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 Sterling Silver Information
Storing Sterling Silver Jewelry
Cleaning of Sterling Silver Jewelry
How to polish if tarnish is present

Sterling Silver Information

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 age. 

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.

Sterling silver 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 tarnish.

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 lifetime.

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This site was last updated 12/26/07