An image of a pendant from Jan's collection.

Fine Art Technique Spotlight: Reticulation

Darby Ebeling

If you've been curious about the torch-reticulation technique that Tres Elegante Designs uses in designing one-of-a-kind jewelry, here is your chance to learn all about it and why it’s one of our favorite fine art techniques!

What is "reticulation" in jewelry?

In metalwork, reticulation refers to a surface-finishing technique that involves the application of localized heat to the surface of a metal. The technique produces an incredibly beautiful texture pattern of peaks and valleys.

Understanding the chemistry of reticulation.

Reticulation is typically performed on alloys of silver and copper, or on alloys of gold and copper.  

To reticulate silver, one must heat a sheet of silver up to ten times to oxidize the copper at the surface, then one must “pickle” it by immersing it in citric acid to remove the copper oxide, leaving a thin layer of pure metal. This process is called “depletion gilding”, and it results in a sheet of metal that has pure silver on the surface and a core that contains a higher percentage of copper than it did initially.

This then creates different melting temperatures between the surface and the interior of the metal. Once the sheet is gilded, it is again heated with a torch. The copper in the interior flows (or melts) before the surface metal does. The surface wrinkles, thus creating the texture. Because there is only a difference of about 100 °F between the melting points of the surface and the interior, it’s pretty easy to burn a hole right through the sheet! No two pieces of reticulation are the same, and even within the same piece, the pattern will be very irregular.

Understanding the fine art technique of true reticulation.

There is a product called “reticulation silver”.  It is an alloy of 80% fine silver and 20% copper. The higher copper content helps to create a more dramatic reticulation texture, as compared to sterling silver,  which is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. Reticulation silver also needs fewer heat/pickle cycles than sterling silver. However, the reticulation silver piece cannot be called "sterling", as it truly is not. Reticulation that starts  with sterling silver will result in greater than 92.5% silver, and the resulting silver can continue to be called sterling. 

True reticulation remains the domain of the artist-jeweler.

Reticulation takes a lot of skill with a torch. It requires  finesse and practice, and doesn’t lend itself to assembly line production. Jewelry created with reticulation will produce different shadows and light as the wearer moves, creating a lot of interest. In the late 19th century, reticulation was used as a decorative technique by Russian goldsmiths, such as Fabergé.  

Purchase your favorite Tres Elegante Designs Jewelry featuring this artist-jeweler technique!

Many pieces in the Silver Fusion, Mixed Metal, and Pendulum collections have been designed using torch reticulation. Shop all styles today!

If you have any questions about reticulation, or if you're interested in ordering a custom torch-reticulated, fine-art-jewelry design, reach out to me at treselegantedesigns@gmail.com!