The trouble with tarnish, a guide to caring for your jewellery

Caring for your silver jewellery
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Keeping the zing in your bling

There’s nothing quite like that feeling you get when you open up a box to find a sparkling new piece of jewellery that you’ve either bought for yourself or a gift which someone has thoughtfully bought for you. The excitement of wearing it for the first time, the compliments you receive from friends and family, often with a touch of envy in their voice, and the number of times you catch yourself admiring it. We all know how great it feels and a large part of the initial joy is the jewellery’s shine and polish. Now, just like any new item, the shine and polish can dull and fade. With silver there are two contributing factors in play, Patina and tarnish.

Tarnish is probably the word that most of us will be familiar with and is certainly what can occur first. Patina is less well known and is a quality of silver as opposed to an issue. The best way to describe Patina would be as a soft, grey, lustrous finish which develops on silver which has both been cared for and well used. In particular, rings often take on Patina which is formed by tiny marks on the silver. These marks are acquired by silver as it is a soft metal, similar to gold, and form what is often called a “living finish”.

Unlike Patina, tarnish is the result of a chemical reaction and is predominately easy to remove. Definitely not something to be worried or concerned about. So let’s look at what causes silver to tarnish

A breath of fresh air

Unfortunately the biggest cause of silver tarnishing is all around us and we couldn’t live without it. The very air that we breathe contains elements like oxygen and sulphur which react with silver. This reaction creates the dull film on the surface of the silver ranging from light yellow to black which we all know as tarnish. This will even happen if you keep your jewellery in a box and only wear it occasionally. Ask any jewellery shop, they will tell you that they are constantly polishing all the stock on display. Silver can also be tarnished by sea water, swimming pools and soaps.

Help is at hand

There’s no need to panic or move to the moon, where the lack of atmosphere would prevent your favourite necklace dulling, the solution is in your hands, literally. The best way to remove light tarnish is with a simple polishing cloth. These can be easily found in shops and online. It doesn’t even need to be done frequently. In fact, the more you wear your jewellery the less attention it should require. Naturally occurring oils in our skin can actually clean your jewellery as you wear it. What a brilliant excuse for wearing more and often! If you are using a polishing cloth, here are a few simple rules;

            Invest in a silver polishing cloth, never use tissues or paper towels

            Gently polish in the direction of the grain of the silver

            Never polish in circles

            Keep you cloth in an airtight bag, usually supplied with the cloth

            Avoid getting dirt and dust on your cloth, especially abrasive grits

            Use an old toothbrush to get into hard to reach areas

            Always wash your hands afterwards

Are really good and cost effective (cheap) polishing cloth is available from Goddards. They also supply cleaning liquids.

When the going gets tough

If your silver is heavily tarnished or you have just dug up a Viking bangle from your back garden you may need to use a cleaning liquid. Again, these can be easily found in shops or online. There should be more specific instructions accompanying these products as they can contain some robust cleaning chemicals and should be used carefully. Alternatively here are some homemade recipes you can try;

            A baking soda and water paste that’s rubbed onto the silver

            Lemon juice and olive oil used to rub onto the silver

            Baking soda and white vinegar used to soak your jewellery in before polishing

Always clean any polish off your silver jewellery after cleaning, by running under a tap and drying off.

Don’t have nightmares

The most important thing to remember about tarnish is that it is very easy to remove and should in no way spoil your enjoyment of your jewellery. What really counts is how much each piece means to you or the thought that went into buying you the gift. In every life a little rain must fall, but you only get a rainbow when it rains…..

2 comments

  • Great to hear you enjoyed our blog. There is one school of thought which believes that a dirty cloth works better however, once a cloth becomes too dirty it would be useless. We are not sure how, or even if, polishing cloths can be cleaned. In addition, they usually contain a mild cleaning chemical which can evaporate if the cloth is left in the open air. This is why it is always wise to keep your cloth in an airtight bag to prolong it’s use. We hope this has help but please let us know if there is any other information we can give you.

    Kind regards

    Martha

    Martha Jackson on
  • Thank you for this blog. Living in the Pacific Northwest (US) means we tend to have a lot of moisture and keeping my silver pieces bright and shiny has been a bit of a struggle. I do have own a silver polish cloth and found that wiping a piece clean after wearing has helped. However how do I clean the cloth without diminishing its abilities? For the couple pieces that are in tough shape, I’m going to try the soak you recommend.

    Mary L Stewart on

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