Have you ever wanted to try reticulation but were not sure how? Or perhaps the technique is just too time-consuming or risky and so you canʼt be bothered? Well, good news for you because Hoover & Strong has just taken all the risk out of this fascinating technique.

For years Hoover & Strong has been selling our popular 80/20 reticulating silver cold rolled sheet to jewelers who enjoy using this process, but you, the jeweler, had to do all the work of pre-treating and reticulating. Well guess what? Now you donʼt! Hoover & Strong now offers 80/20 in two new forms: air annealed and pickled ready for reticulation, and already reticulated.

And thereʼs more. Not only do we supply these new products in 80/20, but we also supply them in various karat gold alloys as well. So now you can purchase already reticulated stock, include it in your designs, and all with the minimum of fuss. Or, produce your own unique textures with our air annealed, ready to reticulate sheet. You canʼt loose!

The reticulation process

Reticulation is two operations, not one. In the first, the work piece must be processed, or treated, so that it is in a suitable condition to reticulate. It is the second process that follows this where the actual reticulation occurs.

In simple terms, during the first operation, a surface layer is created that has a higher melting point than the original alloy which remains below that layer. The most common method for doing this, and the one we recommend, is by deliberate oxidation and then pickling of the work piece. This will deplete the surface of base metals, thus enriching it with either fine silver in the case of 80/20, or gold with karat gold alloys.

This is followed by the second operation during which the work piece is heated locally with a torch to a temperature above the flow point of the interior but below the melt point of the surface layer. The surface remains solid, but the interior liquates and becomes fully “mobile”, expanding when it undergoes the phase change from solid to liquid, and so the reticulated texture is created in the surface layer. This is retained when the heat source is removed and the interior solidifies, resulting in a usable reticulated sheet for the jeweler to cut, bend, twist, or generally do with as they wish.

Air annealed and pickled sheet, ready to reticulate

If you use a torch for the primary treatment, you may need to repeat the process numerous times to generate a deep enough fine silver layer to reticulate – if the layer is too thin then the reticulation process will not work. At Hoover & Strong, we use an oven for accurate repeatability. We also determined that when reticulated, thinner surface layers of fine silver give a tighter texture and thicker layers a coarser texture.

Jewelers can experiment with this, but at Hoover & Strong we donʼt think you need to and have removed this problem. You can now order sheet that has already been oxidized and pickled – known as air annealed sheet – ready for you to reticulate. Karat golds are treated to generate a fine pattern only, but 80/20 can be purchased so that you can produce both fine and coarse patterns – you choose when you order.

With Hoover & Strong taking care of the first treatment for you, all you need to do is the actual reticulation operation. Only reticulate as much as you need, since much better control is achieved on smaller work pieces. The reticulation process must be done with a torch, and yet again there are variables that will affect your reticulation texture. A larger torch and tip will generate a coarser texture than a smaller torch and tip. Most 80/20 silver reticulation can be done with a small torch/tip combination, but the karat golds respond better to a larger torch because they need more heat energy to reticulate.

Another extremely important factor is that the type of support material you use for the reticulation process is critical. If you use a material such as graphite or charcoal board, reticulation will be difficult and yield poor results because they are thermal conductors. Materials that have high thermal conductivity take too much heat energy away from the work piece, so you actually spend most of your efforts heating the support material and not the sheet you want to reticulate! If however you use firebrick, or even better ceramic fiber products, youʼll get much better results because these are thermal insulators which allow the sheet to be heated up quickly and efficiently.

Move your torch over the sheet surface to pre-heat until reticulation is close. Then localize the flame to begin the reticulation, and when it occurs, keep the torch moving along the work piece – if you remain in one place too long, youʼll heat it up too much and burn through the surface layer. If this happens, donʼt stop; you can always cut the shape you require around this defect. You can create any pattern you like by torch movement, it really is a trial and error thing. But as we stated at the beginning of this article, you donʼt need to do this, because Hoover & Strong now does it for you. We sell sheet in 80/20 and various karat gold alloys that have already been reticulated. All you need to do is cut and shape!

So, reticulation is really easy. This is how you do it:

  1. Purchase air annealed 80/20 silver sheet from Hoover & Strong.
  2. Cut a suitably sized piece to reticulate.
  3. Place it on your thermally insulating support material.
  4. Pre-heat the sheet, passing the flame over the whole area.
  5. Localize the flame and begin reticulation, keeping the flame moving once reticulation begins.
  6. When complete, pickle, cut out your shapes and away you go.
  7. Forget all the above and purchase ready-reticulated sheet from Hoover & Strong. Finally, donʼt forget we stamp our range of circles and charms from reticulated sheet.

Copyright® 2006 Stewart Grice
Rings Compliments of Andrew Nyce
Photos by: Chris Nyce