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Argentium Experimentation


#1

I have been reading the posts re. problems with Argentium and it
sure seems like a little sensitive cuss. Everyone seems to be having
little quirky problems pop up here or there. I called a few of the
places that are selling it and talked to their technical people and I
was amazed at how little they knew about it. I am kind of pissed off
that they are selling it without so much as printing any info in the
catalog about pre-treating or preparing it, whether it needs this or
that treatment to activate it, and worse yet, they don’t even seem to
know that is what is needed! I think it is very irresponsible. I am
aware that jewelers learn a lot through experimentation, but I can’t
afford to have customers complain that their jewelry is turning black
after wearing it. I surely would like to know what is going to happen
to a piece before I sell it and I don’t have time to wear everything
before I sell it. I guess I expect suppliers to know more about their
product before trying to sell it to me. A couple of people on this
forum have been very generous and forthcoming with their experiences
and without them we would all be wasting a lot of material and money.
Thank you guys.

Grace


#2
I have been reading the posts re. problems with Argentium and it
sure seems like a little sensitive cuss. Everyone seems to be having
little quirky problems pop up here or there. 

Hello Grace,

I understand your frustration but I can’t help but disagree with you
on this one. In my experience Argentium Sterling (AS) is a lot less
sensitive than regular sterling (no firestain, very little if any
tarnish, higher ductility, etc). Every alloy has it’s do’s and don’ts
and AS is no different. Does it have more than other alloys? Not in my
experience:

Argentium Sterling “Do’s”:

  - do heat it to "activate" the tarnish resistance. 
  - do watch it's heat temperature closely (dim the lights for
     better control). 
  - do use clean soldering surfaces and polishing buffs. 
  - do support flat work to avoid any sagging issues
     (pre-annealing helps here). 

Argentium Sterling “Don’ts”:

  - don't assume that your stock has been heat treated (heated to
     "activate" the tarnish resistance) before it is delivered to
     you. 
  - don't quench it when it is still red. 
  - don't use Hard grade silver solder. 
  - don't bother with firecoat and reducing flames. 

Compare this to some of the other alloys we use (white gold comes to
mind, not to mention platinum, and so forth) and I think you’ll see
it’s no biggie. If you abuse (read “misuse”) any of our alloys you’ll
get inferior and often unacceptable results. So in that way they’re
all sensitive in that you can’t expect good results by doing the wrong
things.

Yes, AS is a little different from regular sterling and yes, some of
your regular sterling habits will need to change a little. But given
the benefits of using AS the minor adjustments required to accommodate
it are pretty trivial, especially since it will save you time and
effort in the long run.

FWIW at this point I’ve plowed through almost 1.5 kilos of the stuff
making everything from loop-in-loop chains to spoons to cuff
bracelets. I’ve rolled or forged every inch of stock myself and I
think the only thing I haven’t done with it at this point is cast it
or etch it. And yet, as you have no doubt noticed, I’m very bullish
about AS.

Why? Because in my opinion it is simply a superior alloy, by far.
It’s better for me as a silver worker (saves time and effort, to say
the least) and it’s better for my clients as silver owners and wearers
(they get a better product and one that doesn’t tarnish assuming,
of course, that I’ve processed the metal properly). Frankly, I
wouldn’t go back to regular sterling if you beat me with a stick.

Cheers,
Trevor F.
in The City of Light
www.touchmetal.com


#3

I want to echo Grace’s praise of the individuals who have worked for
a long time with this new alloy and have passed on their
experiences. Their insight is truly invaluable to those of us who
are wading into unknown waters. I, too, have had less than
satisfactory exchanges with suppliers of argentium sterling. I know
that some of these suppliers regularly monitor this list (Rio,
Stuller?). I think it would be great if their representatives could
address the problems some of us are experiencing, and let us know if
the metal they are selling is properly prepared (annealing to raise
the germanium) before shipping to us. For metalsmiths, untreated
metal is merely an inconvenience, but I can see this as being a big
problem for those who use the wire for wire-wrapping exclusively. So
how about it, Rio and Stuller (or any supplier) - could you fill us
in?

