Learning to Fabricate with Argentium
by Karen Christians
Everyone should have the opportunity to study under a true master who is passionate about her craft and highly skilled in teaching. I had such an opportunity earlier this year when I spent six weeks studying Argentium fabrication under Ronda Coryell at Creative Side in Austin.
Argentium is known as a high karat sterling silver. With the addition of germanium, Argentium is tarnish resistant and maintains its luster longer than traditional sterling silver. What makes Argentium unique is its ability to fuse to virtually any metal, including copper, steel, bronze, brass and high karat gold. Fabrication time is cut in half without need for solder.
The six-week intensive was Monday through Friday from 10-6pm. Everyday we had a new project, sometimes two. Fridays we could catch up, but sometimes not if the projects ran over. Each day, we were given a packet of all the supplies to make our daily project. Ronda would demo the piece in sections and we would follow her.
I have spent many years working with traditional sterling, so Argentium provided some challenges. I had to get used to heating a piece to almost a melting temperature that would have sent regular sterling into a huge lump. It took me about four of the six weeks to master the torch.
Ronda is a perfectionist (which I admire) and she did not hesitate to point out something I was doing incorrectly. I’ll admit that when she left my bench, I often uttered expletives all the while knowing she was correct and I’d go back to make it better. I wanted her to be proud of me.
There were 10 of us in the class. In six weeks, I hardly met anyone. I spent each day with my head down, measuring, cutting, swearing, fusing, filing and working out problems. Several days I woke up in a pure panic. I missed my husband and my cats. I came home nights completely exhausted to my rented Tiny House (which I loved) only to get up and do it again. The experience was intense, but now I find myself missing the focused projects and doing something just for myself.
Karen Christians is an educator and maker in the metal arts. She teaches nationally, lectures around the country, and is published in many professional and technical magazines. Karen has written two books: Making the Most of Your Flex Shaft and The Jewelry of Burning Man. She is teaching Artisan’s first class in Argentium fabrication on July 23rd.