Tag Archives: Silver

Soldering Styles

There are several different methods that silversmiths use to create their pieces. Every silversmith has their own methods and trade secrets. In fact, methods can greatly differ from smith to smith, and I am going to describe the two ways that I have been showed.

According to the person who first introduced me to silversmithing (pictures here of that lesson), three different solder types are used: Hard, Medium, and Soft. These are so called according to their melting temps. These are used so that when the torch is being used to melt one piece of solder, it will not melt a different piece that has already been used. For example, to solder the bezel, (the strip of silver that holds in the stone) hard solder is used because it melts at a relatively high temperature, and when soldering the bezel to the plate, medium solder is used. This makes it so the medium solder melts and runs before the hard solder: if they both melted at the same time, the solder at the seam of the bezel would run off, and it would look like a crack in the bezel.

The style that my current teacher uses is different. He only uses one type of solder, but, to make up for that, he uses something called flux. Flux is a type of paste that sort of attracts the molten solder, so before soldering a joint, he first spreads a little flux on top, then gently holds the torch over that spot. The flux begins to sizzle, then starts to get hard. Right at that moment is when he applies the solder. For a second he moves away the torch, puts a bit of the solder in place, and then re-applies the torch, melting the solder where it flows immediately the joint.

There are different methods, one is not essentially better than another, but I am discovering that every silversmith has their own little style.

 

Silversmithing Lesson

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Recently, I have been going to Gaumer’s jewelry store in Red Bluff, and there I met one of the silversmiths, who, after showing him some of my work, agreed to give silversmithing lessons in his private workshop at his house. It was scheduled last Saturday, and when we got there, we began silversmithing right away. The feeling was not really of an exciting new thing, but not at all boring. It felt like… it felt like I was familiar and used to it, even though this was technically my first time. 

Anyway, we got there and I chose one of Mr. Jim Wade’s pieces of turquoise, cabbed it, and we began silversmithing. I was a little clumsy at first, but after a little while I was zipping through the Soldering. Pictured above is the result of my work, the process, and the supplies that went into the work. 

Not just a tribe of Barbarians

Celtic Helmet

Image by Rockman of Zymurgy via Flickr

A 1st century BCE mirror found in Desborough, ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Celts inhabited most of Europe, and were thought by other civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, as complete barbarians. The Celts were, politically and socially, unorganized. They knew no cattle herding or farming, but, the British Celts were very skilled in metalworking, especially silver. In fact, I read that the Greeks learned Iron working from the peoples north of them, which is approximately where the Celts would have dwelt.

Tin was found all over Britain (the reason the Romans conquered the island), and Iron, Silver, and Copper were relatively abundant, so the Celts had plenty of material. Though Gold was mined out much earlier on, so this metal was scarce. The Celts would decorate bowls, plates, and their great weaponry with scenes of their gods and Heroes.

As Christianity spread, Crosses and signs of the Crucifixion replaced the pagan scenes, and trade with the Holy Roman Empire increased, the British Celts became one of (if not the) best silversmiths in Europe.

The Celts normally did their work with several pieces of metal, soldering or riveting the pieces together, instead of doing it with a single piece. For figures or statues, the smith would cast a general shape of the figure in bronze, then shape and etch several plates of metal, which were then riveted on to the pre -cast figure, and polished down. Voila! a beautifully done statue!

 

The Origin of “Sterling”

Around 1225, the city of Lüberg near the Baltic sea began minting their coins with around 925/1,000 parts Silver and the rest copper to strengthen it. Traders from Lüberg used these coins to trade in London. The English Silversmiths liked this standard and so used it for their jewelry. As the Lüberg traders came from the East, the Londoners called these traders “Easterlings” and so the Silver alloy was called “Easterling Silver”, or for short, “Sterling Silver”.

That danged blue stuff

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“That danged blue stuff!” said the miner as he flung away the blue gravel. “Clogging our mekaniks and gettin’ in our clothes” he muttered as he went back to work. That miner, among dozens of others, was mining for gold in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1858. An onlooker, B.A. Harrison, picked up some of those blue rocks and put them in his pocket. On his next trip to California, Harrison gave them to an assayer, Melville Atwood. Atwood found out that there was not only $876 worth of Gold, but also $3,196 worth of Silver per ton of “that danged blue stuff”. Everyone was sworn to secrecy, but Atwood wrote to Don Davidson, in San Francisco and told him about the Silver ore. The Nevada silver rush was on.