used when casting Argentium silver. In order to offer my customers this tarnish resistant option, I continued to use Argentiumas much as I could in the past year, dispite the fact that it costs more and had to be mixed with traditional silver at times. For all the jewelers out there who are interested in this alloy, I am writing this to help you make decisions about this alloy, as there was nothing available for me. 
       The biggest problem I have had is that this metal becomes extremely brittle when heated, and breaks under the slightest pressure when hot. For the first time in 10 years, I dropped a red hot piece of metal in my lap because I was holding it in the air to heat the piece from underneath. At a certain temperature, the corner that I was holding from broke right off, and the piece bounced into my lap. The hole in my apron doesn't bother me. What does bother me, are the cracks that I have to repair every time I push down a bezel that didn't quite complete it's seam--the sheet underneath it cracks. I have had to scrap countless jump rings because if they are heated even slightly, the pressure of holding them in tweezers breaks them in half. I gave up on locking tweezers long ago for these...I'm talking about the delicate touch of just holding the ring in tweezers....the ring breaks before annealing temperature! Has anyone else been using a low-tarnish silver? 
        What experiences are you having? Anyone who has experience with tarnish resistant silver alloys, please join the discussion. With the metal market on the rise, silver is taking a new place in the realm of precious metals. What do you think about tarnish resistant alloys?
-Layne Freedline

3 comments:

  1. Hi, I am new to jewelry making but I am interestested in argentium silver because of it's non tarnish properties and came across this article by Cynthia Eid about her experience in using argentium silver. Check out her article here http://www.yourriogrande.com/downloads/applications/DocumentLibraryManager/upload/ArgentiumSterlingSilver.pdf

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  2. Thank you for the information... so far I've only used Argentium (Rio Grande) wire. I have not had customers complaining, I tell them it is a low tarnish wire because it does discolor. I have not had it darken as sterling can but my unused wire has acquired a dull brownish to yellowish tint. It took a bit of cleaning, usually I can pull sterling wire through a polishing cloth gently to clean. The Argentium took a bit more work to clean before using. I like the idea of using it when I use clear quartz and other stones that darken in the center when the wire tarnishes, but I not purchased it exclusively.

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  3. Hi,
    I too have totally switched from regular sterling to Argentium Sterling. I am being meticulous about not mixing Argentium with Regular Sterling in any pieces, which, as you noted, is often difficult, but I want to know that if an Argentium piece tarnishes, that it was only Argentium. I've made some fused and some chainmail chains that I've had for over 1-1/2 years and so far, no tarnish.
    I happened to see a lapis necklace that I must redo because I don't really like it. It was made by me about 2 years ago and has been sitting in my 'to do bin' waiting for me to get interested in redoing it. It's basically 8mm lapis round beads with regular sterling round beads and regular sterling daisy spacers. When I recently looked at it, many of the regular sterling beads are tarnished. When I see this, it reminds me why I went for Argentium. Especially when you have beads or pearls mixed with metal. I HATE cleaning tarnish in any event, but I especially hate it when the stones are in the way.
    I totally agree with you that the learning curve around fusing or soldering is 'straight up' but I'm determined to persevere. Actually my latest obscession is to try Delft Sand Casting using Argentium.
    I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
    Ciao,
    Carol Minnich
    carolminnich@gmail.com

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