Q: What is the difference between reticulation silver and sterling silver?
A: It’s funny how the question of the month comes about...usually a customer will ask a question, something that isn’t very common, then it all of a sudden it snowballs and becomes the question everyone asks. And thus, the question of the month is born! So keep it up, we love your questions!
Reticulation is a process by which metal sheet, usually silver, is heated to almost melting temperature and the surface draws up to make ridges and valleys, leaving a unique wrinkled texture.
Reticulation begins with depletion gilding. A process that involves annealing a sheet of gold or silver to oxidize the copper at the surface, and then pickling to remove the oxide, leaving a thin layer of pure metal on the surface. This causes the surface to have a higher melting temperature than the alloy within and is ready to reticulate. Once the sheet is gilded, it is heated to just below the flow point. The alloy in the interior flows before the surface of the metal does causing a surface to wrinkle. The number of anneals, the size of the flame, and the ratio of copper to silver cause variations in the texture of the reticulated surface.
Silver is the metal most commonly used for reticulation. Sterling silver (92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper) works fairly well, but the wrinkled texture is fairly subtle. (See Regina’s reticulated sterling silver pendant, above right.) Silver alloyed with a higher proportion of copper gives a more dramatic pattern. A commercially manufactured reticulation silver is now produced with 80-83% fine silver and 20-17% copper. (See Judy’s reticulated 80/20 earrings, above left.)
Sterling Silver is only defined as having 92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper, therefore reticulation silver cannot be marked as sterling. If you buy reticulation silver, mark the sheets immediately and keep all scraps separate from your sterling silver. When selling jewelry made with reticulation silver and sterling, be sure the customer understands that the piece is not entirely sterling.