Donna
SilverSorceress Designs
Unique, handcrafted Silver and Gemstone Jewelry
http://www.silversorceress.com/


#4

Trevor,

Try to have a little more patience with us argentium newbies. You
and Cinthia Eid are two shining lights in our argentium world -
you’ve paved the road for the rest of us, and we are grateful. What
you are reading here is the normal learning curve for any new
product. And because metal is the heart and soul of what we do, when
a new alloy hits the market, there are bound to be bugs that have to
be worked out. What we need is correct to get the most
out of the material - this would be true for anything, not just
argentium silver. Most of us hadn’t heard about the need to raise
the germanium to get the best results, and when argentium started to
be sold widely, you started to hear about some problems. When you
say that everyone should assume the argentium they buy has not been
treated, you are speaking from the perspective of a metalsmith. What
about the wire wrappers who have never touched a torch? I see this
as a problem - one that could be rectified if the suppliers would
sell it “ready to use”.

I have just bought a bunch of argentium sterling, and plan to use is
almost exclusively, and I am prepared to anneal! So take a deep
breath, Trevor, we all want to love argentium as much as you do! We
just need the facts. Keep up the good work,

Donna
SilverSorceress Designs
Unique, handcrafted Silver and Gemstone Jewelry
http://www.silversorceress.com/


#5
   I understand your frustration but I can't help but disagree
with you on this one. In my experience Argentium Sterling (AS) is a
lot less sensitive than regular sterling (no firestain, very little
if any tarnish, higher ductility, etc). Every alloy has it's do's
and don'ts and AS is no different. 

You are absolutely right - I was just venting. Truthfully, any alloy
that doesn’t firescale or tarnish as badly is allright with me! I
just want to get the most out of it and thanks to you and many
others that is starting to happen.

Grace


#6

I had a conversation with one of my casters in RI today about their
recent experience with Argentium.

The upside is that it casts with no noticeable pitting- very dense
castings. They were able to cast it successfully on their first
attempt using a casting machine with an inert gas atmosphere. They
were casting handles for a client’s project. A boon for silversmiths.

The downside, at least for the present, is its cost- about $4 per
ounce more than sterling. I was told that it cannot be re-melted for
additional casting, and that about 60% is used up by sprue trees in
a (for them) typical 15 ounce cast. Roughly, it is about 3 times as
expensive to cast in Argentium, before you factor in the refining
recovery. If you are running sufficient volume to make refining
practical, the additional casting cost would probably be offset by
the reduction in finishing labor.

Rick Hamilton


#7

Dear All,

I’d like to pass on as much info as possible on the new Argentium
stock many suppliers are now carrying. But first I would like to say
that it is a relatively new material and experience tells me there
will no doubt be growth and a bit of a learning curve. That’s what
makes this Orchid group so great, we’re all growing and sharing our
experiences. I’m not going to pretend I know everything about this
material, far from it really, but it is our responsibility as a
supplier to provide as much technical as possible.

Everyone in North America is obtaining Argentium from the same mill.
That mill has traditionally been set up to make traditional
sterling. Great pains are taken to eliminate oxygen from the
environment when producing traditional sterling silver. (Avoiding
oxygen is paramount to avoid fire stain issues.) Since the
Argentium is produced on the same equipment as the traditional
sterling is, the Argentium comes from the mill oxygen-starved.

Rio Grande will be happy to inquire with our mill about the
possibility of the Argentium being prepared in an oxygen-rich
environment, so that the germanium is “activated”. However, in most
cases after purchase the silver will be formed, soldered, sanded and
polished, thus rendering the mill’s “germanium activation” useless.
For now, when the final finish is obtained metal smiths should heat
any Argentium to achieve the full benefits of this new alloy.

I would like to make an observation. Someone, and I apologize in
advance I can’t remember who, mentioned that Argentium was turning a
customers skin green. The first thing that came to mind was this is
a body chemistry thing, perhaps were going to see certain people
who’s skin or body chemistry doesn’t agree with the germanium oxide
layer?

