S88 Sterling competes with Argentium


There is a lot of conversation about Argentium Sterling and its
benefits as well as drawbacks. I’ve worked with Argentium Sterling,
but eventually decided its little “quirks” would be difficult for my
students to deal with.

However, since I’ve been working with United Metal’s S88 Sterling, I
am a believer. This amazing sterling alloy was recommended by someone
on Orchid, and I ordered some to try out. Wow. Now I am buying the
S88 Master Alloy ten ounces at a time for use with my classes.

Castings done in the S88 are dense and smooth, and don’t really need
to be pickled, as they emerge from the investment so clean and
oxidation-free. Fabrication is trouble free, with no fire-scale
problems. Annealing is bullet-proof, with no worrys about needing to
cool sufficiently before quenching. Rolling and drawing S88 is easy
and problem free. Polished S88 stays bright with little tarnishing.

I’d like to know whether other metalsmiths like the S88 Sterling as
much as I do.

To my knowledge, no company at present is manufacturing ready-made
stock of this great sterling, but I think someone ought to get the
hint. If you are considering replacing your standard fire-scaling,
tarnishing sterling with Argentium, why not give the S88 a try.

My students at UCSD are really appreciative of its many advantages.
Oh, and I don’t work for United Metals, I just happen to think
they’ve got a great product.

Jay Whaley UCSD Craft Center

... I've been working with United Metal's S88 Sterling.... 

Hello Jay, I’ve seen you mention s88 here on Orchid before. Do you
have any links you can give us for on the alloy?

In particular I’d like to know what’s in it because that is
ultimately going to make a huge difference to a lot of us. For
instance if there’s a significant amount of zinc then you get the
grey metalic zinc oxide layer on the surface. If it’s got silicon
then there’s likely going to be hardness issues. And so on. In other
words, more info please.

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

I use United’s S88 and I love it. When I switched from regular
sterling to de-ox from United it was liberating. Unfortunately "S88"
does not have the catchy brand name that Argentum does. Must give it
to the Argentum people that they have done a much better job

Stephen Walker

I don’t know if it was my recommendation that put you on to the S88
Jay but I am glad you found it none the less. I have been using and
touting this alloy for 8or9 years and use it in my production line.
The anti-tarnish factor alone is enough to make a switch not to
mention the casting and milling properties. United is my alloy of
choice for gold as well as silver. If you like the S88 for silver
try the 930 white for white gold. You will think you have gone to
heaven. Tools beautiful, never brittle even after several castings,
low oxidation when soldering, should I go on??? United at
1-800-999-fine. (usual disclaimer here)

Frank Goss


Your experience with United’s S88 sounds wonderful. Can you tell us
more about the alloy’s characteristics. For instance - do you use
regular Sterling Hard, Medium and Easy solders or do you have to use
lower temperature solders. Any difference in the way it anneals?,

Dear Mr. Whaley,

I have not heard of this alloy for sterling. Would you and your
students be willing to put together a technical paper on it and it’s
working properties for the benefit of the greater metalsmithing

Information on what metallurgical test have been applied and how this
alloy performed would be of great interest.

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228

How’s the color of the United 14k nickel white?

... Unfortunately "S88" does not have the catchy brand name that >
Argentum does. Must give it to the Argentum people that they have
> done a much better job marketing. 

No offense Stephen but there’s more to it than “marketing”. Peter
Johns has been working on developing and improving the alloy for
close to 15 years, it’s in use by some of the most respected
jewellery and silverware manufacturers in the world (in one case for
close to a decade), it’s in production at one of the largest precious
metal suppliers in the USA and has received considerable attention
from artisans and early-adopters like myself. In other words
Argentium Sterling deserves and has earned the interest and attention
it is receiving, and not just for the marketing side of things.

I’m sure that other firescale resistant alloys are worth looking at
too but AS is where it’s at today for a lot of very good reasons.

