Invented by Peter Johns, Argentium® sterling silver is a silver alloy that provides numerous advantages over traditional sterling silver. Traditional sterling is 92.5% silver with the remaining 7.5% mostly copper, while Argentium sterling is also 92.5% silver, yet some of the copper has been substituted with a metalloid called germanium.
This small amount of germanium, when heated, migrates to the surface where it forms a thin layer of germanium oxide that will prevent the copper from darkening the silver’s surface. This gemanium oxide layer also decreases reticulation (wrinkling) of the silver’s surface so the heated Argentium wire can pull up into a perfectly smooth teardrop-shaped ball. This technique, known as teardropping, allows the studio jeweler to create aesthetically pleasing headpins from any gauge of Argentium sterling silver wire with a simple propane torch.
The large Argentium headpins will serve as the backbone for the Tear-Loops used in the Beaded Triad Earrings. Each Tear-Loop wire starts as a 1½-inch (3.8cm) length of 16-gauge Argentium sterling silver wire with a ½-inch (1.3cm) tail that is bent at a 45-degree angle. This ½-inch length will later be wrapped into a small loop, but for now this bend will save your pliers from direct contact with the torch’s flame.
Before we begin, assemble all the necessary tools and materials. I recommend that you dim the lights to better see the subtle color changes of the Argentium silver as it transforms from a solid to a liquid state. Start your propane torch with a lighter and adjust the gas pressure to create a one-inch blue flame. If the gas does not ignite, turn down the gas pressure (clockwise) and continue to strike the lighter until it catches, and then turn up the gas pressure (counter-clockwise) to the desired one-inch blue flame. To achieve a 3.2mm diameter teardrop, you will need to keep the tip of the wire touching the point of the blue flame for roughly 16 seconds, as described below.
CAUTION: If you heat the wire too long and the teardrop swells to over 4mm in diameter, it will fall from the wire and splatter on your work surface, sending red hot balls of silver everywhere. Until you get your timing dialed-in, I would advise working over a bowl of water to catch your accidentally-dropped tears.