Adding vibrant colors to jewelry can involve any number of methods -- from careful enameling by hand to the high-tech physical vapor deposition (PVD) process. But what if you could use a simple method similar to rhodium plating in your shop to apply a vibrant, durable color in 17 different hues to your precious or base metal jewelry line? That's the promise of Kliar, a new nanoceramic e-coating developed by Legor's Plating Division in Bressanvido, Italy.
"We aim to give our client a new way to bring colors to their designs using a fresh technique," says Jacob Hensen, technical sales manager for Legor's plating division. "It can be used on all types of jewelry. Even pieces with stones [can be coated], as the ceramic particles will not adhere to the stone because they are not conductive."
Also available as a transparent coating, Kliar can be used as a tarnish inhibitor that allows the underlying metal color to shine through -- an ideal application for many silver jewelry products on the market today. Internal testing has shown that Kliar is resistant to wear, sweat, active cholrine, and UV. One abrasion test resulted in the brightness of rhodium plating fading in 15 minutes, while Kliar appeared bright and consistent after one hour. Coated silver pieces also passed a TAA (thioacetamide corrosion) tarnish test after being tumbled in stainless steel media.
The initial test results on silver earned the process points with Thinking Ahead Awards judge James Binnion of James Binnion Metal Arts in Bellingham, Washington. "Given the ongoing increase in metals prices, this will help silver gain more customer acceptance, as tarnish is one of the main negative issues with some consumers," he says. "The Kliar process seems to exhibit significantly greater tarnish resistance than other existing processes."
How It Works Unlike processes such as PVD, which require expensive equipment and technical expertise to apply a coating to a jewelry object, the Kliar process is simple enough to be done in the shop with basic equipment. Using the technique of electrodeposition or cataphoresis, a jewelry object is coated with the durable nanoceramic particles.
The pretreatment cleaning step is the same as that used for rhodium plating: polishing the piece to remove any surface imperfections and cleaning it thoroughly. The piece is then coated using a rectifier capable of producing up to 60 volts and cured in a kiln. (Any kiln suitable for enamel or PMC applications would work for Kliar.)
Filtration is also required. A small shop can manually filter the Kliar solution every two to four days with an inexpensive filter, while a large shop using 100 liters or more of the solution would likely want to invest in a continuous filtration unit. Equipment costs vary depending on volume; total start-up costs for a small shop would be around $1,000, while a large company doing high-volume manufacturing may want to invest in the Legor Group Cataphoresis and Plating Plant, which costs $4,000.
Hensen says the equipment costs for those applying Kliar as an alternative to rhodium plating are offset in the long-term by savings on material. "From a consumable perspective, 1 liter of Kliar solution is less than 1/5 the cost of 1 liter of rhodium, making it much more economical for the jeweler to use," he says.
While Kliar is available in 17 standard colors, users can create their own custom colors by combining them. The amount of time a jewelry piece spends in solution determines the intensity of the color produced; for example, an object dipped for five seconds will be much paler than one soaked for a minute. Resulting colors also vary depending on the metal they're used over; blue on yellow gold looks very different from blue on silver.
The product can be used creatively, as well. Masking part of a piece and then applying Kliar can produce a two-tone effect. Applying black Kliar over black rhodium offers a more intense black color. Coloring prongs the same color as the gemstone they hold can enhance the color of that gem.
Good Timing No matter the size of the company, Kliar offers interesting options for enhancing jewelry. "This product comes at an important time in jewelry design and manufacture," says Thinking Ahead Awards judge Andrea Hill, CEO of Hill Management Consulting's StrategyWerx in Campbellsport, Wisconsin. "Consumers are increasingly interested in different colors and treatments of metals. At the same time, manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce dependence on gold and platinum as their primary manufacturing metals due to the high costs and increasing consumer resistance."Appearing on the market when precious metals prices are high, it seems Legor's Kliar has perfect timing. It may prove to be what many in the industry are looking for: an inexpensive way to add value to metals such as silver and brass, giving them a beautiful, long wearing finish -- and making them a bit more precious.