Metals Used in My Jewelry Designs
I use a variety of metals in my jewelry designs and often include more than one metal in a single piece. The metals I commonly use include:
Sterling Silver – Sterling silver tarnishes, especially in hot, humid weather. Sterling contains 7.5% copper by weight to make it harder for a variety of uses and the copper reacts with common air pollutants, darkening the surface of the metal. The presence of copper can prompt skin irritation if your skin is sensitive. Sterling silver is .925 pure, or 92.5% silver by weight, a very high percentage. Most people don’t have any problems wearing sterling silver jewelry.
Argentium® Silver – Argentium® Silver is a sterling silver that contains germanium in place of copper. The change in the chemical composition has some distinct advantages: Argentium® doesn’t develop firescale as easily during soldering and it doesn’t tarnish the way traditional sterling silver does. Argentium has a slightly different color than traditional sterling silver.
Fine Silver – Fine silver is pure silver with no copper content. It does not tarnish easily. People who have problems wearing silver jewelry are usually allergic to the copper in the alloyed metal, not the silver. However, fine silver is generally too soft to use for jewelry except for specific applications – I use fine silver for weaving because it is easy to work and doesn’t require cleaning for a long time.
Gold – I use 14kt and 18kt gold for my jewelry designs. Pure 24kt gold is too soft for use in jewelry so other metals are added to make it harder. Higher karat gold alloys tend to be better tolerated than lower karat qualities because there is less of the reactive metal in the alloy. Many people wear 18K or 22K gold jewelry for this reason.
Sometimes I use rose gold for accents and woven designs. Rose gold contains copper. Until recently white gold was traditionally made with nickel. White gold is now also made with palladium, a platinum family metal. Green gold is made with an alloy of fine silver.
Mokume Gane – Mokume Gane in a fascinating metal laminate that I’ve been playing with recently. It was invented in Japan by Denbei Shoami in the 1700s. Mokume Gane is an old technique where patterns in metal are achieved by carving into multiple layers of different metals. The approach was originally applied to creating decorative metal for sword blades. These laminates were carved to reveal intriguing patterns. Mokume Gane means “wood eye” because the resulting metal has interesting patterns that are suggestive of “eyes”.
Mokume Gane today is made from around 20 layers of alternating copper and silver which have been compressed (sometimes welded) together. Modern Mokume Gane was developed by Phillip Baldwin of Shining Wave Metals. This metal sheet has many layers of Argentium® Silver and copper formed to present an intricate, one-sided pattern. The substantial base layer of Argentium that is built into each sheet helps prevent this reaction.