Monday, May 23, 2016

05.23.16 The Magic of Argentium - Take it to the Limit

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Argentium was invented by Peter Johns, a metalsmith who works and teaches at Middlesex University in London.  He was commissioned to create a silver that would not tarnish, or develop firescale (blackening) when it was heated, and thus argentium - and alloy of pure silver and germanium, was born.  The folks at Middlesex University must have known that argentium would be a magical metal...its hallmark is a unicorn!

For jewelry fabrication, argentium silver behaves much more like gold than like sterling.  This is what led Ronda, a master goldsmith, to working with the metal.   As both a jeweler and a teacher, she began to test - and push - the limits of argentium.  When we started our second project - the slumped leaf earrings, she said that Peter Johns told her "you shouldn't be able to do that"...but turns out she, and all of us in class, could in fact heat the metal just beyond its fusing temperature to make it "slump" over a wire frame.

At the end of the first day, we started the project by fusing a wire frame - a leaf shape - to sheet silver.  The center wires were left long to create earwires. 

On day two, we moved on to the next step, which involved turning the sheet over and heating the metal beyond the fusing point to cause it to "slump" over the wire frame. 

The result...a beautiful, organic shape that we then formed over a mandrel, (added patina, in my case) and polished into gorgeous, elegant leaf earrings.  The skills we learned in this project focused heavily on the the limits of the metal and the use of the torch - and we would build on that knowledge for the next two projects...

...including the one we started that afternoon.  Round pendant dangles with wire, granules (tiny bits of silver heated until they form spheres) and a bezel set stone.

We used thin (20 gauge) wire to make jump rings in three sizes, then annealed them and stretched them over a mandrel to make two uniform sets of concentric circles.  I think anneal may be Ronda's favorite word - and with good reason - it is a way to push the metal to do what you want...when it becomes work hardened, you can stop, heat - and you are in control of it again.

After making the rings the right sizes, we used the same technique as before to fuse the wires to a backplate and create the base for what would become (on Day 3) another pair of fabulous earrings with bezel set oval onyx (which are simply sitting on the backplate in the photo - not secured in any way).

Two days - two and a half pairs of earrings...

Until next time.

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