Post by Jelena Louie, Buckaroo Bling, Kalispell, MT
If you wear jewelry at all (and which lady doesn't), I bet you have a few pieces of sterling silver in your stash. Today, I'll get all technical on you and explain what sterling silver is, why it tarnishes, and how to keep said tarnish at bay. So, here we go!
You've probably seen "925" stamped on some pieces of your jewelry (usually rings), and you know this number represents sterling silver. It's sort of a proof you've got the real McCoy. But who in the world came up with this number and why? This is where we get technical. Sterling silver is an alloy with 92.5% by mass in the alloy being silver. That's where the number comes from. But why not use pure silver instead of alloying it with other metals? The reason is simple: 99.9% silver is way too soft for making functional objects. So, in order to harden the silver, other metals are added in small quantities. The most commonly used one is copper, and if you are looking to blame someone or something for tarnish, copper is your culprit.
Photo by Cesarae Didama Galvan. Jewelry by Buckaroo Bling.
A couple of decades ago, a new type of silver entered the market: Argentium silver. Argentium is 96% silver by mass, with the amount of copper in the alloy balanced by germanium in order to combat tarnish. You will often hear Argentium called the "non-tarnishing silver," but that's not the whole truth. Argentium does tarnish, but the tarnish color is very close to the color of metal itself, making it almost invisible.
OK. Enough of this technical stuff before your head starts spinning! Let's now assume you don't have access to or don't like Argentium, and all your silver jewelry is sterling silver. How do you care for it so you don't have to fight tarnish all the time? Glad you asked!
- Keep your silver jewelry protected from moisture. This may be a real tall order if you live in an area high in humidity, but the more you do to protect your silver, the longer the time between cleanings will be. So, use anti-tarnish strips available from any jewelry supply store. Place a strip into the bag (a small ziplock bag will do) or pouch you keep each of your silver pieces in and seal well. In addition, you can also put a strip in the jewelry box where all of these pouches containing your silver jewelry reside. Another option is to wrap each piece of your jewelry into jeweler's anti-tarnish tissue paper. Last but not least, if available in your area or at your favorite online retailer, you can purchase special carbon-impregnated plastic bags, specifically designed to keep your silver jewelry in. Whichever of these methods you choose, keep in mind that you need to replace your anti-tarnish devices periodically: every 2-3 months for strips and tissue, and every 2 years for carbon-impregnated bags.
- If there is tarnish already forming on your silver pieces, remove it with a polishing cloth. There are different brands of silver polishing cloth available on the market: Sunshine Cloth, Selvyt, 3-M High-Perfromtance, etc. Pick your favorite depending on the hand (feel) of the cloth and its efficacy. Personally, I like Sunshine Cloth, but some may find it a bit too thick to handle. In any case, polishing cloth in hand, gently rub your piece of silver jewelry until tarnish is removed. This might be a lengthier process, but it's definitely the safest one, especially if your silver jewelry contains any gemstones or pearls.
- Use an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. Although this might be the most effective method, I recommend you only have a professional do it. Don't try it at home lest you unintentionally damage your piece of jewelry. Ultrasonic cleaners use a combination of cleaning solution and ultrasonic waves to remove dirt, grime, and tarnish from jewelry. Both the solution and ultrasonic waves would damage soft gemstones and pearls. With turquoise, coral, shell, and pearls (most often used in southwestern style jewelry) all being very soft and porous materials, you don't want to take any chances. If tarnish is just so bad that you can't remove it with a polishing cloth, you are best off taking your jewelry to a professional jeweler for cleaning.
Now that you know how to care for your sterling silver, go get some new pieces right here from local creators and members Artists and Craftsmen of the Flathead. We’ve got a variety of styles to choose from, so I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking.