Note: as with all of my web pages (apparently) this page is a work in progress!
Wire and Sheet Metal
Sheet Metal and Wire are divided into two basic classifications: Ferrous and Non Ferrous. Ferrous is a metal or alloy that contains iron and is magnetic. Non Ferrous doesn’t contain iron and is NOT magnetic. Simple really. A (complete?) list of non ferrous metals/alloys are: Copper, Brass, Bronze, Aluminum, Silver, Gold, Zinc, Nickel, Lead, Mercury, Titanium, Magnesium, Beryllium, Bismuth, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt,Molybdenum, Palladium, Platinum, Rhodium, Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten, Uranium, and Vanadium. PHEW!
So, what metals do jewelers generally use? (another list, geez!) Copper, Brass, Bronze, Aluminum, Silver, Gold, Tin, Platinum, Rhodium, Nickel, Zinc and Lead. Jewelers also use Ferrous metals like steel, iron and stainless steel.
In the United States, the B&S (Brown and Sharpe) gauge is used. The British use the British Standard Wire Gauge, which is also known as, Imperial Wire Gauge or British Standard Gauge. Currently, the standard for measurement is BS (British Standard) 6722.
- “In the USA, The National Gold and Silver Marketing Act does not require precious metals to be marked with quality. However, if a quality mark is used, the mark must be accompanied by a manufacturer’s hallmark that is a registered trademark or the name of the manufacturer. If there is ever a question about the content of a piece of jewelry, the manufacturer can be traced using the hallmark stamped on the piece. This accountability is particularly important in gold jewelry. A devious manufacturer could mark a piece 18kt when, in fact, it was 10kt and worth one-third less on gold content alone.” **** (see resources below for source)
The Individual Metals
- Brass is generally an alloy of copper and zinc. The amounts of each metal affects the properties of the brass.
- Lead (up to 2%) can be added to increase malleability. Therefore, the jeweler should be aware of what type of brass that they are using. Lead does not absorb through the skin but, there is a danger that someone, especially a child, will put it into their mouth. See this article on Lead from Public Health for Seattle and King Counties, Washington State: Lead and its Human Effects.
- Brass has excellant acoustical properties, which is why it is used for instruments.
- Brass is more malleable than Bronze or Zinc but less malleable than silver or gold.
- 90% of all brass alloys are recycled. *1 (see resources below for source)
- Brass is considered a “base” metal.
- Brass is fairly resistant to tarnish. As a result, Liver of Sulfur doesn’t work very well on it.
- Brass is a non-ferrous metal and is not magnetic.
- This link to The Engineer’s Handbook, shows the variety of Brasses (and other copper based alloys) available. This leads to a lot of confusion for the jeweler.
- The higher the copper (CU) content in Brass, the greater the malleability (softness).
- Brass with a high zinc content will also be less malleable. Brass with more than 30% zinc (ZN) is rarely used in jewelry making because it is very brittle and hard and has a tendency to collapse if it is overheated.
- Commercial Brass is a good choice for the jeweler with a 90% copper to 10% zinc ration.
- Nu-Gold is another form of brass that has a deep gold color. Nu-Gold is sometimes 88% copper and 12% zinc. But, Contenti sells a “Nu-Gold“ that is the same as Rio’s (see below) “Jeweler’s Brass” – 85% CU/15% ZN.
- Both Commercial Brass and Nu-Gold are good for chasing and repousse´ work as well as for other constructions.
- Rio Grande sells a product called: “Jeweler’s Brass“ that is 85% copper and 15% zinc.
- “Copper and brass are playing a leading role in the fight against hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. It has been shown that these pathogens, which can be spread by touch, will die in a few hours on copper/brass surfaces. This does not happen on stainless steel or plastic.” *2 (see resources below for source)
Silver – Covering Argentium, Britannia, Fine, German, Nickel, Sterling and Thai Types
Silver is considered a precious metal. It is an element whose chemical symbol is Ag and its atomic number is 47, for those for need to know. BTW, the AG is taken from the latin word for silver: Argentum. Silver has some pretty impressive credentials: it has the highest electrical and heat conductivity of any element. It appears, humans have been using silver since somewhere around 3000 B.C. – a little before I was born.
All types of silver tarnish, as do other metals. Some, more so than others. Argentium Silver tarnishes the slowest, then fine silver and, lastly, sterling silver. Tarnish is a discoloring of the metal caused by the interaction of a variety of agents. I found this great explanation of tarnishing at theVictoria and Albert Museum. The article is from the V&A Conservation Journal, January 1996, Issue 18. Titled: Tarnishing of Silver, A Short Review by Masamitsu Inaba.**** (see resources below for source)
In a nutshell, or in 1/2 a grapefruit, if you wish (silly sayings), this is what it says: Tarnishing starts when a thin film of water covers the piece (tarnishing does not occur in a dry environment). In the second stage, oxygen comes in and starts consuming electrons through some sort of electrical process (PLEASE, please, don’t ask me to explain this! I don’t understand it at all!). Hydrogen sulfide and organic sulfides speed up the formation of tarnish. The tarnish itself is a chemical called silver sulfide. Other agents involved in messing up our silver are nitrogen and chlorine (ever taken a hot tub with silver jewelry on?), sodium chloride (salt from our sweat) and UV radiation (light).
