How to Reticulate Silver

How to Reticulate Silver

Reticulation is a technique that produces an incredibly beautiful texture of peaks and valleys in your metal designs. With practice you can, to a certain extent, “control” the pattern that is achieved; however, due to the very nature of the technique, you will never be able to replicate a specific texture, which makes each piece a true one-of-a-kind. The technique is not difficult but, as with all jewelry techniques, it does take a little time and patience to master.

The reticulation process begins by depleting the copper from the alloy's surface. The depletion process will leave a silver- or gold-rich (depending on the alloy used) surface layer and a core that has a higher percentage of copper. The result is a sheet of metal that has two different melting points, the core being the lower of the two. This unique composition is what makes reticulation possible.

The process of reticulation is the same no matter which alloy you use; however, the depletion process for sterling or 14k gold will have to be repeated many more times compared to that of a reticulation alloy, which contains a higher percentage of copper.

The Depletion Process

Set your sheet of metal on a soldering pad or pumice media in an annealing pan.

Heat the sheet to an annealing temperature using a neutral flame. You do not need to use a flux or firescale retardant because you want firescale to form, this is how the copper that is in the surface layers become depleted. Using copper tongs, quench the metal in clean water and place it into a warmed pickle bath for 5 minutes. Using a freshly mixed solution of pickle is best; it will work quicker in removing the copper oxides.

Remove the metal from the pickle and rinse the piece in clean water while brushing the surface with a brass brush. You will see the copper that is rising to the surface in the form of a pink stain deep in the surface.

Repeat steps 1-4 until you have a powder white or gold surface when the piece is removed from the pickle, once this layer is achieved you can skip the brass brushing. It will usually take 3 to 5 depletion cycles for reticulation alloys, and 10-15 cycles for sterling silver or 14k gold.

Reticulating the Surface

Once you have a silver or gold rich surface you can now reticulate the metal. As mentioned above the sheet is now composed of two distinct layers, one of which is the silver or gold rich surface and the other is an inner core with a higher percentage of copper. The inner core will have a lower melting point than that of the surface layer. When the metal is brought to a temperature in which the core alloy begins to melt the surface layer will still be in a solid state. As heat is removed the inner alloy will solidify and contract which will cause the surface layers to wrinkle and reticulate.

Set the piece on a soldering pad and begin to heat the metal to an annealing temperature. Once you have reached an annealing temperature concentrate the flame in one spot on the metal sheet, heat that spot for a second or two until you see the metal begin to glow then move the flame away, you will see the metal begin to wrinkle; the reticulation will follow the flame.

Once the piece is reticulated quench in water and place in the pickle bath with copper tongs. Remove the piece from the pickle and rinse.

The metal is now ready to be used in your designs. It can be cut, shaped, bent and formed. If you plan on soldering the piece, you should use medium or easy solder.