This is a great way to achieve natural spontaneous looking textures on silver. In this example, I’m using 22 gage, 80/20 “coin silver”, 1-1/2 by 4-1/2 inches. Sterling silver may also be used. However, coin silver has a lower melting point and lends itself better to the reticulation process. I’m also using a weed burner in this example. The weed burner has a large flame and it can be used to heat the whole piece more or less simultaneously, which helps prevent melting holes through the sheet and/or uneven or unattractive patterns, which is often the case when using a small pencil flame. The weed burner is especially helpful on relatively large pieces.
#1. The first step is called “depletion silvering”, which is the same process as depletion gilding only on silver instead of gold. The piece (or pieces) are heated with the torch until they oxidize and turn black. It is then quenched and pickled in a crock pot. The pickling solution (sodium bisulfate and water) removes the copper oxide from the surface of the silver.
#2. After this process of heating and pickling is repeated several times, the copper or cupric oxide begins to be leached away from the surface of the silver leaving a thin film or “skin” of pure silver on the surface.
#3. The process of heating and pickling is repeated until the surface no longer oxidizes and appears a “frosty white” color. For good measure repeat the depletion silvering process 2-3 more times. The total number of cycles is usually around 10-12 times. Since the pure silver skin melts at a higher temperature than the copper/silver alloy core, the sheet will “reticulate“ and buckle when heated to the melting point of the core alloy. Place the sheet on a fire brick or other suitable ceramic refractory surface. Heat the sheet with the weed burner until the reticulated texture develops.
#4.After this is accomplished, pickle and clean the surface of the piece with a wire brush and/or steel wool.
Detail of a reticulated silver and bronze knife handle.
Double (twice) reticulated silver cross pendant.
More on silver reticulation, CLICK HERE.