A while ago my Mum had her engagement ring repaired, and was given back the old broken ring shank. She was going to throw it away (18ct gold – oh my!!!) Luckily I stopped her, and instead made some earrings for her using the broken ring shank. Well, if anyone comments on her earrings she does the proud Mum thing (thanks Mum! x) and tells them about how I make jewellery – this is how I got my latest commission.
A lady inherited her Father’s wedding ring when he passed away. As with many pieces that we inherit we can’t wear them either because they don’t fit, or they’re not a style that we would choose, so the piece languishes in a drawer. We keep them because of the sentimental value, but it would be so much nicer to wear them and have that reminder with us all the time. Having had the story from my Mum about the earrings (!) she asked me to make a pair of cube shaped earrings for her Mum’s birthday using the gold from the wedding ring. I duly melted the ring down, and cast it into a square section wire.
The process takes a lot of time as it involves making a mould and casting the metal, in addition to a lot of cleaning up and filing of the gold to be done after casting, so it’s not a cheap way of getting gold jewellery, but it is an excellent way of recycling the memories from a piece of unworn gold.
So recycling memories and gold together have made a very special piece of jewellery with so much sentimental value – what a beautiful gift from a daughter to her Mum.
Chasing and repousse is an ancient method of shaping metal into contoured forms using hammers and punches to move the metal.
I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with Il Maestro- Fabrizio Aquafresca at In The Studio last October. Fabrizio is a world renowned master having learnt studied the art himself from the age of 13, and producing commissions for an illustrious selection of clients including The Vatican. Il Maestro travels to the UK a couple of times a year to teach so I was delighted to secure a place.
The metal is attached to a block of pitch where the design is pushed into the reverse of the piece using hammers and punches. We practised on copper to begin with before moving onto precious metals!
The next stage is to flip over the piece and add the detail and outlining – this is the “chasing” part. Given my obsession with hares, it was only natural that I would choose to make a tiny silver moongazing hare picture!
After many hours of burning pitch, hammering and other things I will not bore you with the finished piece was ready, plus a bonus piece made for me by Il Maestro! Now I have silver moongazing hare twins!
Since the course I’ve made several more pieces of handmade silver jewellery using this time consuming and skilled technique, but think that the results are definitely worth all the effort !
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!”
I wanted to show you the stages involved in making this unique bangle – I hope you enjoy it!
This bangle is for a 21st birthday gift, and has 21 rings on it – such a lovely idea! If I had my age in rings on the bangle I don’t think you’d be able to lift it, or I would need a security escort with all that silver!
First the rings are formed out of 3 different types of silver wire. They are wrapped tight around a mandrel to make a coil, then using my trusty saw, I cut through the coil (and hopefully not my fingers) to form individual rings. The rings are then soldered shut, before perfecting their shape by hammering them on a mandrel using my rawhide hammer. Then the rings are filed and sanded to make them smooth and perfect.
In this bangle the rings are all different patterns, so they are then put back onto the mandrel, and hammered using a metal hammer to texture or flatten the silver.
Shaping the silver bangleThe main bangle is made from 3mm round silver wire. The length of wire is hammered around a bangle mandrel to give it a uniform round shape. When I am completely happy with the bangle I slide the rings on, and carefully solder the bangle shut. It is then tapped round the mandrel again to ensure it is perfectly round.
The bangle is then sanded again, and ready for a final polish, with 2 types of polish. Finally – the finished article is ready to give as a fabulous gift!
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