Silver mirror : the genuine article
When gilding our silver mirror frames, we use genuine silver leaf. Silver leaf is not beaten quite as thinly as gold leaf, but is cut in squares of the same size – 8cm square – and is generally sold in books of 25 leaves. Like gold, silver is a precious metal leaf.
Some gilders use aluminium leaf as a substitute for silver. Referred to as ‘imitation silver’, aluminium is a ‘common metal’, and less expensive than silver. Aluminium leaf is generally sold in books of 25 cut into much larger squares of 14cm square.
This difference in leaf size will be apparent in the distance between leaf joins on the mirror frame itself.
Practicalities of gilding
Common metals available in leaf form, such as aluminium, are thicker than precious metal leaf, making them easier to use.
Aluminium is not prone to tarnish, so once the frame has been leafed, if the shiny brightness of the newly gilded frame is desired, it will not need to be sealed. Conversely, silver leaf will tarnish on exposure to air so a genuine silver mirror frame needs to be sealed to prevent this. We use a clear shellac or lacquer to seal the leaf, followed by a light wax.
We much prefer using silver leaf as it has a softer appearance than aluminium. What’s more, it’s a genuine precious metal. It looks and feels luxurious. When presented in the shape of a round frame, it becomes lunar. Subtly bright and reflective.
Useful to know
When carrying out architectural gilding – such as gilding a wall or a ceiling – imitation silver is the norm. Primarily because it is cheaper (this may be a factor depending on the size of the area to be gilded), easier to handle – useful if you’re lying on your back gilding a ceiling! – and it doesn’t have to be sealed.
To discover more about gilding silver mirrors, read on here: Silver Leaf Mirror Frame: technique.