What is Reticulated Silver? How do you do it?
I love playing with fire. I talk a lot about reticulation or reticulated silver in my work but what is it? Simply put it’s a technique that creates texture using torch flame. This is where I think metal is really cool and that the science of the elements will do different things depending on the techniques. Reticulation is one of my favorite techniques. Due to the nature of the technique you always get a different unique pattern that is hard to replicate if you tried. This allows the metal to speak to me with its own natural texture. The ridges created often look like a mountain range or the surface of the moon and create a 3 dimensional surface that will cast shadows in the light.
So what is it and how does it work?
Sterling silver is only 92.5% silver with 7.5% copper alloy while fine silver is 99.9% silver. By doing this you create a separation of layers resulting in different melting temperatures between the surface and the interior of the sheet. After about five or more times of heating, cleaning then heating again, it starts to become magical. I describe it as the top layer of metal dancing with the torch flame. The top layer of silver becomes liquid on the sheet and follows the torch flame so when it cools you get a unique pattern left behind. The more you repeat this process the more pronounced your ridges become.
How do you do it?
Reticulation involves heating a sheet of sterling silver a minimum of 7 times, the more you repeat the process the more the textures become pronounced. So you start by bringing the metal just above annealing temperature. You know when it is annealed when the silver becomes a dull red color. Doing this oxidizes copper to the surface, then after you put them metal in a pickling solution to remove that layer of oxidation. This leaves the fine silver at the surface then you clean it with a brass brush to remove any excess. Once clean you can repeat this and heat up the metal again. After repeating this process about 5-7 times I usually start to see a bit of the top layer of silver starting to move with the torch flame. After 10+ times enough texture has been created that I usually call the pieces done and ready to be sawed, filled and finished into their intended jewelry piece.
Reticulated silver is almost exclusively used by studio jewelers. It is not a difficult process, but it does take practice, concentration, and a deft torch hand. Overheating will result in melted silver pieces and it takes time to understand how much to push the boundaries with your torch flame to control the metal. Because of the time involved to create the texture it doesn't lend itself very well to be part of a production line. Each piece goes through 7-15 times of being heated, cleaned off then repeated. I must be crazy because I just like to watch metal go from liquid to solids and back again.
This technique allows the metal to speak to me in what kind of patterns and texture it wants to become as no two pieces are exactly the same. I love the surprise of it all and it always keeps me coming back for more. It makes me feel as if my pieces are more connected to nature without being physically represented by cutting out a tree. I love combining these ideas with ideas of sacred geometry that are also seen in nature. Allowing timeless creations to come to life.
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