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"Hard and soft" metals


#1

The terms hard and soft as applied to metals have a a very different
connotation than the same terms applied to gemstones and minerals.
For our application as metalsmiths, they are appropriate to our usage
and understanding of the working properties being described. As
applied to other materials such as stones and minerals, which can be
worked on but do not have working properties in the same sense as
metals do, their meaning is exactly as you stated, and refers solely
to scratch resistance. Hence there is not really a need to change a
terminology that is already specific, and adequately understandable
to Metalsmiths.


#2

Tom, I think many of us in the craft have noticed the limited
vocabulary of metal workers. We often generalize too much. Instead
of refering to malleability, ductility, ect. we simply use the words
hard or soft. This puts the burden of knowing what our exact
problem/topic/meaning is on the other person in the conversation.
Yet, for those of us who have been working in the craft for so long
it really isn’t a problem to discern these meanings. I have found it
much more valuable to educate (as you have just done) those whose
vocabulary is less than clear. Still, I find myself repeating, out
of habit, the words hard and soft. The words are so great. Hardness
and softness, by definition refer to the resistance that an object
puts up to whatever you are doing. So hard solder is hard because it
resists melting; platinum is hard because it resists polishing (and
melting); 10K is hard because it resists bending more than 18K,
diamonds are hard because you can’t scratch them…and so on.

I think we are all better served if we adjust our vocabulary. There
are those out there though (customers and workers alike) who either
don’t want to or don’t feel they need to work on the exactness of
thier language. So we might as well take it off our list of pet
peeves and enjoy our own precise communication.

Lary Seiger
JA Certified Master Bench Jeweler


#3

Tom: Having been a metallurgist for 30 year, I find your usage of hard
and soft misleading. When working metals including gold and silver,
hardness is a very important criteria. After rolling, for instance,
the materials become harder and in many cases must be softened to
minimize brittleness. There are also heat treatments which are used to
harden these materials. Since the gold and silver are metals, metal
terms do apply. Also, how many gems are set using 24k prongs?

Lee

To call 24k “very very soft” and to suggest 14k or 10k as being hard,
is “very very” misleading. Speaking form a gemological background,
hardness is the abilitiy to withstand a scratch and not if
it is stiff or bendable.


#4

I guess where I’m coming from is dealing with the consumer or
customer that walks into my store and states “oh, I don’t want 18k
because It’s too soft.” Or," I want platinum because it’s hard and
won’t scratch." Yes the terms are understandable to a metalsmith
when it means “hard solder is hard because it resists melting;
platinum is hard because it resists polishing (and melting); 10K is
hard because it resists bending more than 18K,” etc. But that’s not
the way the public views of hard and soft. Hard is better, soft is
not. Hard will last longer, soft will not. Reading some of the
letters from metalsmiths, it’s not totally clear if “we” truly
understand the difference between the meaning of the “resistance
that an object puts up to whatever you are doing”, and how long the
object will last. When someone in a jewelry store or gallery states
"18k is soft", are they meaning malleability? Or, when a salesperson
calls platinum “hard”, do they mean it resists polishing? No! The
consumer doesn’t think how it might bend , but, that it won’t last as
long. Or, in platinum’s case, that it won’t scratch. When the usage
of terms “hard and soft” reach the general population, the
connotation is totally different than the trade, shouldn’t we at
lest question our usage? Tom element79


#5

Dear Tom from Element 79

   I' ve been a goldsmith  for close to 30 years now,  and one of
my pet peeves, is the useage of hard and soft to describe metal. 

I certainly do understand what you mean, but I completely disagree.
Firstly:The Oxford English Reference Dictionary says about hard, adj:
(of a substance, material etc.) firm and solid, unyielding to
pressure; not easily cut.

A softer material will scratch more readily than a harder material.
Nope, it all depends, but a harder material will scratch will scratch
a softer material, if we pseek about the Mohs scale of hardness.

The hardness of Quartz is 7.25. Nope, the hardness according to Mohs
is 7, as the Austrian mineralog defined the hardness of Quartz as 7.
And when you speek of hardness scales it is a good thing to mention
what scale you are referring to. Both Brinell and Vicker’s has been
established hardness scales in the metallurgic industry for more than
a century.

The more alloy that is added to a metal, like gold, the less dense it
becomes, the sooner it will ware out. Here I don’t agree. To my
experience high karat gold bracelets Wear out (I take it this is what
you mean) quite faster than low karats.

