What Is The Difference Between Argentium And Sterling Silver?

What is Argentium silver?

Argentium is one of a new generation of silver alloys. It was developed specifically to combat the tarnish that occurs as silver oxidises when it comes into contact with air, which is a major drawback for all who love silver. However, Argentium also boasts a whole range of other properties besides this, which help to make it an exceedingly clever alloy for those who choose to embrace it.

Argentium logo, Featuring the Winged Unicorn

Argentium logo, Featuring the Winged Unicorn

When was the Argentium alloy created?

Argentium was created in 1991 by Master Silversmith and metallurgist, Peter Johns from Middlesex University. It took 10 years of research to produce and came about when Metaleurop (who mine and refine metals) contacted Johns regarding two metals they had found, namely indium and germanium which they were trying to find new uses for. Johns chose to work with germanium and the rest, as the saying goes, is history!

What is sterling silver?

What is sterling silver made of? Standard sterling silver as we know it is made up of 92.5% pure silver with the remaining 7.5% consisting of other metals such as copper, which makes it harder and more suitable for a wide range of varied applications. However, that 7.5% of copper causes fire scale (dark staining which occurs during prolonged heating) and tarnishing when exposed to air, meaning that silver has to be regularly cleaned to maintain its appearance.

The jewellery industry has tried to overcome this problem by rhodium plating higher quality silver products, but obviously this incurs additional cost and is not always viable for smaller manufacturers (rhodium resists tarnish and has a lovely bright, white finish which is why it is used on white gold and silver, but it is very expensive).

So what is the difference between Argentium silver and sterling silver?

As mentioned, sterling silver is a popular alloy in jewellery making, which comprises of a mixture of 92.5% pure silver with 7.5% made up of other alloys, usually copper. Argentium however, contains a greater amount of pure silver depending on the grade (935 which contains 93.5% pure silver, or 960 which contains 96% pure silver), with the remainder being made up of other alloys, such as a small amount of germanium.

This unique addition of germanium gives Argentium silver beneficial attributes such as fire stain resistance, improved durability and also a higher melting point, which translates to a higher annealing temperature and flow point. Additionally, Argentium silver can be fused and welded much easier than sterling silver which means it is often favoured by metalsmiths, and it is also 7 times more tarnish resistant that sterling silver.

Want to know more about how working with Argentium silver compares to sterling silver? Watch the above video presented by skilled jewellery instructor Ronda Coryell, who talks through the differences between Argentium silver and sterling silver when heat is applied.

Does Argentium silver tarnish at all?

Although Argentium silver is tarnish resistant, it’s worth making sure that tools you use on the Argentium silver do not have excess residue from other metals on them, as this could cause cross-contamination and leave your work with some tarnish. If possible, keep your polishing buffs for use with Argentium separate to those that you use with other alloys.

In very simple terms, if you replace the copper in silver with germanium you increase the tarnish resistance significantly whilst making the resulting metal stronger, whiter, easier to fuse and weld, but also with lower temperature hardening capabilities which is all great news for the silversmith!

Argentium silver vs sterling silver

Clearly it is not a regular occurrence for a ‘new’ metal to be discovered, and Argentium has had a huge marketing campaign thrown behind it to educate both suppliers and manufacturers, but also the general public as to what they are buying into. As you would expect, Argentium is more expensive than standard sterling silver and because the benefits are largely technical rather than visual, it takes a deeper level of understanding from buying customers to fully appreciate the product (to all intents and purposes, a display of Argentium jewellery will look very similar to a display of rhodium plated silver jewellery). To this end the makers have developed a very strong brand identity which can be recognised by the winged unicorn logo, which doubles as an additional hallmark that can be stamped onto all pieces of Argentium silver, along with the standard marks which incidentally are 935 and 960.

Argentium 935 Silver Sheet

Argentium 935 Silver Sheet

Working with Argentium silver

From a maker’s point of view, the benefits of Argentium are indisputable as long as you commit fully. For example, it’s no good mixing standard silver with Argentium in any way, shape or form, as the benefits will be lost through cross-contamination. This goes for your working area as well as your tools, so a move into Argentium must be an all encompassing one to experience the full effect. Follow this mantra, and you will soon be enjoying the benefits of this superior silver along with many others.

Changes within the jewellery industry tend to happen at a glacial pace, and it takes time for new innovations to flourish. It may be that as customer awareness increases, demand will grow and we will see more and more Argentium products creeping into the market place. Why not be one of the leaders rather than the followers and make the change now?

If you want to use Argentium in one of your upcoming pieces, don’t forget a range of Argentium 935 Silver is available from Cooksongold in various forms including wire, sheet, grain and solder – discover the entire range today.

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