Both Sterling Silver and Reticulation Silver can be reticulated, but Reticulation Silver produces the best texture – by far!
Sterling silver is an alloy of silver (92.5%) and copper (7.5%). Reticulation silver is normally an alloy of 80% silver and 20% copper. Using a process very similar to removing firescale, wherein the metal is repeatedly heated and quenched and pickled, the copper eventually becomes concentrated at the core of the metal, surrounded by a skin of fine silver (99.999). This prepares the piece for reticulation.
Because copper has a higher melting temperature than silver, when the prepared metal is torched with a very hot flame moved in a specific pattern, the copper core can be brought to a melting point, creating a liquid contained within a silver skin. The path and angle of the flame affects the textures created and the resulting patterns are often described as similar to moiré fabric or a bargello needlepoint or a relief map of expansive mountain ranges. But, there’s only 100 degrees F or so between the melting points for the skin and the interior …it’s pretty easy to burn a hole right through the sheet of metal.
A skilled (or lucky) person can maintain some control over the pattern, but concentrating on that can make it easy to get distracted from keeping the piece below the silver melting point. This is why larger pieces of reticulated jewellery, and sets that are evidently from the same piece based on pattern are more valuable.
No two pieces of reticulation are the same and even within the same piece a pattern can be very regular but will never have a true repeat.
Like so many silversmithing techniques, reticulation takes practice.
If you want to learn more and try your hand at this wonderfully organic process, sign up for our ‘reticulated cuff’ class taught by the talented Kelly Allanson. You can also check out our pinterest page ‘Reticulation Inspiration’ for some eye candy and a peak at how versatile this process is.