Friday, February 24, 2006

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is a beautiful and tremendously versatile metal. Dazzlingly white when polished to a mirror shine, it may also be oxidized to a variety of subtle hues. Strong, yet malleable, it is a joy to work with and although its price is rising of late, it remains far more accessible than karat gold. Its cool tones suit any complexion, and are the perfect backdrop for any gemstone. But it does tarnish, and although tarnish free alloys are on the market, the forms in which they are available is still limited, restricting the practicality of widespread use at this point. What to do about tarnish? Well, to paraphrase an old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of polish. Sterling silver tarnishes primarily due to the copper content of the alloy (which greatly enhances its strength over that of pure or "fine" silver). It is caused by a chemical reaction with sulfides in the air (hence the use of sulfur containing compounds to achieve those intriguing oxidized finishes.) Conditions and substances that accelerate tarnish include: dampness, wool (felted or otherwise), some foods (eggs, onions), rubber products (rubber bands, latex gloves etc.), some paints, fossil fuel pollution, swimming pools and hot tubs. In addition, some people's body oils and perspiration accelerate tarnish more than others. Firstly, store sterling silver in a cool, dry, air-tight place. There are a variety of papers, bags and cloths on the market impregnated with a sulfide neutralizing substance - storing your silver in or with one of these will greatly delay the onset of tarnish. It is generally recommended that you change your anti-tarnish product every 6 months for optimal effect. Secondly, don't let tarnish get out of hand - polish the piece when it first takes on that slightly yellow hue, before it gets to the ugly black end state. Regular cleaning with a soft polishing cloth, particularly one designed for silver is the best form of maintenance. There are various commercial dips and home made concoctions that will successfully remove heavy tarnish, however, if you are cleaning a piece of jewelry, bear in mind that many stones and other jewelry components may be irrevocably damaged by such treatment. When in doubt, consult a pro.

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1 comment:

Rick said...

Informative article about how silver will naturally tarnish and how to store silver materials. Here is some more information on anti-tarnish packaging options for silver.