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Discoloration of Argentium Sterling


#1

Hello,

I just spent about an hour and a half looking over past Orchid posts
to see if I could find and answer to the following question, but
could not find what I am looking for.

For Christmas I made my sister an Argentium woven link bracelet with
all the links soldered. A couple of weeks ago, we were together
again and her bracelet has turned an ugly, dull gray with no shine or
pep whatsoever. She said she has worn it since she put it on when I
gave it to her, so I am puzzled as to why it is so discolored. I
brought the bracelet home and washed it, then heated it with my torch
(on a firebrick, not charcoal), and then pickled it. It now has black
crusty spots on it, and still is dull and lifeless. I can’t say the
bracelet is tarnished, just dull. She lives in an area with very
hard water–could the minerals in the water have anything to do with
this? What about body chemistry? She never had this happen with
regular sterling silver.

Any thoughts will be appreciated.
Priscilla Fritsch
LuckyDog Designs, Inc.


#2

Hi Priscilla,

I am confused about what the situation is. If it has been pickled,
why are there black crusty spots? That sounds like one of the
following:

  • it was not in the pickle long enough, or
  • there is old flux stuck to the metal and the pickle was not hot
    enough (or hot water can dissolve flux also)

As to the metal looking dull, that sounds like it could be a
description of what happens when something has been left in the
pickle too long.

This sounds to me like one of those mystifying things that happens
sometimes—since it has not happened to her before with traditional
sterling, I don’t think that the hard water or body chemistry have
anything to do with it, and it does not sound like it has anything to
do with being made of Argentium Sterling, either.

It is hard to give advice, since the situation sounds so confusing,
but here’s my best shot:

-clean off the black stuff somehow—either through hot water, hot
pickle, or abrasion (scrape, file, sand, or polish)

-if abrasion was used, heat for 20 minutes at 250 degrees to speed
up the creation of the germanium oxide layer

-brighten the finish, using one of the following: tumbler a brass
brush, used with soapy water for lubrication or Goddard’s Long Shine
Silver Cloth or Long Shine Liquid Polish

I hope this is helpful.

Cynthia Eid
http://www.cynthiaeid.com


#3
... her bracelet has turned an ugly, dull gray... I brought the
bracelet home and washed it, then heated it with my torch (on a
firebrick, not charcoal), and then pickled it. It now has black
crusty spots on it, and still is dull and lifeless. 

I can only offer a few observations in addition to Cythia’s
excellent advice:

  • FWIW I have very hard water and a body chemistry that will turn
    regular sterling silver black in less than 12 hours on a sweaty
    summer day. In my experience if AS is properly treated neither the
    water nor the body chemistry will produce the results you’ve seen. To
    me it sounds like the AS was never properly heat treated (the overall
    graying affect is a dead give-away).

  • “crusty spots” is not a feature of Argentium Sterling (AS) so
    something, somewhere is contaminating the metal. If it was in the
    original preparation of the metal (very unlikely) there’s not much
    you can do about it. Assuming it’s not that then, As Cynthia said,
    get the metal clean – I suspect it’ll require some form of abrasion
    – and start back at square one with proper heat treatment.

  • are the discoloration spots more or less where you’d expect the
    solder joins to be? If so it’s probably a solder issue not an AS
    issue. (I realize that this is unlikely but it’s always worth
    mentioning).

  • what are you using for pickle? Pickles that are too strong don’t
    work well with AS (i.e. hydrochloric acid solutions, etc).

  • is the pickle fresh, or reasonably so? Has it been used with AS
    only, or have you used it with other metals? Again, unlikely because
    it sounds like you’ve been doing your reading, but worth checking to
    make sure.

  • you mention you heated then pickled. Heated how much? Heated as in
    "warm" or heated as in “red-ish”? FWIW when I want to make AS
    tarnish resistance as bullet proof as I can make it I run the
    heat-quench-pickle (if necessary) cycle two or three times because
    I’ve found it’s a cumulative process. For heating I take it to dull
    red (in a semi-dark room). Don’t quench until all the red-ish colour
    has completely faded away to black.

  • “dull and lifeless” sounds to me like a polishing issue. After a
    good torching and pickling AS can be a matte white color. If I were
    you I would seriously consider tumble polishing with stainless steel
    shot: it’s good for intricate stuff like what this bracelet sounds
    like, it does not adversely affect the tarnish resistance of AS, it
    can be very cheap and easy (a tupperware container, some shot and a
    little manual shake-and-bake action), and the results can be superb.
    It can also be very quick – 10 - 15 mins – depending on the piece
    and your tumbling gear.

Let us know how you’re getting on with this.

Cheers,
Trevor F.
in The City of Light
Visit TouchMetal.com at http://www.touchmetal.com


#4

In addition to everyone else’s comments, I scrub the silver with a
toothbrush and Joy dishwashing soap, then apply Goddard’s silver
polish. This dishwashing soap removes most of the gray.

Nancy
www.psi-design.com