You just bought a new piece of handmade sterling silver jewelry. Isn’t it gorgeous? Look at that beautiful shine, that lovely shimmer, that mirror reflection.
You wear it a few months, enjoy it, get compliments, and love it more each day.
But wait, what’s going on? A few months along and, even though it’s still the same piece of jewelry, it just doesn’t have that sparkle anymore. The shine seems to have faded.
So, should you not have bought that sterling silver jewelry? No way! It’s affordable, it’s pretty, and everybody tells you how great it looks. It just requires a little care and attention now and then. And considering how great it makes you look, doesn’t it deserve it?
Face it, anything that’s worth anything in this life is worth taking care of, and your jewelry is no exception. A little time, a little of what your grandmother would have called “elbow grease,” and a little polish, and your silver will be looking as good as new. Okay, maybe platinum would be easier, but can you afford it? I know I can’t! So, I buy lovely pieces of handmade sterling silver jewelry and love them. And polish them.
You can’t prevent tarnish, but you can slow it down a lot.
Let’s talk about tarnish. What exactly is it, and why does it make sterling silver jewelry look duller? Tarnish is a thin film that forms on the surface of sterling silver jewelry because of a chemical reaction silver has with sulphur.
Huh? What is sulphur, and how did you happen to come into contact with it? It’s in the air, all around you. It is even worse when the humidity and heat rise. Then tarnish happens at a faster rate. Also, you should be aware that rough surfaces tarnish more quickly than smooth surfaces.
Then, what do we do about it? You can’t totally prevent tarnish, but you can slow it down a lot. The best way to do that is to keep your sterling silver jewelry in zip-lock plastic bags, tightly sealed. This helps to keep out air, and thus sulphur, and tarnish won’t develop so fast.
There are also available zip-lock bags which are treated to prevent tarnish, as in the photo at right. These bags are a little cloudier than regular plastic bags, so it’s easy to tell that they are the anti-tarnish sort. Using these can really help.
“But,” you wail, “my sterling silver jewelry is already tarnished!” Relax, it’s no big deal. Use a little polish or a polishing cloth. If you use polish, I recommend cream types. Use caution about liquid types that you dip your jewelry in.
Some of the newer ones are good, but there are a few out there that don’t give as good results as the creams polishes. Also, many liquid types can harm stones, so don’t ever dip sterling silver gemstone jewelry in these.
Polishing cloths are usually available at jewelry stores. They aren’t always cheap, but you’ll probably only need one, at least for a long time. They come in types that are a single cloth, the same on both sides, or two cloths sewn together on one side, one a buffing cloth and the other impregnated with jeweler’s rouge (see photo at left). Jeweler’s rouge is the polishing compound used by most jewelers. A rouge-treated cloth, dry, gives a nice shine to your sterling silver jewelry.
A rouge-treated cloth gives a nice shine to your sterling silver jewelry.
As for general cleaning, be sure to use a mild detergent that is non-abrasive and phosphate-free. A mild dishwashing detergent, like Ivory, works really well. For excessive dirt, you may want to try a steam cleaner. Small steam cleaners are available for under $50.
They release a jet of steam which is effective in cleaning stubborn dirt that may be in small crevices or corners of your sterling silver jewelry. However, be very careful to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions if you use a steam cleaner, since these machines do release boiling hot steam, and you could get burned if you’re not very careful. They’re perfectly safe, as long as you follow the directions.
Now, you’ve put in a little effort and time, and what’s the result? Beautiful, shining, gleaming sterling silver jewelry!! You did it! It’s absolutely lovely! See, it’s worth it. A little care, and your sterling silver jewelry looks once again like you just bought it, polished and mirror-bright.
After all that hard work, you deserve a reward! Go out and buy yourself something special, like a new piece of handmade sterling silver jewelry!! Personally, I could always use a new bracelet, pair of earrings, pendant, ring…