It is easy to love sterling silver jewellery. The versatility that makes it possible to find the perfect item, no matter your style. The brilliant lustre of the metal that draws the eye, highlighting both plain simplicity and delicate complexity with equal skill. Also, the fact that sterling silver is so affordable means a silver shop will always have customers exploring what they have to offer.
As beautiful as your silver rings and other silver jewellery are, there’s a strong chance that you tend not to wear the older pieces very often. And the reason is as simple as it is annoying. Tarnish. Silver oxidises when exposed to oxygen and sulphur, causing that black discolouration. Sometimes this is done to highlight certain details, but, when unintentional, it just makes your jewellery look dirty.
The good news is that caring for silver and returning it to its previous lustrous beauty is easy. There are some things you need to know about sterling silver first, as well as some care and cleaning advice you’ll need. But with just a little effort, your favourite sterling silver pieces can be returned to its former glory.
What you should know before you begin
Sterling silver is not pure silver. Because pure silver is soft and malleable, it is unlikely that you’ll ever find jewellery made from pure or even fine silver. Fine silver is also known as 99.9 silver and like both 92.5 and 95.0 sterling silver, it contains an alloy designed to harden the silver. The alloy used can vary but what you need to know is that 950 sterling silver is more prone to dents and warping due to its higher percentage of pure silver.
It will also tarnish more easily than 925 sterling silver, and so will require extra care. An important thing to note is that when oxidation has been used as a detailing technique, excessive cleaning and polishing can erase those small touches. So keep this in mind when cleaning your sterling silver.
Wear it often
Ironically, wearing your sterling silver bracelets and marcasite rings often will prevent tarnish. Although it doesn’t stop it entirely, the natural oils in your skin will clean your silver jewellery and keep it looking as shiny as the day you bought it.
Avoid exposing it to certain elements
Wearing your silver jewellery while cleaning the house, taking part in sports and other physical activities, swimming and even cooking can cause faster oxidation. A lot of household chemicals, perspiration, food ingredients, and chlorinated water all contain sulphur in varying degrees. So it is a good idea to remove your jewellery if they may come into contact with any of these.
Although you can clean your silver more often to counter this, it gets tricky in the case of gemstone jewellery or anything with complex settings, such as marcasite rings. The settings are often tiny, and getting into the small spaces between them is sometimes an impossible task. If these more detailed pieces get tarnished it is a good idea to take it to a professional silver shop to get it cleaned properly.
Choose airtight storage
Exposure to air can tarnish silver over time. So if you’re not going to be wearing an item for long periods then it’s a good idea to store it in an airtight container or bag. You can add anti-tarnish strips for extra protection. Remember that. while sterling silver is relatively durable, it is still prone to denting and scratches, so avoid storing multiple pieces together.
Link or chain bracelets and necklaces should be stored unclasped for the same reason.
The great thing about sterling silver jewellery is that you can clean tarnish off with nothing more than a good polish. If the tarnishing is severe you might need a professional service. Polishing your silver jewellery is the best method for minor tarnishing, though. Use your judgement and stay away from those areas that have been purposefully oxidised.
Remember that silver is soft and it can scratch easily. So it is best to use a special silver-cleaning cloth to polish your items. You may use microfibre, lint-free flannel, or any other nonabrasive cloth to polish, but avoid paper towels and tissue. These contain fibres that can scratch silver.
Use back and forth motions when polishing your silver, as going in circles will magnify any scratches that your jewellery may have picked up. Also, don’t polish repeatedly with the same section of cloth, as this will simply move the tarnish from one area of your silver jewellery to another. Cotton buds work well for getting into those small areas between settings, or other hard to reach places.
If your pieces are heavily tarnished then it is best to take them to a professional silver jeweller to have them cleaned properly. If you’re not experienced in polishing sterling silver items, then any pieces that are particularly old or fragile should also be taken to a silver shop for cleaning. They will have the tools and experience to return the lustre without damaging the item.
A word on commercial silver cleaning products
There are a number of commercial silver polishes and dips available, but there are drawbacks to using them. They do simplify and speed up the process, but the fumes can be dangerous if used in an unventilated area. Some commercial silver cleaners also contain hazardous solvents that need to be specially disposed of.
These solvents can also remove the anti-tarnish coating on sterling silver jewellery, meaning that it will tarnish more quickly and require cleaning more often than before. Depending on how elements such as gemstones and marcasite have been set, these solvents can also weaken the settings. Eventually, these weakened settings will give way completely and the gems will fall out.
Sterling silver jewellery that has been well cared for can give you years of pleasure and even become family heirlooms. Of course, silver itself is valuable but the sentimental value of these items is often worth a lot more. Don’t let tarnish devalue your beautiful sterling silver rings, necklaces, bracelets and other jewellery. Start giving them a little love and attention today and they’ll last as long as any gold and platinum jewellery you may own.