It’s My wish that goldsmiths or metalsmiths not get sucked into the
trap of describing metal as hard or soft, and work on educating
their customers to the beauty of high karat metal. Tom @ Element 79 As
you might understand, you have not convinced me, so I think I’ll
stick to the good old words, as I don’t want to start explaining to
my customers about Brinell vs. Mohs vs. Vicker’s vs. maleability and
ductility.

Kind regards
Betty & Niels L�vschal, Jyllinge, Denmark
@L_F8vschal
phone (+45) 46 78 89 94


#6

Sorry about the use of 7.25 as a reference for quartz, that figure
just stuck in my mind.

As to wearablilty, I’ll bet you, that if you take a plain band made
out 24k and one made out of 10k or 14k, both 6mm by 2mm, and wear
them for 20 to 30 years , that the 24k will retain more of its
original volume. It seems to me that I have seen more 10k and 14k
ring shanks that are worn out and need new ones than 18k.

    Tom: Having been a metallurgist for 30 year, I find your usage
of hard and soft misleading. When working metals including gold and
silver, hardness is a very important criteria. After rolling, for
instance, the materials become harder and in many cases must be
softened to minimize brittleness. There are also heat treatments
which are used to harden these materials. Since the gold and silver
are metals, metal terms do apply. Also, how many gems are set using
24k prongs? 

Does the metal really become harder? Or does the metal become
compacted, less malleable, stiff. Do we really soften it. Or do we
anneal it to release the tension and restore the malleablity or set
the temper.

As to setting gems in 24k prongs it is not because its soft . It’s
malleable and will bend too easily. I’ll bet it makes nice bezels
though.

The customer misunderstands the difference between usage of hard and
soft to mean resistance, vs., wearablity and how long something will
last. Every week someone says to me “Oh I don’t want 18k it’s too
soft.” What do you tell them??
Tom@element 79


#7

I’m not sure that the description below is, in fact, what is referred
to as “hard, half-hard, soft” regarding metals. Those who do “wire
wrapping” buy wire in various hardnesses (I’m not a wire wrapper, so
I do not know why they need various hardnesses).

The only time I refer to “hard” is after a piece of metal has been
worked and is difficult to deal with, so I know that I need to anneal
. . .which will “soften” (make it easier to work with) metal.


#8

Hello Tom, I would suggest that it helps a great deal to educate your
clients through a brief written handout or reference material which
will elucidate the properties of gold in general. This can be done
without being overly technical, and once the clients understand a bit
more about what a magical and unusual substance gold is to begin
with, they will be able to appreciate why an alloy of 75% pure gold
(18kt) is aesthetically more desirable than an alloy of 58.5% pure
gold (14kt). As far as the factor of wear and wearability goes, the
point is more imagined than actual in most instances. In the Kingdom
of Thailand where I reside several months each year there is very
little jewelry made (except for export abroad) which is less than 22
karat, the majority is 23.5 karat and is worn constantly without any
real problem as to the jewelry wearing out. If one researches the use
of gold as an adornment throughout antiquity one will undoubtedly
find that in most ancient goldwork the common alloys were generally
20 to 24 karat. Seeing as these pieces date back seven thousand years
or so, the current use of low karat alloys is a rather recent thing,
for the most part only within the last few centuries at best. Just as
with selling an opal or tanzanite or emerald, if the client is
apprised as to the delicate nature of the material, it promotes their
proper care and discretion in the wearing of the finished item. This
is merely my opinion, for what it is worth. Regards, Michael


