In my small world there’s nothing quite as beautiful as organic texture; like the chunky rough planes of a mountain rock face cut in light and shadow, or the layered hide of a tree trunk, gnarled by decades. I find it difficult capturing those surfaces on a piece of metal though. Yes, I’ve carved a replica of a natural texture in wax and although I’ve not tried it I could make a rubber mold of an organic object and cast it. Or there’s sand and surface casting that make some great textures too.
But is there a way to transform a smooth piece of sterling silver wire or sheet into chaotic gorgeousness without all that fuss and equipment? If you own a propane or acetylene torch and a ceramic brick then the answer is yes…because sterling silver + heat = texture.
It’s good to know (especially if you’re new to jewellery making) that sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (added to increase hardness). As you heat it with a gentle to medium flame it begins to glow dark red. At that moment the piece is annealed…previously disorganized molecules become more organized. With continued heating molecules of copper in the piece which have a higher melting point than the silver begin to migrate to the surface. You’ll know this because the surface will turn from silver to black.
If you quench the piece (in water) and pickle it (in an acid solution which removes the fire-scale) and repeat that heat/quench/pickle cycle 10-15 times, a layer of pure silver will gradually accumulate at the surface while the copper beneath (remember it has a higher melting point) will begin to ripple with the silver flowing over it. And that’s where the weird wavy patterns on the surface become apparent. The process is called reticulation and you can read more about it here. I love the randomness of it and am playing with my heat level and the surface I’m melting on – ceramic brick, charcoal etc. So many variables and so much fun.
Below is my latest sampling of textured bits and pieces; 2 twigs that I sand casted, a large (6 gauge) link (bottom left), a twist of brass wire I fused with sterling silver (top centre) and some molten silver plops that formed when I heated them on my brick. And it’s those plops that have me all excited about trying to make larger pieces. It’s that particular gritty texture that I’m looking for. It’s not a mountain cliff or a tree trunk but it’s getting close. 🙂