Why Does My Silver Jewellery Tarnish?

Tarnish is a natural chemical reaction that silver and other alloys undergo in our atmosphere and in this blog, we will discuss the science behind it and how to handle this natural process, to make sure that your jewellery pieces stay in the best condition.

What is 925 silver?

Have you ever stopped to ask what '925' stamped on your silver means? Real, unadulterated silver is 100% in it's purity ("100" parts as it is refered to). The process to take away impurities from the silver, post-mining, makes the silver extremely malleable and soft.

unadulterated mined silver

For it to be used in the making of jewellery, it must be given an additional alloy to harden it and make it stronger to wear on the body. For silver, a small amount of copper is added. 75 parts of silver are taken away from the pure silver and replaced with 75 parts of copper. This mix, has become know to be called 925 and is the ideal balance for jewellery making.

heating up the silver and the copper together to create 925

So what is the black tarnish on my silver jewellery?

The dark gunmetal grey, or black, that forms on the surface of your silver jewellery, is a combination of chemical reactions, that come from the body's natural oils meeting and combining with the environment surrounding the silver. It is made up of sulphurous gases in the air we breathe/live/work in and acids formed in our skin from our food and the perfume we spray onto our bodies, creating a  chemical reaction that forms a dull patina on the surface of the jewellery. 

How does some jewellery tarnish more?

Certain work places can deeply affect jewellery surfaces.

For example, working in an oily-aired kitchen or in an industrial setting, where the atomsphere is prone to toxins. The tarnish process will begin much faster in these places, as the toxins land on the surfaces.

The body itself too, can also quicken the process of tarnishing. If you are prone to eating highly concentrated fatty acids, or consuming large amounts of alcohol which contain sulphides from the fermentation processing, these can be processed in the body and leach through the sweat glands. Moist conditions, mixed with this sweat, can, in rare circumstances, create an extreme style of corrosion and eat away at the silver. Some people have reactions to silver jewellery almost immediately, causing itching and redness in the area where the jewellery is worn.

How can I slow down the tarnishing process?

Jewellery loves to be worn. There is some belief that leaving your jewellery lying around will make it tarnish faster. If it is not mobile, you are not touching it (bracelets and earrings), or washing your hands (if it's a ring)....so the jewellery is lying in a stale state, gathering tiny micro layers of tarnish.

The very best way to keep dormant jewellery bright, is to clean it immediately after wearing (before you put it away) with soap and water and then drying it thoroughly and then putting it in an air-tight container or jewellery box. If you have a polishing cloth, it is also a good idea, to polish before you put it away. This is an additional gentle abrasive measure to take off the micro tarnish. 

Isn't there anti-tarnish silver jewellery? I've seen it advertised.

It's hard to find non-abrasive and non-caustic anti-tarnish products on the market that are not harmful to the body. They look fab for a while and then over time, the anti-tarnish patina comes off in places, sometimes leeching into your skin and it looks like your jewellery has been plated....because in effect it has been.

There are anti-tarnish strips that are used inside of the bags after production to keep the jewellery at least bagged and bright for storage, but as soon as silver hits the air, it will tarnish. It's a natural process, like ageing. So any anti-tarnish jewellery that is advertised needs to be fully investigated. There will be chemical reactions with your body and the air and will wear this away and create an even more disappointing effect to your jewellery.

What types of polishing cloths are out there?

There are two different types of cloth on the market. One which is called a "microfibre polishing cloth" and the other a "impregnated silver polish cloth." Both of these cloths do the trick in their own way. 

Microfibre: the fantastic thing about textile development is that we are constantly upping the ante on futuristic design and microfibre is no exception. The textile warp and weft of microfibre is so miniscule and closely knit, that it creates a fine and gentle abasive weave that when actioned over a jewellery piece, instanteous results of high polish can be seen. This is a quick and easy way to get your jewellery to sparkle. However, of course over many years, this will wear away at the silver, that is a given.

For plated jewellery it is not to be used on a constant basis. Once in a while is ok. It is better to use soap and water and a gentle cloth for gold plate.

Impregnated Polishing Cloths: I'm sure you have heard of Goddards silver cleaner. It is used a lot on silver cutlery and on larger items like silver tea sets and trays. Town Talk and Connoisseur brands create cloths that have polishing ointment/anti-tarnish agent, impregnated into them, providing a swift and effect shine immediately in just a couple of gentle wipe overs. The cloth is re-usable over and over again. Your jewellery items will then need to be cleaned in soap and water afterwards, then dried in the open air thoroughly, wrapped in tissue or cloth and then put away to keep the shine on point. You can buy them direct from here:

Town Talk Silver Polishing Cloths

Connoisseur

In Conclusion:

We cannot stop tarnish. It is here to stay.

What we can do, is to look after our jewellery and treat it with care. At Franki & Felix, we add a microfibre polishing cloth into your package when you purchase from us and we ask you to follow the simple process of pre-cleaning and drying to keep your pieces in tip top condition.