Ways to protect your silver jewelry from tarnish are varied but, usually involve storing them either in anti-tarnish bags or placing an anti-tarnish material in the bag or box, with the jewelry, like Anti-Tarnish strips. The world is a dangerous place for your silver! The Victoria and Albert Museum uses these products to protect their silver – although, how effective they are on jewelry is not discussed:
“Depending on the degree of corrosion, silver objects at the V&A are cleaned using a combination of:
- Goddard’s Hotel Silver DipTM, Johnson Wax (a proprietary mix of mineral, acids, surfactant, sanitiser and organic complexing agent);
- Goddard’s Long Term Foaming Silver PolishTM, Johnson Wax (an aqueous dispersion of surfactants, jeweller’s rouge, diatomaceous earth, tarnish inhibitor, perfume and approved preservative);
- Goddard’s Long Term Silver ClothTM, Johnson Wax (impregnated with water, alcohol, silica, inhibitor, surfactants, thickener, dye, perfume and metal soap).” ****
Lacquers can be applied to silver to stop tarnish from forming but, they have a tendency to wear with use and then need to be reapplied. See my page on Finishing Jewelry for information of polishing cloths and other methods for polishing.
See this article by Rhonda Coryell on the removal of tarnish from Argentium: Tarnish Removal for Argentium Silver on theJewelrystudiesinternational.com site.
More information can be found in this article from Hoover and Strong’ssite. Why Jewelry Sometimes Blackens the Skin, by D.E. Gardam and Dr. Alexandea A. Fisher.
Argentium Silver is a new alloy created and patented by Peter Johnsin 1996. This article from Middlesex University London – Art and Design Research division tells the story of Argentium. Believe it or not, it is an interesting tale! Argentium is composed of 92.5% to 96%Fine Silver plus trace amounts of the metals, Germanium and Copper. The addition of Germanium (.5 to 3%) altered the Sterling Silver mix of 92.5% Silver and 7.5% copper and created a new alloy that is VERYresistant to tarnish and is Firescale (or Firestain) free. The Germanium in Argentium (say that 10 times fast!0 produces an oxide resistant layer when heated – protecting the silver from firescale.
Germanium (Symbol: GE, atomic number 32 – you needed to know this, right?) is obtained by smelting Zinc ores combined with the byproducts of burning particular coals. It was discovered in 1886 by Clemens Winkler, a German chemist. Germanium has the same crystal structure as Diamond and is very brittle. Today, Germanium is utilized primarily by thesemi-conductor industry but, it is also employed in the production of night vision products, in fiber optics and many other industries.
If you interested in Germanium, here are 2 articles to peruse:
- USGS – Germanium Statistics and Information
- The Jefferson Lab – It’s Elemental, The Periodic Table of Elements – The Element Germanium
If you want more information on Argentium, please, visit the sites below:
- Hauser & Miller – About Argentium Silver
- The Argentium Silver Guild
- Society of American Silversmiths
- The Ganoksin Project – Road Testing Argentium Silver byCynthia Eid © Art Jewelry Magazine, 2006.
- ArtFire Metalsmith’s Guild, Argentium Tips for New Users originally published by, Marty Anderson of ArtFire’s Cranberry Kitty (store closed as of 2/28/13).
- I highly recommend reading this Instruction sheet ! It is a comprehensive explanation of how to work with Argentium! Working with Argentium® Silver—Tips & Procedures, by Cynthia EidImage from ArtFire Metalsmith’s Guild, Article titled: Argentium Tips for New Users by, Marty Anderson (see link to article above). Comparison of the colors of Argentium and Sterling Silver (on right).
Annealing and Soldering with Argentium
(Two stars **): Working with Argentium® Silver—Tips & Procedures,by Cynthia Eid
- “Argentium silver glows a paler colour than traditional sterling silver at red-hot temperatures – it is recommended to carry out heating applications in a shaded area to facilitate temperature/colour recognition and prevent overheating. ” * (see resources below for source)
- “Traditional sterling has a solidus melting temperature of
- 1475°F (802°C) and a liquidus flow point of 1650°F (899°C).
