If you love SouthWestern style of clothing, I would dare guess you like, wear, and have in your stash at least a few pieces of sterling silver jewelry. I would also dare guess you are tired of dealing with tarnish, and would be happy to learn how to, if not prevent it, then at least minimize it to a manageable level.
Fear not, we are here to help!
In order to understand how to care for your sterling silver you first must know what sterling silver is. You have probably seen the 925 stamp on some of your silver pieces and have learned that the number marks sterling silver. But what does the number mean?
Number 925 signifies the silver component in the sterling silver alloy: 92.5% by mass in the alloy is silver. That leaves us with a remainder of 7.5% by mass. So, what goes into those remaining 7.5%? It can be a few other metals, but most commonly, it is copper, and if you are looking to put blame for tarnish on someone or something, copper is your culprit. So, why not use pure silver then? The reason is simple: 99.9% silver is way too soft for producing functional objects. Copper is added to increase strength.
In more recent years, a new brand of silver entered the market: Argentium silver. Argentium is 96% silver by mass, with the amount of copper balanced with germanium in order to combat tarnish. Even though you may hear Argentium labeled as 'non-tarnishing silver,' it is not completely immune to tarnish. However, the color of tarnish developing on Argentium is much, much lighter, rendering it practically unnoticeable.
Although Argentium silver has made some inroads in the jewelry industry, its price compared to sterling silver as well as limited availability of different forms the metal comes in (e.g. sheet of different gauges and different gauge wire, appropriate solder, cleaners, polishes, etc.) has made it rather impractical for small and independent jewelry makers to use Argentium. Add to that the fact that a lot of SouthWestern jewelry on the market these days is vintage Native American made, and you will understand why sterling silver is still the most common metal you will see used in the styles you like.
Now that you know some facts about sterling silver, it's time to show you how to properly care for it.
1. - A good rule of thumb is to keep your silver jewelry as protected from moisture as possible if you don't want to deal with large amounts of tarnish. However, if you live in a humid climate, this might be pretty hard to achieve. You can opt to use tarni-shield (available at hardware stores), but you must keep in mind that it is a poisonous chemical which should not be used on items you should be serving food from. (No, don't put it on your grandma's silverware!)
A better option, especially when we are talking about jewelry, is to use anti-tarnish strips. You can buy these at jewelry supply retailers, and place them in the bag or jewelry box where you keep your sterling silver. It is also good to keep your silver pieces separate from each other by putting each piece in an appropriately sized ziplock bag with an anti-tarnish strip in it. Make sure to change anti-tarnish strips every 2-3 months to ensure the best protection.
Yet another option is to wrap your pieces in jeweler's non-tarnish tissue paper, which too can be obtained from major jewelry supply retailers.
Fairly new on the market are carbon-impregnated plastic bags, specially designed to store your silver or gold jewelry in. By using such a bag, you will not have to bother with anti-tarnish strips, as carbon-impregnated plastic neutralizes the gasses and moisture that corrode and oxidize silver. Such carbon-impregnated plastic bags should be replaced every 2 years.
2. - If you notice that tarnish has started developing on your jewelry pieces, your best bet for removing it is rubbing the piece gently with a silver polishing cloth. There are different brands of polishing cloth available on the market. Sunshine Cloth, Selvyt polishing cloth, and 3-M High-Performance polishing cloth are some of them. We at hART Sense Design are partial to Sunshine Cloth, but that is just our personal preference. You can decide which one of the available brands suits your needs best.
The way to use a polishing cloth is to gently rub your silver jewelry between two folds of dry polishing cloth. Patience is the key here, as you have to make sure you are not rubbing your jewelry piece too hard, but you also want to see the unsightly tarnish gone.
One other tip worth mentioning is never to use rubber gloves when cleaning your silver. There is some sulfur in rubber that is bad for silver, especially fine silver.
3. - An often used method for removing tarnish from sterling silver jewelry are ultrasonic jewelry cleaners. Word of caution! If you are attempting to remove tarnish from your SouthWestern style jewelry that includes any type of gemstone, make sure you take it to a professional jeweler for cleaning. The reason for this is that most SouthWestern jewelry incorporates turquoise, coral, and/or pearls. None of these three materials, and many more soft and porous gemstones, should ever be placed into an ultrasonic cleaner because they would get damaged both by ultrasonic waves and by the cleaning solution used in such cleaners. So, if you are not sure about gemstones in your particular piece of jewelry, the best option is to consult a professional jeweler before attempting to clean the piece yourself.
Now that you know how to properly care for your sterling silver jewelry, we would love to find out what gemstones are your favorites in combination with silver. Let us know in the comments below.
the mind and hands behind hART Sense Design. I am a designer and hand-maker of one-of-a-kind and limited edition jewelry and accessories for artistic, chic cowgirls, boho babes, and lovers of all things western.
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