October 01, 2019

Why Does Silver Tarnish?

If it tarnishes does it mean it is not silver?

Proper care is the key.

This is a very common question and many people believe that if their silver jewelry tarnishes, it's because they were cheated and they ended buying a low quality or fake item.

Nothing could be more wrong.

But first, we have to start from the beginning: silver in its pure state is too soft and therefore difficult to shape properly, so that's why pure silver is not used to make jewelry. An object made of pure silver would be a very delicate item that could be easily damaged or misshapen. 

So, how do silversmiths manage to produce such beautiful pieces of jewelry if pure silver is not suitable for that purpose? Well, here is where sterling silver comes into the picture.

I was reading about why it is called that way and I learned that most probably the term "sterling silver" was originated in eastern Germany, where some towns minted their own coins containing .925 percent silver. When Britain was trading with that region, they were paid with "easterling coins" which they found to be long lasting and reliable. Soon after, Britain decided to adopt the .925 standard to mint their own coins, and at the end the term easterling silver was shortened to sterling silver.

Now you must be wondering, if sterling silver contains .925% of silver, what happens with the other .75%?

Sterling silver is what's known as a metal alloy. This means that sterling silver is a combination of metals instead of a single one. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% alloy, usually made of copper. Although any metal can make up the 7.5% non-silver portion of sterling, experimentation over time has shown copper to be its best companion, improving the metal's hardness and durability without affecting its beautiful color.

Silver in its pure state doesn't tarnish, but copper does so being an alloy, sterling jewelry is prone to tarnishing.

Tarnish is the product of a chemical reaction between a metal and a nonmetal compound, especially oxygen and sulfur dioxide. As we just learned, the silver contained in your bracelet, your earrings or any other piece of your jewelry collection is not pure, and the metal reacting to the elements is the one used to give silver strength and durability. In the case of Mexican silver jewelry, most of the time we are talking about copper.

The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to slow down or delay tarnish from forming on your precious jewelry.

1. Oils from your skin can predispose your silver to oxidation, so if you get into the habit of cleaning your jewelry with a soft cloth every time you take it off, this will help a lot to maintain it polished and shiny without any effort.

2. Another good habit is to keep your jewelry wrapped with tissue paper, inside a plastic bag so it's not exposed to air.

3. Avoid putting your jewelry in contact with abrasive substances, for example household cleaning products. Salt water and chlorine can badly damage your silver jewelry, so do not get into the pool with any of your silver accessories. 

4. Think about your jewelry as the last thing you'll put on while getting ready to go out. Do not put your earrings or beautiful silver necklace before your perfume, believe me, you will regret if you do that.

And it is also a good idea to have a soft cloth in your dresser drawer to quickly clean the silver jewelry you decide to wear that day. If you notice that it is not as shiny as you would like, just rinse it with lukewarm water and a bit of hand soap and don't forget to dry it perfectly.

Last, I also use to take a small amount of toothpaste to clean my everyday silver jewelry on the spot. It takes no effort at all and the result is impressive. But again, rinse it thoroughly with lukewarm water, and if you prefer, add a bit of hand soap to get rid of any "toothpaste smell".

So as you can see, it doesn't take much to keep your silver jewelry gleaming as new and remember, the feeling of wearing a beautiful accessory to make you elevate your mood and your look has no price.

At Nueve Sterling there is a great selection of sterling silver jewelry pieces, crafted by skilled silversmiths in Taxco, Mexico. I hope you like them and in case you get any, don't forget to take good care of it!