Sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, although copper is the most common metal used, other metals can be used including zinc, germanium and platinum. The purpose of the alloy is to harden and strengthen the silver. Fine silver or pure silver which is 99.9% silver is much softer than sterling silver and is not practical to wear as everyday jewelry. Because sterling silver is an alloy, it will tarnish, this is not a defect in the material but rather a chemical reaction with sulfur particles in the air.
Quality stamps on sterling silver jewelry
Although not required by US law (National Gold and Silver Marking Act), You may find stamps of quality on your sterling silver jewelry which indicate the precious metal content of the jewelry such as:
Jewelry with a higher silver content may be marked .950 or .999 (Fine Silver).
These stamps may be accompanied by a maker’s mark or a registered trademark of the manufacturer.
Finishing sterling silver jewelry
Some manufacturers finish their jewelry by simply polishing it, or giving it a brushed finish with an abrasive, others use a plating process of one kind or another. Plating with fine (99.9%) silver is one method that is commonly used. Often there will be a layer of nickel or copper plating between the two layers of silver. Other common plating methods used are rhodium plating, gold plating (vermeil), and anti-tarnish plating like e-coating or electro-coating where a lacquer is bonded to the surface of the silver, (this may give it a plastic feel). While these plating methods help to protect the silver and restore an even finish and coloration after the manufacturing process, they are subject to wear. Items that are repaired, sized, machine buffed or have the finish worn down or scratched through wearing, may need to be re-plated to restore their original appearance. Some sterling silver jewelry may also be oxidized with chemicals to give it a blackened antique look, if so, care must be taken in the cleaning process so you do not lose this effect.
Some people may experience a blackening of the skin while wearing sterling silver jewelry. This may be caused by highly acidic perspiration or contact with other chemical agents like perfume, makeup, hairspray or cleaning products. Since sterling silver may be alloyed with copper some people may also experience a green staining of the skin. While rare, some people may have an allergic reaction to one of the metals alloyed with silver, usually appearing as a reddening of the skin or itching. None of these conditions are to be taken as an indication of the quality of the sterling silver.
With proper care your sterling silver jewelry will last a lifetime.
You should always remove your jewelry before putting on makeup, lotions, and perfumes or using hair products. Make sure these products have had time to absorb into your skin before you put your jewelry back on. Do not handle your jewelry after putting on hand lotion, as this can leave fingerprint marks that are very difficult to remove.
Never wear your jewelry when working with detergents, bleaches, or any other household chemicals, as they will cause discoloration of the silver.
Never wear your sterling silver jewelry in a hot tub, mineral spring, swimming pool, or any other chemically treated water.
Wearing your jewelry often, may be one of the best ways to keep it looking beautiful and reduce tarnish buildup. After wearing, clean your jewelry by washing it with warm water and a mild soap, rinse well and dry thoroughly with a soft cotton cloth. This will help to remove any buildup of dirt, skin oils, makeup and perspiration. After it is thoroughly dried you can use a silver polish cloth to quickly brighten it back up before storage. Always be sure your jewelry is completely dry before storing.
Do not allow your jewelry to come in contact with items containing sulfur. Examples would be latex gloves, rubber bands, wool, and item’s containing elastic. Also several foods may cause silver to tarnish more rapidly, a few examples would be things like eggs, onions, olives, vinegar, salad dressings, salt, and fruit juices. Be sure to wash your hands after handling these items.
Store your sterling silver jewelry in a cool, dark place away from sources of sunlight, heat and moisture. To reduce scratching and tarnishing we recommend you store your pieces individually in small zip-lock plastic bags, removing as much air as possible. You may also want to put a small strip of anti-tarnish paper in each bag with the jewelry. You can find these strips at many jewelry, craft, and hardware stores. Do not store your jewelry in paper, cardboard, or cotton filled boxes as these may contain traces of sulfur which will cause tarnishing.
In it’s pure form silver doesn’t tarnish much, however, because of the nature of its alloy sterling silver does. This is not a defect in the material or an indication of inferior quality, but a natural chemical process in which the silver reacts with sulfur particles in the air. Regular cleaning of all your sterling silver jewelry is the best way to keep it bright and beautiful. One of the easiest ways to remove minor tarnish buildup is to use a silver polish cloth, like the one we carry, specifically designed to be used on jewelry. Regular light polishing with a polish cloth, being careful not to polish oxidized, plated or brushed finish areas, should be enough to keep your jewelry tarnish free. If heavy tarnish buildup does occur you may need something a little stronger. We do not recommend the use of liquid “dip” cleaners or “paste” silver cleaners as these usually create more problems than they solve. If your jewelry contains gemstones, antique oxidation or a brushed finish, we recommend you take it to a professional jeweler to be cleaned.
To remove heavy tarnish from plain (no gemstones or oxidation) silver pieces you may try the method below.
1. Line a shallow, flat, glass dish with aluminum foil.
2. Lay your silver jewelry on the foil, making sure the silver touches the aluminum.
3. Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the jewelry.
4. Boil enough distilled water to completely cover all of the jewelry.
5. Stand back and slowly pour the hot water over the jewelry until it is completely immersed. It should bubble up giving off a rotten-egg smell.
6. With a wooden or plastic utensil, gently move the jewelry, making sure all silver surfaces touch the aluminum.
7. Carefully remove the jewelry and rinse thoroughly with distilled water. Use Caution – it will be HOT.
8. Dry completely with a soft cotton cloth, you can use a Q-tip for difficult to reach areas. Let the jewelry air dry for a few minutes.
9. When completely dry, wipe off the jewelry with a silver jewelry polish cloth.
10. Store your jewelry in a plastic zip-lock bag, removing as much air as possible, until you are ready to wear it. Do not store in the plastic bag until the jewelry is completely dry.
Again, with proper care your sterling silver jewelry will last a lifetime. Just a few minutes of regular maintenance will be rewarded with a lifetime of enjoyment.
Rhodium is a precious metal in the platinum family, often used to plate white gold and sterling silver jewelry. It is a highly reflective, durable metal that gives jewelry a long lasting, brilliant sheen. The benefits of this process include a resistance to both scratching and tarnishing. Sterling silver that has been plated with rhodium will take on a gray appearance, looking more like white gold than silver. One important point to remember about jewelry that’s been rhodium plated is that the plating will wear down over time. Fortunately, most jewelry can easily be re-plated by your local jeweler. The amount of time that passes before this will be necessary depends on several factors including: the original thickness of the plating, your individual body chemistry (contact with skin will increase wear), the amount of time you have the jewelry on (frequent use will increase wear) and the care you take while wearing it and cleaning it. It is best to remove your jewelry, especially rings, before any activity where it will be in contact with chemicals or rubbing against other surfaces. You should never use any harsh chemicals, ultrasonic cleaners, pastes of any kind, polish cloths intended for use on un-plated silver or abrasives of any kind to clean the jewelry. The best method for cleaning rhodium plated jewelry is to use warm water and a mild soap to wash it with after each time you wear it, then dry with a soft cotton cloth and finally polish it with a microfiber cloth like those used for eyeglasses.