#9

Normally I resist responding more than once per subject, but I’d like
to make an exception. First I agree with Tom in that the purer the
metal the less apt the metal is to “sluff” off, or erode. How much
less…I don’t know. Not enough to worry about if your talking about
earrings or a broach. And if your talking to a customer about an
engagement ring, wedding band or a piece with moving parts there are
more than just practical concerns to deal with. There is also
marketing and bottom line considerations. All other things being
equal, I’d make more money selling an 18k ring than a 10k one. I
have also found that the line about 10 karat being harder (and by
implication better) seems to originate from those whose job it is to
sell lower karat jewelry. When growing up in my Mom and Pop’s
jewelry store I also heard this often repeated by customers. There
was a resistance to “buying up” to 14 or 18k by those who had been
sold this line. Some salesperson had probably told them when buying
their class ring that 10 k was harder. It is often difficult to get
someone to drop what they learned early on. Funny thing is that when
I moved out of my family’s business and got a job at an upscale store
there was never this debate about 10k Vs 14 or18k. All the high-end
customers wanted was 18k! Someone had either educated them toward
the benefit of higher karat jewelry or else there was some kind of
low karat bias / snobbery at work (probably a little of both). The
point is that if you want to sell higher end work to customers it is
your job to respond to their objection and/or resistance to your
product. That is the point of selling (AKA “educating the
consumer”). Back in my younger days when I was selling, I loved to
find customers like this because it afforded me the opportunity to
show people new products and allowed me to represent myself as a
specialist with more knowledge than the average jeweler. We miss an
opportunity to make an important impression on a potential customer
when we become frustrated and label this a pet peeve rather than
embrace the customers resistance as an opportunity.

On a more practical note. I would cast my vote that when metal gets
work hardened it is indeed harder, not just more workable. Remember
that when we work harden an item we are making the grains smaller
(denser) and more organized. It is the organization and density that
makes an item stronger and harder, whatever your definition of those
words. We aren’t just taking tension and stored energy out of metal
when we anneal, we are also reorganizing and reshaping the entire
crystal structure! Take the example of die struck versus cast items.
Die struck items have much more wear life than cast items because of
the difference in the grain density. That is why the best wedding
bands and findings are die struck, not cast. The reduction in the
malleability and ductility of metal does not make the item wear
longer. The organization of the crystal structure and it’s
subsequent density are what give it added strength and wearability.

Larry Seiger
JA Certified Master Bench Jeweler


#10

Larry, I agree with you fully, and I think the key to your
discussion is the term “work harden”. I’m not really all that
frustrated with the customers, like you I turn it to my advantage. I
guess I was trying to bring an awareness to forum on how we as
metalsmiths use the terms and how the general public has a different
understanding of the terms “hard and soft.” Tom@element79


#11

I thank you for saying exactly what I was thinking.My customers do
not want to be educated in technical terms and precise definitions of
words nor do I wish to spend hours of my time trying to tell them what
"ducta what?" means.I have seen 24k rings that are a year old that are
look like they have been in a hail stoem and 14k rings that are 50
years old that have stood up much better for wear. J Morley Coyote Ridge Studio


#12

Please forgive me for a third comment on the hard/soft issue… this
time it pertains to the use of these terms as they are applied to
wire. When I purchase my 18kt yellow gold wire for crochet work, I
order it dead soft; this tells the refiner that I want the wire to be
annealed after the final drawing to the desired diameter which will
render it as annealed as it can possibly be. Wire can be ordered from
most refiners as hard or soft as you would like it to be depending on
your intended use, often times it will be designated as specific as
necessary, such as 1 die hard or two dies hard, etc., which tells the
refiner how many plates it will be drawn through subsequent to the
wires last annealing. This use again applies strictly to the state of
work hardening, or the20 state of annealing that the metal will be
prepared to by the refiner. I hope this helps to clarify things for
those who are just becoming familiar with metals terminology. Thanks
to everyone for your patience with the many facets of this particular
subject.


#13

You have a very good point, it is misleading, but isn’t that just the
English language? How about the words “to, too, and two” all sound
the same, all have different meanings. So let’s face it, metals are
hard relative to one another or to itself depending on how it was
worked or heated. Yes, gemstone hardness may mean something
different, but that’s the way with English. Those of use that have
been working with both have no problem adjusting to the proper
understanding what is meant by hard and soft relative to metals or
stones. Just felt like voicing my opinion.


#14

You have a very good point, it is misleading, but isn’t that just the
English language? How about the words “to, too, and two” all sound
the same, all have different meanings. So let’s face it, metals are
hard relative to one another or to itself depending on how it was
worked or heated. Yes, gemstone hardness may mean something
different, but that’s the way with English. Those of use that have
been working with both have no problem adjusting to the proper
understanding what is meant by hard and soft relative to metals or
stones. Just felt like voicing my opinion.


#15

okay people - stayed out of this until now, but is it possible the
original post on ‘hard & soft’ metals referred to the type of raw
metal that is ‘dead soft’ - ‘soft’ - ‘half hard’ - ‘hard’ - ‘spring
hard’ - etc? you know, for suiting the different uses you plan to
make of it? ive