Reticulating silver is sometimes referred to as “Black Art of Metalsmithing,” and it’s an incredibly organic process. Most metalsmiths deal with silver, gold, and platinum in traditional ways but with silver, you can do some interesting treatments to create unique textures. Reticulation silver produces an incredible texture with no two pieces being the same.
If you’re looking to add a new technique to your silver work then I’d recommend learning how to do recticulation on silver.
Here’s a little primer on how the process works. Sterling Silver is an alloy of silver that is comprised of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. By using a process similar to removing fire scale, where the metal is repeatedly heated, quenched, and pickled, the copper will eventually become concentrated at the core of the metal, which is surrounded by a beautiful skin of fine silver. This process prepares the piece for reticulation.
How To Make Reticulated Silver
The first step in the reticulation process is depletion gilding. You heat the sheet to an annealing temperature, which is about 1,100℉. A torch can be used, but a kiln allows better control.
Hold the silver at the temperature mentioned for at least 2 minutes.
Next, quench the metal in a fresh, hot pickling solution (Sparex is used often) and leave the metal in the solution for about two to three minutes.
Now, clean the sheet under running water with a brass scratch brush using a liquid detergent as a lubricant. Allow the metal sheet to dry thoroughly before proceeding to the next step.
Repeat the processes of annealing, pickling, and cleaning. It’s best to use six cycles for silver and eight for gold.
With a kiln or torch, pre-heat a soldering pad or charcoal block, which the metal sheet will be laid on during reticulation. The hot soldering surface will help keep the metal evenly heated during this process.
Lay your prepared metal sheet on the heated pad and heat the metal with a large, bushy-reducing flame. You’ll want to be able to cover the entire sheet one at a time with your flame. Gas or compressed air torches work excellently for reticulation, as do natural and propane gas torches with large tips. Oxy-acetylene flames are too hot and small to heat an entire sheet evenly.
When using a single torch, reduce the flame to a small pointed tip as the metal begins to turn red and nears reticulation temperature. Slowly move your flame closely over the metal. The tip of an inner blue cone of a flame, which is the hottest part, should be incredibly close to or right on the metal you’re working with.
As the metal starts to crinkle, move your torch flame onward. This is, by far, the most critical part, and you’ll have to watch the surface closely. If the flame is held in one place for too long, you will likely wind up with a hole in the sheet or metal.
The sheet will only reticulate where the flame is focused, so you could leave part of the sheet plain to add contrast if you want to.
There you have it, folks. That is the process of silver reticulation.
What Is Reticulation Silver?
Reticulation is the surface treatment for various metals that are created by using a lot of heat to melt the surface of this specially prepared metal before allowing it to flow and pulling the flame off of it. The texture can be best described as wrinkled. If you’re looking for some great examples and ideas to try out on your jeweler’s bench then go here.
This is done by carefully and mindfully separating the layers of metal using repeated depletion gilding before taking advantage of the difference in various melting points. This process allows the sheet’s interior to melt before the exterior, creating a wrinkled texture as the surface begins to deform due to the thermal shock.
Reticulation is an 80/20 silver-copper blend that’s available from various specialty sources. The process produces a better texture than sterling silver, but it presents its own issues.
Primarily, it’s more porous, which means it’s harder to solder correctly. It is often sold as pre-reticulation silver.
Copper oxides play a vital role in the art of reticulation, so most alloys containing copper can go through the reticulation process. This includes base metals like bronze or brass, along with materials like 14-karat and 18-karat gold, as well as rose gold.
However, some alloys have more difficulty attaching. One of them is white gold, as it has issues with reticulation in addition to other caveats of working with the material.
Where To Buy Reticulation Silver
As I mentioned earlier, there are various specialty sources where reticulation silver can be purchased. Some jewelry-making and crafting shops sell reticulation silver.
A simple search on the internet will pull up multiple outlets to source the material. Jeweler supply shops will often have reticulation silver available as well. You could also try your hand at checking some hardware stores that handle various metals. However, there is a slim chance you’ll find what you’re looking for, but they may be able to order it.