The Truth About Tarnish

July 13, 2010 § 2 Comments

Understanding tarnish means knowing the causes of tarnish as well as knowing how those causes are related to your jewelry. Knowing more about sterling silver is important to make sense of the tarnishing that occurs.

Several things cause tarnish on sterling silver: oxygen and sulfur are the two most obvious (and common) agents, though perfumes, make-up, and a host of other products may also cause tarnish or another unwanted patina.

Sterling silver is referred to and stamped as .925. This signifies that the makeup of the metal is .925 (or 92.5%) pure, or “fine” silver. Fine silver doesn’t tarnish, but it is also not strong enough for most uses in jewelry; a different metal is necessary to add strength. The other 7.5% in sterling silver is mostly comprised of copper. Copper adds strength, but is highly reactive. The presence of oxygen or sulfur leads to tarnish. Intentional oxidation adds interest to a piece of jewelry. Unintentional oxidation detracts from the beauty and interest of that piece of jewelry.

Preventing tarnish can be done in several ways.

  • Storing jewelry in sealable bags or containers is the easiest method of slowing down the tarnishing process.
  • Storing your jewelry with chalk will also slow the tarnishing process.
  • Anti-tarnish cloth or anti-tarnish paper or strips can be purchased. You can line your jewelry box with it, or place it in the bag or container you store your jewelry in. (my inexpensive personal jewelry is kept in sealed plastic bags in my jewelry box with strips of anti-tarnish of paper.)
  • Cleaning jewelry gently, rinsing well and drying, can rid your jewelry from the accumulating dirt, dust, makeup etc.
  • Occasional polishing with a polishing cloth can keep your jewelry shining. Polishing clothes can be purchased already charged with polishing compound.

Recently, another variety of sterling silver has come into favor: Argentium sterling silver. In contrast, the 7.5% of Argentium sterling silver is largely made up of germanium. The germanium in Argentium sterling causes this form of sterling to tarnish much more slowly. While it won’t become the new (and only) sterling silver in use, it is becoming more popular. Argentium isn’t tarnish free, but tarnish resistant, meaning it will eventually tarnish, but not so easily or quickly.


§ 2 Responses to The Truth About Tarnish

  • Silver lady says:

    It’s amazing how little people know about jewelry upkeep. We put so much money into jewelry but we don’t set aside the time or effort to clean and maintain them. Great read BTW. You provided a lot of helpful tips. This article would be a great resource for anyone with jewelry.

    • Thank you, I really appreciate your kind words! I try to cover subjects people ask about, but also I want to answer and write about questions customers have asked, or have needed to know.

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