Monday, May 9, 2016

05.09.16 One is silver...

Photo credit:
I recently attended a meeting in my professional capacity as a policy wonk, sporting a piece of my own jewelry.  I ran into someone I hadn't seen in a while, who complemented my pendant - and then expressed surprise when I said I had taken up metalsmithing, and made it myself.    She said “you are such a left brained person, and jewelry seems so right brained.”

More and more, I object to the idea that our analytical and creative abilities exist in separate spheres of our brains. Take for example my father, a theoretical physicist,  who was also an incredible photographer.  He was as equally engaged in the artistic composition of a shot as in the development and printing of the photograph.  When I was a child I remember spending hours with him in his darkroom as he explained and demonstrated how different papers, chemicals and lengths of exposure could transform one negative into a range of images.

Tiffany & CO Elsa Peretti Sterling
I've recently been writing about this in my professional capacity, too. With the (misplaced, in my opinion) emphasis on STEM, the arts often get pushed aside, but in reality the two are integral to each other and to a complete education.  As I delve deeper into fabrication it becomes more and more clear that I need to understand both the artistic and, for lack of a better word, “scientific” aspects  of making jewelry…which brings me to silver…

When buying or making silver jewelry, there are multiple types of the metal available – and they each have advantages and disadvantages both in terms of workability and aesthetics.

Pure silver - also know as "fine silver" contains no other alloyed metals, but is generally too soft to stand up to daily wear and tear.
Photo credit: Argentium Guild

Sterling silver is what most people think of when they imagine jewelry.  Stamped "sterling" or "925" - sterling is alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.  It is relatively easy to work with, and forgiving of mistakes, but its copper content can to lead to firescale in the fabrication process, and tarnish over time.

Argentium silver  is a relative newcomer to the jewelry scene. It is an alloy of  93.5% silver, 6.5% copper and 1% germanium.  Argentium pieces are stamped "sterling" with a flying unicorn.  Argentium is different - not necessarily harder - to work with.  It can be fused or soldered, depending on what you are trying to do; is not subject to firescale, and resists tarnishing.

So far, most of my fabrication has been in sterling silver, but in anticipation of taking a week long class at Creative Side with renown jewelry artist Ronda Coryell, I am starting to work with argentium as well.

I'm enjoying the challenging of learning new techniques - and why some approaches work better with one kind of metal or another.  Since I like using both sides of my brain, the science helps me to do a better job of having an end result that looks like my vision.  More on argentium to come.

Until next time.

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