- The solidus melting point of Argentium® Silver is 1410°F
- (766°C); the liquidus flow point is 1610°F (877°C). Please
- Note: Solidus is the temperature at which a metal starts to
- melt; liquidus is the temperature at which it is fully melted.)” ** (seeresources below for source)
- Use lower temperature solders, such as: medium, easy and extra-easy or purchase Argentium solders. Since Argentium doesn’t conduct heat in the same way that silver or sterling do, the use of different solder types is less important.
- Recommended pickling solutions: Sodium Bisulphate, Weak Sparex, Phosphoric Acid, Sulphuric Acid. * (see resources below for source)
- As the Argentium will hold heat longer, it is important to wait until all redness leaves the metal before quenching.
- Oxides from soldering or annealing copper, brass or sterling, etc., can stain the Argentium. Dedicate soldering blocks/charcoal to Argentium only.
- Argentium is very fragile when it is red hot. Flat sheet metal will sag unless supported.
Britannia silver is 95.84% silver with the rest, generally of copper. This type of silver became THE standard for silver objects in England. It was decreed, by an act of Parliament, in 1697 to replace sterling silver as the standard. Sterling silver was re-approved in 1720, for metalsmithing. The hallmark is 958.
Silver Ore from Ontario, Canada. Image borrowed from:RockHorseMinerals.com.
- Fine silver is the pure state of silver. There are no other elements combined with it. It is very malleable and soft compared to sterling silver. It is great for chasing and repousse´ because of it malleable nature.
- Fine silver’s hallmark is 999.
- The melting point of silver is 1763.474°F/961.93°C. If you want towatch silver boil, you need to bring its temperature up to 4013.6°F/2212°C – but, why would you? Think about it!
- The next time that you are bored, take an ounce of silver and see how far you can stretch it out. If you end up with a wire 8000′ long, then you’ve reached the limit of its ductility and are officially crazy (and need something to do).
- Silver is harder than Gold. What does hardness mean? To explain it, I asked Wikipedia to help (and they came through!): “The hardness of a material is directly related to its incompressibility, elasticity and resistance to change in shape.” Basically, that’s what the scratching demonstrates. So, in this case, fine silver (2 1/2 on the Moh’s scale) can scratch 24k gold (also 2 1/2 on the Moh’s test BUT, not on the Vickers Hardness Test.) but 24k gold doesn’t scratch fine silver. Sort of a competition about who’s the toughest – which would be Senora Diamond with a Moh’s Scale of Mineral Hardness rating of >10, BTW!
- Silver is not considered toxic but its salts are.
- Silver is anti-bacterial. Small amounts of silver cause the cell walls of bacteria to break down. Not a replacement for antibiotics!!!!! Oh, you knew that. Sorry.
- There are 20 billion ounces of silver, above ground compared to 9.2 billion ounces of gold.
German Silver/Nickel Silver
- German silver or Nickel Silver is a copper alloy (generally) of 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. There is no silver in it.
- Nickel silver is used as a base for plated silverware, for zippers, keys and costume jewelry, etc.
- When working with Nickel silver, anneal often as it tends to get hard fast.
- Its working properties are similar to brass.
- Many people have allergic skin reactions to Nickel. Pieces should be clearly marked as containing nickel.
- Also known as: Alpaca, Alpacca
- Real German Silver’s (not the one also known as Nickel Silver) Millesimal fineness is 835.
Susan Lenart Kazmer of ObjectsandElements.com talks about using nickel silver in her blog: Using Nickel Silver…a Frugal Alternative to Sterling.
- Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and, generally, copper. The standard percentage of silver is 92.5% with copper comprising the remaining 7.5%. Its hallmark stamp is: 925. Other acceptable marks are: sterling, .925, ster, sterling silver.
- Copper adds a great deal of strength to silver. Making it considerably stronger than silver alone.
- Sterling tarnishes more quickly than fine silver.
- Solidus or melting point is 1434°F/779° C – note: since sterling is an alloy, the interactions between the metals can alter the temperatures at which they melt or flow. So, there is not one specific temperature. See this response, at MadSci Network, Why Melting Temp of Sterling Silver is Given as Range & Not Exact? by Joseph Weeks for a better explanation.
- Liquidus or flow point is 1655°F/902°C (has a range of temps., see link at Solidus).
Thai Silver/Bali Silver
- Silver worked in Thailand or Bali
- Millesimal fineness at either 925 or 999.
* Argentium User Guide, Argentium Original (935) 0312.PDF from Argentium International Ltd.
** Working with Argentium® Silver—Tips & Procedures, by Cynthia Eid
*** V&A Conservation Journal, January 1996, Issue 18. Titled: Tarnishing of Silver, A Short Review by Masamitsu Inaba.
****Rings & Things – Beads and Findings, About Sterling Silver And How to Buy Sterling Jewelry Findings & Beads – Sterling Silver: Defining Quality
*1 Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia, Brass
*2 Copper Development Association, Copper and Copper Alloys: Brass