from the Orange County Register, Saturday, December 31, 2005
An expert advises on the care and repair of your heirloom sterling.
By JENNIFER J. BUSH
The Orange County Register
If one of your great-grandmother's sterling silver spoons slips into the garbage disposal at a family gathering, don't panic.
No matter how mangled or tarnished a piece of antique silver might look, it can still be brought back to its original shape and brilliant sheen.
"People ask me all the time if it's worth restoring old pieces, and I always say yes," said Sam Kutz, a Costa Mesa silversmith. "Sterling silver is a precious metal; it's worth it to take care of it.
"If it's a family heirloom, then it probably has additional sentimental value."
As one of few trained silversmiths still working in the trade, Kutz, 49, receives work from antiques dealers, collectors and even jewelers in the area.
His father was a sculptor and silversmith who owned a shop in Canoga Park during the 1950s and in Laguna Beach from the mid-'70s to 1982. Kutz learned the basics from his father at an early age.
Kutz also apprenticed at Porter Blanchard Silversmiths in Calabasas with well-known silversmith Louis Wise. After finishing high school and three years in the Marine Corps, he went to work at his father's shop, Samuel L. Kutz & Son, on Coast Highway.
"I was already on the sign," he said. "So it seemed like a natural thing to do."
There he learned to forge flatware and hollowware, such as goblets and pitchers, using all the old techniques.
"A piece starts with a block of silver," he said. From there it's a time-consuming process of shaping, filing and polishing to create a finished piece.
Among the items the father-son team crafted were sets of handmade sterling tableware in patterns with names such as Catalina and Laguna. During the summer they showed their work at the Festival of the Arts. Their pieces were carried at upscale shops such as David Orgell in Beverly Hills.
When the shop closed in 1982, they sold a portion of the business to Normandy Metal Refinishers, where the younger Kutz continued to work for 15 years.
Since then, Kutz has expanded his craft to include the restoration of other vintage items. A sign in front of his shop, where he has been solo for the past seven years, reads: "I will fix anything." But reading on, it states, "anything metal."
Vintage toy collectors use his services to restore Lionel trains and old Tonka trucks. Kutz creates missing parts including grilles, headlights and trim, then finishes the restoration with a new paint job.
"I've been working with metal all these years," he said. So it seemed a natural progression to branch into the restoration of other vintage items, including radios and bicycles.
"It incorporates all of my skills," he said.
Other jobs include the repair of bronze statues or the large-scale brass and copper animal sculptures by artist Sergio Bustamonte.
Often a job requires the replacement of missing parts. He recently re-created one of the lids from the jars on an 18th-century rosewood and sterling silver inkwell. For another he reconstructed tiny hinges for antique sterling silver boxes, or match safes. For this project, Kutz had to create his own tools to reach the tight areas.
And a wide range in the scale of objects that come into his shop for restoration requires different-size flames, from a welding torch down to a jeweler's micro-torch.
"I enjoy repair and restoration, because each job is different," he said.
His prices range from $10 for something as small as replacing a bracelet clasp to several hundred dollars for extensive repairs and restoration.
Repairing a sterling silver spoon after it's been chewed up in the garbage disposal costs $25.
Kutz said it's possible to avoid costly repairs by taking good care of your sterling silver. Wash it immediately after use with warm, soapy water and dry it thoroughly. Do not use lemon-scented dish soaps or serve acidic foods on pieces made of sterling silver. Homemade cleaning remedies, including those using baking soda, steel wool or harsh cleaners also can damage silver.
He suggests using a silver bag to store items, even if they're in a cabinet. Dust will diminish the metal over time, he said. Never use plastic baggies to store your silver.
And like it or not, use a silver polishing cloth to clean your pieces once every two weeks.
One of the best things you can do for your sterling silver is use it.
Frequent use actually reduces tarnish and allows pieces to develop a beautiful patina.