Recently, I completed a project for my client using argentium. This was my first time experience with the fairly new metal. Although it’s considered as sterling and I have been working in sterling silver for years, I thought it’d be safe to do a little research before actually working on the metal. There were enough published written materials as well as helpful videos that spare me the knowledge. Above all, argentium is widely known as non-tarnished or tarnish-resistant sterling silver which doesn’t form firescale. This is absolutely beneficial knowing no need to protect the metal surface when soldering. Flux causes much of a hassle when soldering (You’d know what I’m talking about) and clean-up process between soldering takes so much time.
These are a few things what I learned from my experience.
# Argentium is quite easy to saw and file. I used a 20-gauge sheet to make a back plate and a 16-gauge square wire to make a thick rectangular bezel. The metal felt like butter as I saw off and file the excess. It was dense but easy to file as if I was filing aluminum without any residues being caught in the file.
# Argentium doesn’t conduct heat as much as traditional sterling. This means I was able to localize the torch at the area I want to melt the solder. It was more like soldering gold than silver since I didn’t have to heat up the entire piece.
# However, melting temperature of argentium is about 60 degree lower than that of traditional sterling. So, in general, medium solder is recommended as to hard for traditional sterling. As I didn’t order solder specifically made for argentium, I used medium silver solder that had in my studio. Some materials advise to use the solder for argentium because of the color match, but I haven’t found any color difference in the soldered seam using the silver solder.
# I found extremely convenient soldering argentium without flux. Since no flux is involved, no fluctuating solder pallions as I heat up the piece. Just flux the joint and liquid type works fine. Handy flux is not recommended for argentium. However, be careful with selecting the torch tip as argentium holds heat well, which means you have a good chance of overheating the metal. I used #0 torch to solder every part of the pendant. As soon as I saw the piece turns into red, I took the torch away.
# Annealed argentium is extremely malleable that can be easily formed into other shapes and forms. However, when it’s red-hot, it’s also very fragile and could be broken. After annealing a beveled 16-gauge square wire, it broke in two pieces as I grabbed with tweezers to submerge in water. So, let it cool for a while. This is very important if you don’t want to break your piece.
# Finally, although argentium is highly tarnish-resistant, prolonged soldering may form cupric oxide on the surface. This can be removed in a pickle pot or by sanding the surface. I used 600 grit to lightly sand off the cupric oxide.
# The most impressive thing about argentium is perhaps the efficiency. It saved me a lot of time. I know what it takes to solder traditional sterling. Keep the metal from being in contact with oxygen ALL THE TIME. Argentium requires far less work to keep metal clean and almost no clean-up. It was truly a fascinating experience.