I am absolutely in love with working with Argentium Silver. In fact I am more comfortable working with it then traditional sterling silver. It has some unique features and challenges for a metalsmith.
Argentium silver is a relatively new silver alloy developed in the 90's. It has a higher fine silver content than traditional sterling. You may recognize the common hallmark for sterling as .925. This means that sterling is made up of 92.5% fine silver and 7.5% other alloy - usually copper (which is a large contributor to why silver tarnishes.) Fine silver (.999) is very soft and by mixing it with other metals a more durable metal is created.
Argentium silver is alloyed with 93.5% or 96.0% fine silver; for my work I use 93.5%. Both forms include germanium as an alloy. Germanium has amazing qualities such as fire scale resistance, tarnish resistance (when heat treated properly) and the ability to fuse beautifully. It also produces a brighter whiter silver and is nickel free.
By fusing my work I am able to create certain designs freely and fluidly. I have a line of abstract rings that come together without a sketch or a plan. I just "play" and let the silver do what it wants to do. I take little odd bits left over from other projects and melt them into little balls, placing them together with end cuts of wire. Nothing is really wasted with argentium and I am recycling my own silver into other projects all the time.
As I switch my studio practices over to more eco friendly and ethically sourced materials I have to highlight the fact that Argentium is sourced from 100% recycled silver. It can only be created in raw material form by those with a license, allowing for quality control. In my studio it also reduces and in some cases eliminates the use of flux (protection from fire stain) and pickle (acid bath to remove the flux) when I am working. If I can limit the use of chemicals in my studio I will!
Argentium has some unique challenges when working with it though. It tends to slump and distort with too much heat. This makes it really difficult to work any other way than flat. It holds heat differently and the visual clues of how the metal "glows" are different. It is more expensive than traditional sterling and I have to order my Argentium materials from the United States. It has less variety of premade findings and components.
Overall though I love Argentium silver and will continue experimenting, playing and challenging myself to push the boundaries with it!