Recently I posed a question to the Argentium technical folks and I
found their response quite helpful. My query was on Cynthia’s paper,
in it there are two statements that read:

  "Since the final polishing of a piece made of Argentium[r]
  Sterling removes much of the tarnish-resistant germanium oxide
  layer, one may wish to heat the Argentium[r] Sterling to speed
  up the re-building of a protective germanium oxide layer. 250F
  for 10 minutes is generally adequate." And then: "The surface
  of Argentium" Sterling Silver has germanium which is oxidized
  to germanium oxide. The reason this occurs is because germanium
  is an 'oxygen getter'. It has a high affinity for oxygen even
  at room temperature." 

So my question was, if the germanium in sterling silver absorbs
oxygen at room temperature then is the step of creating an oxide
layer at 250F for 10 minutes really necessary?

The Argentium technical response was:

  "I have carryed out accelerated tarnishing trials on samples
  of polished and degreased Argentium Sterling that have been
  heat treated/not heat treated and the heat treated samples do
  give increased tarnish resistance! This indicates that the
  germanium oxide layer has somehow been enhanced by the heat. 

  'The germanium at the surface will slowly oxidise to germanium
  oxide in air. Of the three elements on the surface of the
  Argentium Sterling silver (silver, copper and germanium) the
  Gibbs Free energy values show that the preferred order of
  oxidation is germanium then copper then silver. 

  'The way Argentium sterling silver works is to preferentially
  oxidise the germanium so that the germanium oxide acts as a
  barrier to the tarnishing reactions of the copper and the
  silver (i.e. copper sulphide and silver sulphide formation). 

  'The benefit of heating the Argentium sterling silver to
  promote this reaction is to do with which the rate at which
  the reaction occurs. The Arhenius equation shows that the rate
  of reaction is exponentially proportionate to temperature,
  therefore a relatively small rise in temperature will result
  in a much increased rate of oxidation of the germanium and
  hence improved tarnish resistance of the Argentium Sterling
  silver." 

In a nut shell, if you want your germanium to be tarnish resistant,
heat treat it when all polishing/sanding is finished.

I would like to thank Trevor and Cynthia for being so generous and
sharing all their experiences and I apologize for leaving anyone
out. I encourage you all to read Trevor’s blog and Cynthia’s paper,
very informative and helpful. Thanks to both of you, you are both
truly an invaluable resource!

http://www.touchmetal.com/blog/argentium-blog.html
http://www.cynthiaeid.com/ms-05-07.html

I’m sure there is much more to learn.

Sincerely,

Thackeray Taylor
Rio Grande Technical Support
800-545-6566 ex 13903


#8

Okay, so I’m understanding that in order to activate the tarnish
resistance of the Argentium I’ll need to heat treat the finished
product. I’m curious as to how this will work for those of us who
love to combine silver wire with freshwater pearls in the form of
chain, knitting or wire wrapping? Won’t the heat of the precipitation
hardening damage the pearls?

Karen Tremblay
KaeLynn Jewelry Design
Timmins, ON
(705) 360-5861
www.KaeLynnDesign.com


#9
Okay, so I'm understanding that in order to activate the tarnish
resistance of the Argentium I'll need to heat treat the finished
product. ... Won't the heat of the precipitation hardening damage
the pearls? 

Hello Karen,

In terms of “activating” the tarnish resistance of Argentium Sterling
(AS) the heat treatment process simply means heating the metal in the
presence of oxygen. In other words simply torch annealing the stuff
will do the job.

IOW, AS + heat + oxygen = happy AS.

So for the wire users I’m guessing that a good torch anneal before
working the wire into it’s final form would seem to satisfy the
requirements.

Doing the full precipitation hardening process, which (typically)
begins with a good torch annealing, is not necessary unless you
actually want to harden it.

Cheers,
Trevor F.
in The City of Light
www.touchmetal.com


#10
In a nut shell, if you want your germanium to be tarnish resistant,
heat treat it when all polishing/sanding is finished. 

Hello Thackeray,

While I would agree that this recommendation is the “be safe” way to
go I thought it might also be worth mentioning a few things I’ve seen
related to how thick and hardy the surface of fully heat treated
Argentium Silver (AS) can be.

