Enameling Palladium: Exploration

Rachel Gogerly recently had the opportunity to extend her knowledge and skills enamelling Palladium, a ‘new’ metal to the jewellery industry, which as yet has little technical information recorded on how well or not it enamels.
This opportunity came about with the introduction of Palladium hallmarking in the UK this year and to commemorate this, the Wardens of Birmingham Assay Office commissioned a new Badge of Office for their Assay Master Michael Allchin. Designed and made by Silversmith and Palladium expert, Martyn Pugh, it was the first Palladium piece to be marked in Birmingham.
The design included various symbols, including the depiction of the atomic structure of Palladium and at its centre, the Anchor, which has been the town mark of the Birmingham Assay Office since it was founded in 1773. Flames on one section of the badge (representing cupellation, the traditional method of fire assaying) required enamelling and it was this section that Rachel was invited to create vibrant transparent colours of red, orange and yellow.

Starting with no experience of working with enamel on Palladium and not knowing if it could be enamelled or to what quality, a number of samples and some experimentation were required to establish how best to proceed. There were four main questions Rachel wanted answered, ‘Can Palladium be enamelled? And if so, what preparation is required? Can consistent good quality results be achieved? Finally, how does Palladium influence the appearance of transparent enamel?’
In conclusion, Palladium enamels very well and like copper, can be hard fired. Unlike Silver and Gold, it does not melt if left in the kiln for a few seconds longer!! However, it does influence transparent colours greatly, making them more muted –flux looks grey on Palladium (see image 1), so it is likely that foils will need to be used with certain colours especially reds and yellows.

Subsequent samples allowed exploration of preparation methods, the best one being cleaning the surface thoroughly with a glass brush to remove any oxide dirt and grease. Standard pickles and nitric acid do not clean the Palladium metal surface in any way. Brightening the surface with engraving before enamelling the Palladium also helped to give more ‘life’ to any transparent colours used.

Because the colour of Palladium was influencing the colours significantly, it was necessary to use Gold foil under the enamel to get the vibrancy of the reds and yellows required to represent flames for this particular piece. The advantage of being able to fire the Palladium at a high temperature, between 950’ – 1000’c, meant it was easier to get the foil very smooth before applying the subsequent layers of colour.

Both the initial coat of clear enamel (flux) and the foil were hard fired and good clarity of colour was achieved by further hard firings when applying the all the remaining transparent enamels.

info from, www.guildofenamellers.org

And check out Rachel’s amazing work at her site www.craftmaker.co.uk/rachelgogerly