Metalsmithing & Patina: Make Lexi’s Silver and Green Copper Gingko Leaf Pendant
Among those of us “old-time” jewelers who remember when silver was $4 an ounce, there weren’t a lot of us working in copper. So I was a bit late in working with patina, because let’s face it–we don’t get those gorgeous colorful patinas on silver. Maybe it was just my teachers, but we had two choices of patina for metalsmithing: really dark liver of sulfur (LOS) that totally covered our pieces, or “light” LOS that just stayed along the cracks and in the texture of our pieces after we sanded most of it off. That was it . . . unless we wanted to do enameling.
Fast forward to the rise in silver prices, at one time almost $50 an ounce, and many people changed over to copper because of the price. Unfortunately, copper has never gotten the respect it deserves, for it is a totally delightful metal. Arguably, nothing will take a hammer stroke or a patina as beautifully as copper. It gives warmth to silver and gives your pieces a worldly, ethnic look.
I LOVE copper, and my students don’t feel as terrified learning metalsmithing on copper, even though I don’t recommend learning to solder on copper. But let’s face it, copper is as much fun as a puppy on Red Bull. It just makes you smile and giggle with delight. Copper is a blast to form, color, and wear, and if you mess it up . . . well, it’s easy to fix.
With that in mind, I’m sharing some ideas for a quick and easy project, and if you are new to patina, this piece will give you some great comments from your friends.
How to Make a Copper and Silver Gingko Leaf Pendant
1. I use 20-gauge sterling to saw out the gingko leaf, and here’s my pattern.
2. File along the edges of the leaf and sand it with fine sandpaper.
3. Hammer the piece with a light texturing hammer. I like the Fretz pointed hammer (HMR-5) because it leaves a lot of little dots, which look great on the leaves.
4. Set the silver leaf aside and cut out the smaller leaf in copper.
5. File and sand the smaller leaf as needed, but leave a pretty rough sandpaper finish on it. The metal will “grab” the patina if it’s a bit roughed up.
6. Using round-nose pliers, turn up the leaves on the corners. Sand those edges with very fine sandpaper, and burnish them to make them shine.
7. Sweat solder some easy solder onto the back of the copper leaf, and then solder that small copper leaf down onto the top of the larger silver leaf.
8. Pickle and rinse; then scrub with a brass brush and Dawn detergent. Dawn acts as a lubricant with the brass brush, so you will have a very nice finish on your piece.
9. Dry the pendant, and then use a bit of acetone to make sure the small copper leaf is really clean. Rinse and let it air dry.
Two Methods for Adding Patina to Metal Jewelry
Here comes the fun part!
To make the green patina solution:
1. Mix 1 tsp of dry, powdered cupric nitrate (available from ScienceCompany.com) in 1 pint of water.
2. Heat the piece very lightly with a small flame on the leaf. It doesn’t take much heat, just warm it.
3. Then apply the patina to the leaf with a small pointed bristle paintbrush, like a #5 size. (No, don’t use your $35 Winsor Newton camel hair brush, please!)
Sometimes it may take more than one application, but two or three applications, heating lightly between each time, should work just fine.
Patina Removal Tip: Don’t like the patina/color you get? Use some steel wool or sandpaper to sand it off, or use a “spider” (better known as a 3M Radial Bristle Disc) in your flex shaft, or just throw it in warm pickle for 10 minutes–then try again.
When you’re happy with the patina color, let the piece cool. Then run it under hot water. Using a different paint brush, paint some of that good ol’ standby, LOS, onto the larger gingko leaf, being careful not to get it on the smaller green copper leaf.
Dry the piece; then lightly sand it to remove any extra darkness from the LOS.
Finishing: Burnish the edges around the smaller leaf. That should make them shine like gold. Sand around the edges of the larger leaf.
To make the bail: Using round-nose pliers (and being careful not to mar the metal), twist and form the long stem of the gingko leaf. Fold it forward over the front of the piece to form a bail. If it’s too long, just cut it shorter, because you are the artist! Do it the way it looks best to you.
Sealant for Patina?
And no, I don’t put any clear lacquer or spray finish over the patina color. It causes the light to reflect differently, which doesn’t always result in the color I want.
I hope you have enjoyed our first installment of Lexi’s Lessons on patina. To learn more about creating and using colorful patinas, be sure to check out 300+ patina recipes in the five-star-rated book Patina by Matthew Runfola. It’s the definite go-to book for patinas!
See you soon! Good luck and may you have the most colorful week.
Read on to learn more about creating patinas with Lexi!