Throughout the ages,
people have been captivated by this lovely white metal. It has been
used to mark historical occasions, to celebrate special achievements, and to
produce jewelry that is long lasting, and develops a wonderful patina with
Sterling silver jewelry is synonymous
with classic simplicity and style in the world of fashion. It
is very versatile and flexible, and this makes it a useful addition
to any wardrobe. With the addition of precious stone and other
precious metals, it lends itself to even an even greater scope of
style and fashion.
Sterling silver is an
alloy. It is typically made from 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper,
although other compositions are possible. The addition of copper makes
the jewelry piece much more likely to tarnish. Tarnish, also called
oxidation, is a darkening
which occurs when the sterling silver reacts with gases in the air or
moisture and humidity. The more humid the climate, the more likely a piece of silver jewelry
is to tarnish. Sterling silver jewelry that is
worn regularly is less likely to tarnish that that which is stored for long
periods of time.
Sterling silver is often marked with the
word sterling, or 925 and sometimes will also have the
identifying country, i.e. 925 Italy. Sterling silver is
widely used for jewelry manufacture because of it's malleability and
relatively low cost to produce.
can often be found with a vermeil finish. Pronounced "vermay," this is
a French word which describes sterling silver that has been electroplated
with at least 100 millionths of an inch of karat gold.
Silver is an element which occurs naturally
in the earth. Fine silver is 99.9% pure, but is much too soft and
malleable for jewelry manufacture. The extra metal, usually copper, is
added for additional hardness. Mexico is a huge manufacturer of silver
jewelry. The content of Mexican silver is more pure than sterling
silver, and is usually 95% silver and 5% copper. It is often also
marked with the district in Mexico from which it originates, i.e.
Taxco Mexico silver.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has
stipulated that jewelry which is sold in the USA may not be marked as
silver, solid silver, sterling, or sterling silvery,
and cannot use the abbreviation ster, unless it contains at least
92.5% pure silver.
Storing Sterling Silver Jewelry
The proper care of sterling silver
jewelry starts with storage. Just as you would with any fine piece of
jewelry, any sterling silver jewelry piece should be stored individually - ideally in its own soft pouch made for the purpose.
If you just casually toss it into a jewelry box, it
will rub against other pieces and scratching will result.
The jewelry should be stored in a cool,
dry place to help retard the oxidation or tarnishing that develops over
time. Wrapping the piece in a tarnish proof cloth and then inside a
soft pouch is the ideal.
Avoid prolonged contact with wood, since some
woods contain acids which will dull the finish of the jewelry piece.
Oak seems to be the worst wood for this process. Also avoid storing
your sterling with other materials, such as old coins or rubber. These
also contain acids which promote tarnishing and other damage.
Cleaning of Sterling Silver Jewelry
Cleaning sterling silver is a relatively easy
process. You may simply wash the jewelry in warm water mixed mild
detergent - a phosphate free detergent is best. A very soft toothbrush,
such as a baby toothbrush or a horse hair brush is a good cleaning tool. Use an up and down motion, rather than a circular one,
since the circular movement can cause scratching. Then, dry
thoroughly with a soft cloth. A piece of a soft cotton t shirt or soft flannel
material is a good choice. Be especially careful of tissue paper which
can easily scratch sterling silver jewelry.
Some resources state that baking soda or non
abrasive toothpaste is an alternative cleaner. There is some dispute
as to whether baking soda or mild toothpaste is a good choice. some
argue that it is too abrasive. Use at your own risk. I
personally don't recommend this, but would rather use a mild sterling silver
polish that has been formulated for the task.
Do not let the jewelry soak in the water for
a prolonged time. This will cause deterioration of the metal and can
severely damage any stones which may also be on the piece of jewelry.
Bleach, ammonia, alcohol and acetone can damage the sterling silver beyond
repair and should be avoided.
How to Polish if Tarnish is present
No matter how well you store for your
sterling silver jewelry, or how often you clean it, some tarnish is likely
to develop over time. If you wear your jewelry often, this oxidation
will first show as a glow combined with darkened areas. This is called
a patina. If you like this look, leave the jewelry alone!
Polishing will remove it.
If you prefer that your silver jewelry is
bright and shiny, then some type of polishing will be necessary to keep the
tarnish at a minimum. There are several products available for this
purpose, which range from soft polishing cloths designed especially for
sterling silver, silver polishes and pastes and especially formulated dips.
Which type of product to use depends on the
composition of your jewelry piece and the final look that you want. If
your aim is to have a bright shiny piece which looks brand new, you may only
be able to accomplish this with the use of dips. I don't recommend
these, since I find them very harsh and they play havoc with any gemstones
and also with some detailing work. I like the soft patina of aged
sterling, so I rarely use anything other than a soft polishing cloth
designed for sterling silver.
If the tarnish is very heavy, so that the
piece is severely blackened, you may have no other option than to use a
polish. Use a liquid or paste silver polish and a soft toothbrush and
rinse thoroughly in warm water before drying completely with a soft cloth.
Be careful with pastes, since they can also damage gemstones.
Tarnish is most easily removed if it is
treated as soon as it becomes visible. Once you allow the piece to
become completely black, it will be much more difficult to remove the
The very best way to prevent tarnish on your
sterling silver jewelry is to wear it often! This is because
natural body oils contain elements which delay the process of oxidation.
Be careful to remove the jewelry when going into chlorinated water, and when working
with household cleaners with bleaches and ammonia.
Properly caring and storing of your sterling
silver jewelry will ensure that you will be able to wear and enjoy it for
years to come. Fine quality sterling silver is made to last a
Back to the top of the page.