In my spoon project I could took a piece of heat treated AS and
deformed it by as much as 50% or more in a single go. It appeared to
be just as “activated” at the end of that deformation as it was to
begin with.

In similar tests the surface of piece of treated AS was heavily filed
with similar results.

From a purely circumstantial POV it looked to me as if the
"activated" skin of the metal was as much as one millimeter or more
thick. Since much of our material isn’t even that thick to begin with
it is conceivable that the metal could --after full and repeated heat
treatments-- be activated completely through.

In my work the only time I have seen “raw” metal appear on a fully
heat treated piece was when I sliced completely through the metal.
The edges of the slice needed to be fired in order to attain their
full firescale, and presumably tarnish, resistance.

An example of my basis for this observation can be seen in the
photos that accompany the “Oxide and annealing footnotes” post on the
blog
(http://touchmetal.com/blog/2005/02/oxide-and-annealing-footnotes.html).
Keep in mind that that metal was cut after it had been heavily
forged. So if my “1 mm” theory is workable then one can presume that
I thinned the “skin” by hammering in out, then I sliced through it
by shearing the edges of the metal off.

Of course this is all relative and liberally doused in speculation.
To be on the safe side, heat it, as you’ve suggested. But on the
other hand there’s no evidence to indicate that fully heat treated AS
is in any way “thin skinned”. I think my work indicates that that is
not the case.

Cheers,
Trevor F.
in The City of Light
www.touchmetal.com


#11
Argentium Experimentation (casting) I had a conversation with one
of my casters in RI today about their recent experience with
Argentium. The upside is that it casts with no noticeable pitting-
very dense castings. They were able to cast it successfully on
their first attempt using a casting machine with an inert gas
atmosphere. They were casting handles for a client's project. A
boon for silversmiths. The downside, at least for the present, is
its cost- about $4 per ounce more than sterling. I was told that it
cannot be re-melted for additional casting, and that about 60% is
used up by sprue trees in a (for them) typical 15 ounce cast.
Roughly, it is about 3 times as expensive to cast in Argentium, 

Hi Rick,

I don’t do my own casting, but my understanding is that Argentium
Sterling Silver CAN be re-used for casting, but one must be careful
to have at least 50% of the casting be fresh, new silver, (and no
more than 50% be re-used silver). I suggest that you casters talk to
the folks at info@argentiumsilver.com, who will put your caster in
touch with folks experienced at casting Argentium Sterling, and
verify my info.

Cindy
Cynthia Eid
http://www.cynthiaeid.com


#12
    Okay, so I'm understanding that in order to activate the
tarnish resistance of the Argentium I'll need to heat treat the
finished product. I'm curious as to how this will work for those of
us who love to combine silver wire with freshwater pearls in the
form of chain, knitting or wire wrapping? Won't the heat of the
precipitation hardening damage the pearls? 

Hi Karen,

I would not suggest precipitation hardening in the circumstances you
describe above. Instead, I suggest that before you begin to work, you
put all the Argentium Sterling Silver wire into the oven and heat at
250 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-20 minutes. This is enough heat to
ensure plenty of germanium oxide protection, but not enough to
harden the silver. I doubt that it will discolor, but, if it does,
simply pickle the silver. Then, do your knitting, wrapping, etc. put
on the pears, and have fun!

Cindy
Cynthia Eid
http://www.cynthiaeid.com


#13
I would not suggest precipitation hardening in the circumstances
you describe above. Instead, I suggest that before you begin to
work, you put all the Argentium Sterling Silver wire into the oven
and heat at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-20 minutes

Hi, Cindy

I’ve been observing what I see to be a steady decrease in the
activating temp and lengthening of time. Do I have this right in that
activating the Germanium coating has everything to do with getting
the oxygen into it and the application of heat is just to speed the
reaction? What if we expose the piece to a pure oxygen atmosphere
under pressure? Maybe something like a small hyperbaric chamber?
Maybe little or no heat would be needed? Wouldn’t pearls be likely to
survive such a treatment? I haven’t worked with Argentium yet but the
amount of flowing back and forth is incredible. Maybe
someone with more experience can tell if I’m barking up the wrong
tree.

Robin C. McGee
Rcmcgee47@comcast.net