Know the Material: Reticulating
Posted on 13 November 2017
Reticulation is a process we use that creates a wonderful texture that resembles rippling water on some of our sterling silver pieces. These peaks and valleys across the metal are one-of-a-kinds. Even though there is some control in reticulating and the process may always be the same, it is impossible to make the same exact pattern more than once, so like a snowflake, each piece is unique.
Sterling silver is technically a man-made alloy and is comprised of about 92.5% silver (which is why sterling silver is stamped with “925”) and 7.5% copper. The reticulating process depletes the copper from the alloy’s surface and allows the surface to then be silver-rich while leaving a majority of the copper at its core. To deplete the copper form the surface we hit the sterling silver with a torch, then the piece is quenched in water and sits in an acid solution. After we retrieve the piece from the solution it will have a pink hue, this is the copper oxide that has been brought to the surface which we brush off.
Since the top layer of the metal contains more silver and the core contains a higher percentage of copper the piece now has two different melting points (the core is the lower of the two). This means that now when we hit the piece with the torch again the inner layer that has the lower melting point will begin to do so while the outer layer (the silver-rich layer) remains solid. Once the piece begins to cool the inner layer will return to a solid and contract, causing the surface to produce that wrinkled texture.
We are able to focus the flame to certain areas of the metal, allowing some areas to be affected more than others. As the flame is moved around the reticulation will follow. Once we have finished reticulating the piece we return it to an acid solution to clean and rinse with water. From there we may cut a different shape, polish or oxidize the silver, or bend into a different form.
*The image above is of the soldering block we use for reticulation you can see the outline of the shapes we have worked with in the past from the torch
*The second image shows how the same shape, which has all gone through the same process, all have one-of-a-kind reticulated patterns.