Many people have problems in working with Sterling Silver jewelry wire. The problems are two fold. First, in some environments and for some people, sterling silver will tarnish very rapidly, loosing it shiny appearance and becoming almost black. Second, once a jewelry item is completed it is not very easy to polish the silver without resorting to chemical baths. In the following paragraphs we will discuss some options for minimizing this problem.
First, let's discuss why we have this problem. The current generation of Sterling Silver is defined as a metal alloy containing 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper and is frequently stamped as "925" silver, indicating the percentage of silver. The term alloy means that the composition of the metal is essentially a soup of individual atoms of silver and copper combined in the percentages given. On the microscopic level the wire is basically silver and copper, each with their own chemical properties. Unlike many molecules like salt, where the sodium and chlorine combine to form a compound unlike either sodium or chlorine, in the sterling silver alloy the silver and copper each behave as silver and copper. Silver is a precious metal because it is very stable and doesn't react easily. Copper is not a precious metal because it is less stable and is more likely to react with other chemicals forming a new molecule like salt. In essence, tarnish on sterling silver is formed by the copper and silver atoms in the alloy reacting with chemicals in the atmosphere like chlorine and sulfur compounds forming a new molecule with a dark almost black color.
Knowing that tarnish results from contact between sterling silver and chemicals in the atmosphere like chlorine and sulfur compounds we can easily identify a way to avoid tarnish. The most simple way is to avoid contact between your sterling silver and the atmosphere. Obviously, it would be a little difficult to only wear your sterling jewelry in a vacuum. It would also be a little hard on the health of the wearer. So we have to investigate other options. The first is rather obvious and very simple -- store your sterling silver jewelry in an airtight container. Zip lock bags and jewelry boxes can minimize contact between the chemicals in the atmosphere and your jewelry. We like clear lid jewelry boxes because they allow you to view your jewelry, but still minimize contact with the chemicals in the air.
The second thing that you can do is to use chemistry to help with the problem by adding anti-tarnish strips to your jewelry box or zip lock bag. These strips have chemicals in them that capture the sulfur and other chemicals in the air that cause tarnish. They are very effective at minimizing tarnish that could occur while your jewelry was being stored and not worn.
The above two steps are very effective in minimizing tarnish during the time when your jewelry is being stored.
Now we need to address how to minimize tarnish while you are wearing your jewelry. When you wear your jewelry it is exposed to chemicals in the air and to chemicals in the oils in our skin. Both can cause tarnish. The answer to minimizing this tarnish is to stop contact between the jewelry and these chemicals. This sounds like it would be hard to do, but actually it is not. The way we avoid contact between chemicals and your jewelry is by using another chemical similar to wax. If we coat our jewelry in a thin wax like compound, it will prevent contact between the bad chemicals and your jewelry. The way we do this is rather simple. Many polishing cloths have an anti-tarnish compound impregnated in the cloth. This anti-tarnish compound works just like wax in that it coats your sterling silver so that it can't come in contact with the air. Many polishing cloths have agents that remove tarnish either by physically scraping it off, or chemically by reacting with the tarnish itself to form a new molecule that is easy to remove. Some polishing cloths have these polishing agents and the additional anti-tarnish agent that minimized tarnish while the jewelry is being worn. We suggest that you will want to get a polishing cloth that has both polishing and anti-tarnish features.
The second thing that one can do to minimize tarnish is also simple. Before using your sterling silver wire to make a jewelry item, polish the wire with an anti-tarnish polishing cloth. Polishing first, places the anti-tarnish coating over the entire surface of the wire and not on just the outer surfaces of your finished piece. This is a very simple but very effective approach. Coat your sterling silver wire with the anti-tarnish wax-like coating from the polishing cloth before you begin bending it into shape for use as jewelry.
When is the best time to take measures to minimize tarnish in your jewelry? The answer is simple, when you are making the jewelry. What can you do? Again the answer is again relatively simple, you need to do something to prevent the chemicals in the atmosphere and in our skin from contacting the copper and silver atoms in the sterling silver wire. How do we to that? Currently there are two basic ways. The first way is to purchase wire that has a coating that prevents the atmosphere from contacting your wire. At present there are very few options for this in sterling silver, but we do have an option in silver-plated wire. The Artistic Wire Natural Silver, silver-plated wire has an enamel coating on the wire to minimize tarnish. This clear coating prevents any external chemicals from contacting the wire as long as the coating is maintained (not scraped off). Jewelry made with this wire will resist tarnishing for a very long time, but the enamel coating on the wire is vulnerable to exposure to ultra-violet light and will turn slightly yellow after many years of exposure. This is a very good solution, but not a perfect one.
Jewelry that is tarnished can be cleaned and shined by soaking it in chemical baths. These baths are very effective ways for removing tarnish, but is should also be noted that they can also remove the microscopic bits of silver or copper that reacted with the chemicals in the air to product the tarnish. Over an extended period of time the surface of the sterling silver can actually become visibly pitted as some of the copper is removed. We don't recommend this approach because it can damage your silver over time.
ARGENTIUM ANTI-TARNISH STERLING SILVER JEWELRY WIRE:
The ultimate and best solution for this problem is now available. It is a new sterling silver alloy called Argentium sterling silver. This jewelry wire is a patented alloy consisting of 92.5% silver, about 5.9% copper and 1.6% germanium. The tarnish resistance of this silver alloy stems from the fact that germanium combines with elements in the air to form a clear compound that coats the wire. This germanium compound prevents the sulfur compounds in air pollution from coming in contact with the silver or the copper in the wire and for this reason prevents the formation of the dark tarnish that results from contact with sulfur compounds. When this new Argentium sterling wire does tarnish, the tarnish is a light yellow in color and can easily be removed with a soft cloth and soap and water. Furthermore, this new sterling silver alloy can be soldered and heated just like "old" sterling silver. We really believe that this new alloy of silver is going to take over the jewelry markets. Within the next five years, our opinion is that the market for "old" sterling silver will slowly dry up as it is replaced by this new Argentium sterling silver. Jewelry wire using this new sterling silver alloy is now available in our store. We call it Anti-Tarnish SS.
We have discussed previously how this jewelry wire resists tarnish and when it does tarnish, the tarnish does not have the dark black characteristics of conventional sterling silver. We have a little more experience in using this silver wire and have discovered a few tips that make working with this wire easier. In fact, the middle of the three Treble Clef Earrings shown above was made with the new Argentium Sterling Silver wire.
The Argentium Sterling Silver Wire has many advantages over conventional sterling silver. Unfortunately, in one respect it is similar to conventional sterling silver. The Argentium jewelry wire comes from the manufacturer with a light coating of tarnish. In this respect it is similar to most conventional sterling silver. You will find that you will get your best results using the new Argentium Sterling Silver if you wash the wire before you use it. This sounds silly, but is accurate. The tarnish on Argentium Sterling Silver wire is easily removed with soap and water. It doesn't require anything more complicated. Because it is easier to wash all the surfaces of the jewelry wire before you bend it into a jewelry components, we recommend that you wash the wire before you use it to make jewelry. We have tried a drop of dishwasher soap with some water on our finger tips and pulling the wire between our soapy fingertips several times. This worked well. You will want to wash all the surfaces of the jewelry wire. Our experience is that you won't need to scrub the wire. You won't need and abrasive pad, just five to ten seconds of rubbing with soap and water, enough to work up a lather.
If you are making jewelry to sell, it is important to have bright shiny pieces for your customers to view, so you will want to wash your jewelry wire before you make your jewelry. If you are making jewelry for yourself, another alternative may be to shower with your jewelry on :-) !