These are my first attempts at glass enameling on Sterling Silver. I think they came out well and I am excited to do much more of this work. My efforts should only get better with practice.
These are not the only pieces. I made two of the Pegasus and three of the Rose Hearts.
Like lost wax casting there is no certainty on how each piece will come out of the heat. Temperatures for firing the glass are 1450 F. Success rate is very high but there is always that chance of the unexpected.
A day’s work turned into two. I had two investments out of four crack after firing, so I had a bit of a do-over. But this is the result. The rose hearts are always good sellers so I need to keep a few on hand. The ruling lines are 5/16” spacing. Click on picture to enlarge.
The Pegasuses (Pegasii ?) are an experiment. The three little ones are charms or very small pendants. The two larger are definitely pendants. They are Sterling silver but have been acid treated to raise a coating of fine silver. These two pieces will be glass enameled red. They are wearing in-line roller skates. It’s the mascot of my daughter’s Pegasus skating club.
The large tags are an experiment too. The one marked “Adams” is a commission, but I also decided to make a generic “Texas” version.
I am considering a slightly new direction with my metal working / art adventures. I would like to add some color to my work. Silver with some occasional black tarnish doesn’t add much excitement to silver jewelry. I could start to add colored gems. That would be a major next step.
There is another option I have been mentally exploring called glass enameling. First thought might be the kind of paint that comes out of a rattle can (spray can) made by a brand name, Rust-Oleum. Nope, not that kind.
The enameling I am considering is fusing glass particles to a metal substrate with the use of high heat. Hot enough, 1450 degrees, to melt the colored glass and fuse it to the metal. It’s been done for centuries and one of the best known processes are from France called Cloisonné and Champlevé. Another process called Basse-taille offers a similar result but uses only translucent enamels to show the features of the metal underneath the coating.
It was also a practice in China and other countries in the far east. The example shown above is from the Ming Dynasty. Examples can also be found in Europe, the near east and many other world cultures.
All processes fuse colored glass enamel into cells created in the base metal. The cells are created with metal wire frames in the Cloisonné method and by carved or formed recesses with the Champlevé. There are many variations as in any type of art.
The results can be very stunning and beautiful. It is a creative process with a lot of controlled heating required. Just the kind of challenge to keep it rare and collectable.
There is an alternative chemical epoxy cold process method that can be used to create a similar look, but I think the old school firing is my preference. It’s the heat of the fire that attracts me to lost wax casting… and to this glass enameling process.
I have a little project I am going to try. If it works out the way I imagine, I’ll certainly exhibit the results and it may be the start of a unique product line of glass enameling.
Casting of silver causes a fire scale to form on the silver because of the high heat and exposure to air. When a silver piece is released fresh out of the investment material, it is very dark and scally. The first step is to wash and scrub off all the investment, then to drop the piece into the pickle bath.
I use an organic acid solution that it heated to slightly steaming temperature in a small crock pot. This is the pickle. The piece, depending on solution temperature, may stay there for about a half hour or so.
I usually am able to scrub off the blackness about half way through, then a bit more time in the pickle the silver will be the snow white as seen here.
This is actually the pure color of silver before it is polished. The slight pink seen on the metal is a blush of the copper that the acid draws out. Sterling is 7.5% copper to make it hard and more durable than pure silver.
After this stage, the sprue is cut off and filed smooth untill evidence of the sprue location no longer exists. Then comes all the polishing and burnishing to the final finish.
Some pieces have an applied chemical darkening to add contrast.
So after this point is where all the working with silver really begins. I love it!
Silver purchase prices have risen. It was in the ~$14/T oz. range and is now near the ~$18/T oz. area, for casting grains total cost delivered in my studio. Market price is always lower than purchase price. I just restocked with 10 ounces as this is the lowest cost break point weight for Sterling. But it also means I will have to adjust my finished goods pricing to follow the market. This is about a 20% increase in the price.
I have paid over $22.00 dollars per Troy ounce less than two years ago. The price varies constantly. For me it is what it is and the cost of my work will vary with my supply. I don’t fine tune it too closely with the market as that fluctuates every day. I use a fair estimate and definitely cover the cost of a new stock material purchase. 60¢ a gram is a good round actual cost estimate.
Small silver cost changes right now are not too critical when cost is lower. Silver is not presently the major expense against operating supplies and expenses and reasonable (but pitiful J ) labor earnings. A more expensive metal like gold is opposite. A few grams at $28/gram (14k) can radically change the cost of a project.
The total value of silver or any precious metal jewelry is not all in the cost of the metal, but it helps. Sometimes a lot.