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


I am pleased S88 is starting to get some amount of attention by
Orchideans, judging from the postings I’ve read.

Regarding having my students do a technical paper on S88’s
attributes, I just don’t see that happening, frankly.

My students are like a room full of cats. It’s not an academic
program,the studio just sits on the UCSD campus. We’re open to the
public, and all my students make whatever they want, with no set
projects of any kind. Their time in the studio is precious to them,
and I just can’t see them making any kind of organized effort to
analyze the properties of a new type of sterling silver.

There is a very high-tech oriented group of jewelers out there, who
are like scientists. Then there is that other group, which I guess
I’m in, which just wants very predictable results from a metal, with
very few problems or quirks. In my classes, we are trying to
translate the students ideas into finished work with a minimum of
wasted time or effort. In other words, most of them are not paying to
"do experiments", but rather to complete their project within the 9
weeks they have.

Commercial jewelers are not that much different in their needs. They
want a reliable, easy to cast/fabricate metal that doesn’t
firescale, and stays as bright as possible, whether in the case or on
the customer.

I’m really liking what the S88 sterling offers.

Jay Whaley UCSD Craft Center.

Trevor mentioned a hardness issue with silicon de-ox. Is this likely
to cause problems when casting? I know that I should wait 15-20
minutes before quenching. Is there anything else I should be aware
of. I will be using my Necraft centrifuge caster.

I did a small sample cast using cuttlebone, just to see what the
color of the casting would be. It is nice and bright, and has no


Andy the color on the united 930 white alloy is very good at the 14
kt level. No yellow color and sort of a stainless steel white. Not a
white as rhodium but good enough so my customers never complained
even without a rhodium plate…

Frank Goss

Don’t get me wrong, Trevor.

There is nothing cynical about my statement that Argentum as a brand
name has been well marketed. I have never used it myself, but the
fact that its makers have thought it through well enough to give us
something to call it when we present it to our customers is
fantastic! I am all about clever marketing, as long as it is honest.
I only rarely have anything to say about United’s de-ox alloys when I
am selling it. Jewelry is an emotional product and new alloy numbers
just don’t have much resonance with the retail customer. Remember the
discussion about the ABI silver alloyed with platinum? I think the
biggest problem with that is that it needs to be branded in a way that
is legally acceptable to the FTC and also makes the public want it.
Sterling, 14K, 18K are all recognised by the consumer because of
centuries of use. De-ox has potential to become a similar standard,
not in the technical precious metal quality, but as something the
consumer recognizes and wants. But what do we call it if it is S88 or
any of the other alloys other than Argentum? I congratulate whoever
thought of naming Argentum for thinking this through so well.

By the way, United has very good litereature about it’s material.
Their chief metalurgist. “Doc” is a wealth of knowledge. I would be
very surprized if the technical paper proposed earlier in this thread
does not already exist.

Stephen Walker

Regarding having my students do a technical paper on S88's
attributes, I just don't see that happening, frankly. 

Jay provided an email at United and suggested I ask them for tech
info such as the alloy’s primary ingredients,etc. As yet there is not

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


The 930 Alloy is slightly yellowish. It is a cast-able, mill-able
alloy which I use as my standard 14K white, have used it since about
1994. They also have alloy #970 which is comparable in color to the
Stuller X-1 alloys. That is, it is very white. It is not as
malleable as the 930 is, but it does have great setting strength and
develops good spring tension.


I am one of Jay Whaley’s students. I totally enjoy the environment
and spend four weekdays 8:45 AM to 3:30 PM in that studio. I am very
thankful to UCSD for this wonderful environment. Other classes
offered there include, Lampwork Beads, Glass Blowing, Ceramics, Neon
Glass, Photography, Sculpture, as well as a variety of Work Shops.

Today Jay and I were discussing the S88 and Argentium issue. I see
the results of S88 melts, ingots, castings, and drawn wire. They all
are excellent. I told Jay I intended to use AS wire in Chain Making
as I plan on fusing rather than soldering rings.

