A friend just found this URL and posted it on an unrelated website.
It discusses a tarnish free silver alloy which is sterling with 1.1%
germanium added instead of that much of the copper. Geo
At last silver that keeps its lustre A British craftsman has invented
an alloy for a generation that has no time for spit and polish.
 Source: The Observer
TAKE a close look at silversmith Richard Fox’s candle holder, far
right, which is on display from Tuesday at the six-day Olympia Spring
Fine Art and Antiques Fair. It has been on show around the country
for about two years, and has never been polished yet it is completely
free of tarnish. The candle holder is made from a newly discovered
tarnish- resistant alloy, sovereign sterling silver, which Fox hails
as the most significant development in silversmithing for more than
The silver industry’s search for a tarnish-resistant silver has
recently acquired an intensity akin to the age-old quest to turn base
metals into gold, because younger people too busy to spit-and-polish
have been buying stainless steel tableware instead.
The secret of sovereign silver, which will soon have its own hallmark
and logo, is the addition of 1.1 per cent of the chemical element
germanium (Ge), a silvery-grey metalloid with a crystalline structure
that resembles diamonds. Germanium absorbs, without trace, the oxygen
that causes tarnish. The alloy is also dishwasher- friendly.
If you own a silver Post-It note holder that uncannily refuses to
lose its lustre, you probably have one of the first sovereign silver
products to hit the high street. Made by Fox, these have just sold
out at the John Lewis store chain in sizes ranging in price from
pounds 75 to pounds 105, no more than for standard sterling silver.
If the Cold War had not ended, the new silver might never have been
discovered. Germanium is used in the infrared heat-seeking lenses
used on both Russian and US tanks. After communism collapsed, the
French mining company that extracts it from zinc and lead ores,
Metaleurop, was forced to seek new uses for it.
The company telephoned Peter Johns, a silversmith and tutor in
applied arts at Middlesex University. Sovereign sterling silver is
his discovery. Johns is a freeman of the Worshipful Company of
Goldsmiths, whose apprentice masterpiece is Canterbury Cathedral’s
silver processional cross. But he has no training as a metallurgist.
He says: `Metaleurop was looking for any new use for germanium.
Because Middlesex Polytechnic, as it then was, had a name for working
with a range of metals, they thought we would be open to their crazy
idea of a new silver alloy.
`This discovery would never have come from a straight metallurgist,
because they don’t know what the industry wants. I can arrive at
solutions more quickly.’
The invention coincides with another leap forward in silversmithing:
the revival of electroforming forming a solid silver object by the
familiar electroplating process, using a mould immersed in a tank
containing silver salts with an electric current running through it.
Computerisation and other refinements mean the deposited silver can
now accurately replicate fine detail, even engraving.
Electroforming was the process used by the London company BJS to make
the coronet for Prince Charles’s inauguration as Prince of Wales in
1969. BJS is now being commissioned to make silver copies of pieces
by craftsmen designers who, only a year or two ago, would have
scorned the idea of having copies made. Electroformed silverware
costs a third to a half the price of the hand-crafted variety.
The first electroform using sovereign silver has yet to be made. But
a fusion of the two new methods, combined with designs by
contemporary silversmiths of the kind on show at Olympia, could
breathe new life into a product that has become unfashionable.
Johns has just been granted a European patent for sovereign silver
having beaten an Australian challenger and is going for an American
patent. The new silver is already popular in Finland, Italy and the
US. Licence fees could earn him millions.
According to a research paper published by Johns, the new silver
resists not only the tarnish of time but `firestain’, the grey
tarnish that forms on sterling silver when the heat of soldering
forces oxygen into it. The silver itself does not oxidise in heat,
but the copper, added to give the alloy strength, does. Hence the
Apart from that 1.1 per cent germanium, the new alloy is little
different from Sterling’s 925 parts of silver plus 75 parts of copper
and zinc. Germanium also adds ductility the ability to stretch
without breaking - so the silver needs less heating and plunging when
it is being worked. It is stronger, too, bringing the hope of bigger,
more spectacular silverware.
Johns says: `This is the silver that is going to be used for the next
5,000 years. I have ambitious plans to market it, but what I really
like is the thought that I’m going to leave to the world something of
Silversmith Martin Pugh, famous for his cutlery his butter dish and
forks are in the 10 Downing Street Collection and his claret jug in
the Millennium Collection has experimented with the new silver. `You
have to change your craft technique a little, but you don’t have to
clean off firestain and, once made, the tarnish rate is vastly slower
if it exists at all,’ he says.
Meanwhile, Fox is turning over his entire production to the new
alloy. That will include trophies for the Formula 1 world motor
racing championship, domestic wares such as his three-piece tea
service ( pounds 3,000, only pounds 50 more than ordinary sterling
silver might have cost), glasses with silver bases at pounds 60 each,
The last thing you want is to have to polish all the cutlery before a dinner party,' he says,so silver that won’t oxidise will open up a
vast new market.’
He will also be electroforming replicas of trophies for Henley Royal
Regatta which each year’s winners can take away and keep.
It's more accurate than casting,' he says,and quicker than chasing lotus
leaves by hand.’
The doyen of silversmiths, Benney, of west London, sells handmade
silver boxes for pills, jewellery or cigars; they have electroformed
plates with geometric designs inserted in the lids.
A 1.5inch diameter pillbox with electroformed lid that might have
sold for pounds 1,000 if entirely hand-made, sells for pounds 300. An
8in-by-6in cigar box, 3in deep, is pounds 2,000 rather than pounds
Benney says: `They’re amazingly detailed. This is an affordable way
of repeating pieces without losing definition in the decoration.’
Ironically, between 1980 and 1985 the Worshipful Company of
Goldsmiths spent a reputed pounds 250,000 on research at Birmingham
University to find a silver alloy that would not tarnish. It was a
case of `so near, yet so far’. At the time, the company was wedded to
developing a silver plating to combat tarnish, on sterling wares and
on lower-grade silver alloys.
Dr Peter Farr, then a senior lecturer in metallurgy at Birmingham
University, followed the company’s brief, only to conclude that
germanium, among other metals, was unsuitable for the plating
He says: `If the results of sovereign sterling silver are as good as
they sound, I’d be delighted. The technology of electroplating has
moved on since the Eighties: a germanium silver plate may now be
The new tarnish-free silver could, however, make a separate plating
process unnecessary. Could germanium silver be electroformed? Farr,
now president of the Institute of Metal Finishing, says:
`Electroforming could well incorporate Johns’ invention.’
The Olympia fair is open between 5pm and 10pm on Tuesday, on
Wednesday (11am-9pm), Thursday and Friday (11am-8pm), Saturday (11am-
7pm) and Sunday (11am-5pm).
Richard Fox Associates (0171-701 5540). BJS (0171-624 6796). Martin
Pugh (01527-502513) Benney (0171-589 7002).