I was lucky enough to recently spend a weekend with Teresa Speer – an inspirational jeweller and lecturer, and Peter Johns – lecturer and very clever man who invented Argentium Silver.
Between them they showed me how to work with this special silver, and how to make the most of its unique and amazing properties.
What is Traditional Sterling Silver?
Traditional sterling silver is an alloy – containing 92.5% pure silver, and 7.5% copper. The copper gives it its hardness, and allows us to wear it as long lasting jewellery – without the copper pure silver is too soft and is damaged by day to day wear. Unfortunately the copper also causes some problems –
Tarnish – copper reacts with the atmosphere and perspiration to produce a dull dirty layer
Metal Allergies – copper is thought to be the trigger for many metal allergies people have to gold and silver, as it is present in both.
Firestain – a dull blue / grey bloom that you may see in patches on silver. It is due to the copper absorbing oxygen and forming copper oxide (which is black) when the silver is heated. The copper oxide sinks into the top layers of the silver, and it can only be removed by many hours of filing and polishing. (Not my favourite job – but necessary to finish the piece to a high standard!)
In mass-produced commercial products sometimes the firestain is removed using highly toxic chemicals including cyanide, but more often it is not removed and they are silver or rhodium plated to disguise it, but as the plating wears off it becomes disappointingly visible. The blotches on the silver urn pictured below are firestain.
What is Argentium Silver?
It is purer than traditional sterling silver as it contains 93.5% pure silver. It still contains a small amount of copper, but some of this has been replaced with a metal called germanium. The germanium forms a tough and transparent layer near the surface of the silver which prevents the copper from reacting with the atmosphere. This means that Argentium silver is –
Tarnish resistant – In industry approved tests Argentium silver was shown to much more resistant to tarnishing than traditional sterling silver, meaning that your jewellery stays brighter and cleaner for much longer.
Hypoallergenic – It can be worn without adverse reaction by many people who have allergies to gold and silver
No Firestain – The germanium prevents the formation of copper oxide, so no unsightly firestain is formed.
Additional benefits of the Argentium Silver include
Stronger – It can be hardened so it’s stronger than sterling silver weight for weight allowing the making of lighter more delicate but strong pieces of jewellery
Greener– It’s made from 100% recycled silver so it’s kinder to the environment.
Brighter – It is a whiter coloured metal – closer to the colour of pure silver, and whiter than either white gold or traditional sterling silver.
Argentium silver is fully hallmarkable – so you can still have your guarantee of quality – it will be marked as sterling silver and can also bear the additional flying unicorn hallmark of Argentium silver. It is becoming increasingly popular for wedding rings, driven by the trend for white metals, and its superior bright white colour. As the makers of Argentium say –“if silver is the new gold…. Argentium is the new silver!”