At the moment I am making my own sheet, and have not bought any
Argentium other than wire. I enjoyed meeting Peter Johns at a Silver
Forum hosted by Jeff Herman of SAS. I feel Argentium is an excellent
material, and more than appreciate Peter’s efforts in making working
in Silver a whole lot easier.

Obviously there is room for both. This is not a competition. Orchid
is a free exchange of great You take what you can use,
and park the rest of the for possible later use.

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers on this wonderful list.

Hi Paul, Thanks. I’ve been using David H Fell’s “winter white” which
used to be it’s “hard nickel white”. They had very little call for
it, marketing instead their “soft white” which was said to work very
easily. (Soft white was a very pale yellow to my eyes.) They always
had little of the “hard nickel” sitting on a shelf and would sell me
some when I called. At any rate for whatever reason they started
selling the “winter white” which they told me was the renamed hard
nickel. I use the alloy for casting and fabrication. I don’t cast
much any more but still roll my alloy out from the the winter white
casting shot. It works very well, has a good color and forges fine.
I quench in alchohol at black heat to anneal.

Take care,

Hello Orchidland,

I am intrigued by Jay Whaley’s reports on the sterling alloy using
S88… the problem lies in that the material is only available in
casting grain (or a master alloy for those who have the equipment
and time to start from fine silver), and NOT in sheet and wire. I’m
not going to invest in casting equipment; therefore, I purchase my
metals already formed in sheet and wire. I’ll let Daniel Grandi cast
any forms for me. It’s a matter of both time and equipment.

It would be nice if United Metals would commit to producing the S88
already formed for folks like me. Argentium has only been available
in sheet and wire for a couple years. Taking the alloy’s availably
from casting grain-only to usable forms has given AS a huge edge in
the market place.

Judy in Kansas, who harvested a bucket of strawberries. It’s jam
making tonight!

Hi all,

As Jay says, S88 has been out there for a while. As far as I can see
on the United site, though, it still only comes as a casting alloy.
My understanding is that it works well for casting tarnish resistant
sterling. However, when I looked into it several years ago, it did
not seem viable for sheet and wire, and it still does not look like
United offers S88 in sheet or wire form, judging by their site. Jay,
are you and your students making S88 sheet and wire and fabricating
with it? Or are you and your students primarily casting? What was it
that you did not like about Argentium Sterling Silver when you tried

Cynthia Eid


I think there has been a misunderstanding about the S88 Sterling from
United Metals.

Generally speaking, there are 2 types of alloys, a “casting” alloy,
designed for fluid castings and easy clean up, and a "rolling "
alloy, which is usually castable, but which is soft enough to allow
for rolling and drawing into sheet and wire.

In my experience, I have found most “casting” alloys much too hard
for fabrication, and only work for castings. I avoid them. Rolling
alloys, however, can also be cast, and are easy to fabricate with, so
I only buy alloys that are easy to roll out and draw.

With a large bag of the S88 Master Alloy we keep in our studio, and
occasional trips to the local coin dealer to buy fine silver
(usually in coin form) the cheapest possible way to buy pure silver,
we alloy our own S88 sterling with a gram scale and a calculator.
Takes about 2 minutes to do. The alloy and fine silver is melted down
together, stirred with a carbon stick, and poured into an ingot mold,
or cast in our casting machine.

Yesterday, I had a customer’s job I was casting with the S88
sterling. I mixed up the S88 alloy and fine silver in the casting
machine’s crucible, and cast 2 rings which later emerged from the
investment with NO oxidation on the smooth surface, and I mean NONE.
It really didn’t need to be pickled.

Two of the sprues I cut off were easily rolled into square wires,
milled 1/2 round, and turned into silver bands by soldering with HARD
silver solder. A very strong joint. Minimal filing, sanding and
polishing, and NO fire scale at the buffer, after repeated annealing
and soldering. Polished surfaces remain bright with little tarnishing
over time, in my experience.

