You have reminded me of one of my earlier responsibilities as a
relative newbie at one of the local firms in the 1970s.
I, too, had developed a feel for working semi-molten blobs of
mixed-karat gold and, once I pickled the assembled atrocities, and
then electro-stripped them to remove the rest of the nasty
oxidation, the recipients were overjoyed. The fumes we inhaled,
though, I can’t imagine. There were no fume extraction devices. I
think I held my breath as much as possible.
There has to be hundreds of them still around, to my horror. I never
plated mine, the electro-strip took care of the off-colour and the
cyanide vapour was like a ticket to heaven on any given day. A former
employer died of cancer in the mid-eighties. He was a hard-ass who
ridiculed me for trying to upgrade the safety regimen for the
company. When he was on his way out, he blamed the chemicals, the
polishing, the various contaminants, and vowed to document and
publish how dangerous the processes are. He never made it that far.
Fast forward; No plating or electrostripping in my shop. Our alloys
are all high karat and premium, and for a reason. Low oxidation
potential equals less labour to finish. High-white alloys don’t need
rhodium plating, ever. They weld beautifully without oxidation. My
staff will never get the cyanide whiff I have been accustomed to. I
wish the same for all of the tens of thousands of trade workers who
assemble and finish jewellery worldwide. Rhodium is a nemesis for
me, and if I had my way, nobody would be using it.