The Studio – Jewelry Blog by Rio Grande

Shibuichi: Traditional Japanese Copper/Silver Alloy

Oct 17, 2011

Have you heard of Shibuichi? And do you know how to say it? (Shee–boo–EE–chee. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?)

Shibuichi is a low-silver alloy that's getting some buzz in the metalsmithing community. As you might guess from the name, it is a Japanese term. It translates to “one fourth," which is a reference to the traditional Japanese alloy mixture that historically has been composed of 25% silver and 75% copper. Back in the days of the Samurai, Shibuichi was used to make ornaments for the katana (Samurai sword).

So why are people exploring this ancient alloy these days? Well, while the price keeps moving around, it is certainly true that the price of silver has generally risen dramatically in recent years. Working in Shibuichi is a great way to reuse silver scrap, and by mixing the silver with copper, it becomes an affordable alternative alloy to consider.

In fact, many metalsmiths are using alternative ratios of silver to copper. Mixtures of 5% silver/95% copper and 15% silver/85% copper are both commonly used. I also know of at least one jeweler who uses a rich 35% silver/65% copper alloy. As you add more silver, the metal will become more stiff, so for a softer alloy stay with the 5% or 15% formulation. For a bit of spring, go for the 25% mixture, and to really stiffen it up move up to the 35% mixture.

Shibuichi piece designed by Gregg Burgard

All of these formulations are both tough and hard, and another great thing about Shibuichi is how well it takes color from patinas. In general, the more copper in the mixture, the more colorable they are. I recommend checking out the great book, Japanese Patinas –a great way to explore the fun of working with a traditional Japanese alloy, and coloring it with traditional Japanese patinas!

We’re considering offering ready-made Shibuichi sheet for the Rio catalog, and we'd love to hear from you. Would you find this alternative alloy interesting? Let us know!

Comments (8)
  1. Would like to have this metal mixture available in sheet form from Rio

  2. Another source of correctly prepared stock would be good. However, a thorough understanding of it’s properties and use is essential to get proper results. I would start with Jim Kelso’s most excellent site. … It’s not just melted copper and silver.

  3. I’ve heard of this and definitely would like to be able to buy sheet

  4. How exciting to hear that Rio might be stocking this alloy! I have wanted to work with it for some time. Can’t wait!

  5. I think it would be great if it were offered by Rio; I’d love to give it a try!

  6. Would love to see this in both sheet and wire. Please Please

  7. I’ve worked with shibuichi, and love it’s qualities. Would be delighted to see this offered by Rio!

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