Regarding Argentium, my issues with it were primarily that it was
fragile while soldering or annealing it. I found manipulating it
during soldering difficult to do without it breaking when hot, and
having to wait a fairly long period of time after annealing before
you could move the wire to quench it. Moved too soon after annealing
can cause the wire or sheet to just fall in half. These issues of
heat fragility never seem to occur with the S88 sterling in my

Oh, and if you haven’t felt the S88 Sterling under a hammer, then
you are really in for a treat. It moves very well.

Jay Whaley UCSD Craft Center

As some of you may know I’ve attempted to obtain some as
to the content of this alloy in the belief that what’s in it has a
huge effect on what one can expect from it in the shop.

It has been suggested that this type of is of
“scientific” interest only and that one might happily work the stuff
in ignorance of it. While I suppose that is technically true I’m
unconvinced that ignorance is bliss when it comes to spending hours
working a metal in the shop and then selling the products to the
public, never mind basing ones livelihood on it.

Like it or not an alloy’s composition goes a long way to determining
it’s mechanical characteristics and reactivity to heat and
atmosphere. In other words knowing it’s composition and knowing how
alloys like it behave gives one a head-start on knowing how it will
react and behave under torch, hammer and tongs.

With that in mind, and lacking from the S88 producers
directly, I would like to share some patent info which an orchid
reader forwarded me, specifically US P/N 5039479 awarded to United
Precious Metal Refining Co., Inc.

The patent describes several master alloys and two silver (sterling)
alloys. For the sake of our discussions here I quote the silver

  "5. A silver alloy composition consisting essentially of the
  following parts by weight: about 89-93.5% silver, about 0.02-2%
  silicon, about 0.001-2% boron, about 0.5-5% zinc, about 0.5-6%
  copper, about 0.25-6% tin, and about 0.01-1.25% indium. 

  6. A silver alloy composition consisting essentially of the
  following parts by weight: about 92.6% silver, about 1.85%
  zinc, about 0.05% indium, about 4% tin, about 1.44% copper,
  about 0.01% boron, and about 0.05% silicon." 

There’s no quarantee that S88 is in fact described by this patent
but I’m told it is one of the patent numbers cited in the literature
that accompanies the alloy so it’s not a bad assumption.

The thing that I see in the alloy descriptions is that they are
basically zinc and tin based which makes them quite similar to a
number of other de-ox sterling alloys out there. In fact alloys like
this have been around for over 50 years. I’ve tested a few of these
and noticed a marked tendency for such alloys to form a tough zinc
oxide layer when heated with a torch. See the “Other alloy tests -
results” post on my blog


In particular note that this layer is a “skin” on the metal, that it
is very resistant to the mild acids that we normally use for pickling
(in other words it doesn’t pickle off), and that it is relatively
easy to cut or abrade through (in other words it will wear off). Once
you do so you can clearly see that the surface layer, although
silvery, is noticably darker and duller than the host metal beneath

This dark layer forms much more readily when the heated metal is
exposed to the atmosphere, typical of torch heating procedures such
as annealing and soldering, and much less so during casting where the
hot metal is largely protected from the atmosphere. The oxide layer
does not appear to reform on it’s own: it appears to require torch

Another feature of these alloys is that they tend to be rather soft,
and do not precipitation harden easily, certainly not to the degree
that Argentium Sterling will harden under moderate temperatures (a
domestic oven for instance).

So my point is this: all metals and their alloys have their quirks.
Rare indeed is the alloy that does not. I think we all know this and
it is, in fact, part of our decision making process in that we choose
our alloys based on “the quirks” that we’re willing to accept and
work with, after price and other considerations of course. As such
it’s well worth knowing what you’re working with to better predict,
understand, and accomodate the results you’ll get with it.

And of course it’s one step better to get your hands on some of the
stuff and try these things for yourself, which I freely confess I
have not yet done with S88 specifically.

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