Pure-, Sterling- and Argentium Silver
Difference in working with Pure-, Sterling-, or Argentium silver.
In this handout you will read more about working with the different types of silver. I will tell you about the specifics of pure, sterling and argentium silver and the up- and downsides of working with these materials.
Let’s start by looking at the specifics of pure silver. This is also known as fine silver or .999 silver. It is silver in its purest form. Almost all impurities are filtered out until 99,9% of pure silver remains. That explains the .999 stamp that is used. As a jeweler, you will mostly use pure silver to make your own alloys such as yellow gold. Using pure silver on its own isn’t recommended. Pure silver is very soft, so jewelry made with it will damage easily.
That brings us to another alternative: sterling silver. Sterling silver is also known as .925 silver. It is an alloy of 92,5% pure silver with another metal added to strengthen it. Typically the added material is copper. However, in some cases nickel is used in the alloy. It is used less and less because it can cause an allergic reaction for some people. So when people say they are allergic to silver, in most cases that reaction is caused by the added material (nickel) instead of the silver itself.
As stated sterling silver is a lot stronger than pure silver due to the added material. It is by far the most used type of silver in making jewelry. It is quite strong compared to pure silver and it is an affordable material to get started with. It is easy to work with as well. It does have two downsides however.:
- If you aren’t careful with heating up your silver while soldering the copper that is in the alloy can come to the surface. This is called fire stain or fire scale. These stains will show up in the last stages of finishing your jewelry and are hard to take out. The most important ways to prevent these stains from appearing are not to overheat your piece and use a protective layer while soldering. That is why I always cover my entire piece in boraxine while soldering. If you would like to learn more about this check out episodes 7 and 8 from my online metalsmithing course. You can find these videos on YouTube.
- Another downside to sterling silver is that it will tarnish over time. The silver oxidizes when it comes into contact with air and it can really dull and discolor your jewelry.
That brings us to argentium silver. one of a new generation of silver alloys, which has been specifically developed to prevent tarnishing. It is an alloy in which germanium is added. Argentium contains a greater amount of pure silver as apposed to sterling silver. .935 Argentium contains 93,5% pure silver. The added germanium will eliminate chances of fire scale and has a high tarnish resistance.
So, that sounds ideal. Why isn’t argentium silver taking over the metalsmithing world? As stated it is a fairly new alloy. So maybe it has to do with people still getting to know argentium silver. Next to that it is more expensive than sterling silver. The current price for 10 grams of sterling silver at the moment of writing is 13,30 euro’s. 10 Grams of argentium silver will cost you 15,30 euro’s. That is a significant difference. On the other hand, not getting any fire scale an a material that is up to seven times less likely to tarnish… That might be worth the difference in price.
So working with argentium might be very interesting. But one final and very important note: if you are going to work with argentium silver, make sure that you only work with argentium. Don’t mix it up with regular sterling silver, not even silver solder. The benefits of the argentium silver will be lost due to cross contamination.