Reasons to love silver jewellery (and a few tips on how to maintain it)
I love jewellery (who doesn’t?) I may not wear it all the time (bar my engagement and wedding rings and my silver Brian de Staic Claddagh ring from Dingle, Co Kerry), but I do love it. Especially silver jewellery. I predominantly work in silver. It's an easy metal to handle, making it great to experiment with and as precious metals go, it's the most accessible price wise.
Silver can be worn everyday for an added bit of sparkle or to add a sophisticated glint to your best going out outfit. It can be youthful and fresh, or sleek and elegant and when its polished to a high shine, there’s almost nothing as eye catching, in my humble opinion.
As metals go, silver is pretty non-reactive (here comes the sciencey bit). In chemistry terms, it is what is referred to as a “noble metal”, ie its resistant to corrosion and oxidisation. Ah ha! I here you cry, but silver tarnishes! Isn’t that because of oxidisation? Well yes, you’d be correct. Put silver in the presence of hydrogen sulphide or ozone (which are present in your everyday, bog standard air) and it will tarnish. It also doesn’t do well if its submerged in salt water for long periods of time. Now, we’re talking 100’s of years not a few hours, so taking a long plunge in the sea whilst wearing your silver jewellery, whilst not recommended (you should always remove your jewellery before swimming, washing up, bathing etc) won’t cause your jewellery to instantaneously dissolve. Realistically this is more of a problem when you are dealing with historic silver artefacts, for example, silver coins recovered from a sunken Spanish Galleon.
Being a non-reactive metal means that silver jewellery is unlikely to cause severe allergic reactions. I say “unlikely” and not “won’t” because although silver allergies are rare, they do happen. Now the majority of people who experience an allergic reaction to silver, are probably reacting to one of two metals; nickel or copper.
Here comes the disclaimer: I have not studied medicine, dermatology, immunology and I am definitely not a doctor. I am only commenting on what I know, so please do not take this as medical advice in any shape or form. If you are worried about any skin reaction you suspect is due to contact with jewellery, please consult your doctor.
Nickel was (and still is in some countries) used in sterling silver and it is one of the most common causes of metal allergies. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver that is usually alloyed with copper to create sterling silver. In some cases nickel is used as it is a cheap alternative to copper and it is this nickel that causes the allergic reaction. However, people can also be allergic to copper, so even nickel-free sterling silver isn’t really an option.
If you do find that sterling silver is something you can’t wear due to copper or nickel allergies, you do have an option. Argentium silver is a great alternative to Sterling Silver. It is 93.5% pure silver alloyed with germanium. As it is purer than sterling silver, it does not tarnish as quickly and is hypoallergenic, so if you find you can’t wear traditional sterling silver, you can wear argentium silver.
Just as a side note, the supplier I use lists their sterling silver as 92.8% silver alloyed with copper, so there's no nickle.
General Tips for Maintaining your Silver Jewellery
In general, to keep any jewellery in the best condition possible, you should always put it in a jewellery box (or whatever you use to store your jewellery) as soon as you take it off.
You should always take it off your jewellery when cleaning, bathing or swimming. The chemicals used in detergents and soaps and the chlorine in swimming pools can react with your silver and turn it black. The same can happen if silver comes in contact with body creams, hairspray and perfumes. I’m not suggesting you don’t use these products, but it would be best to make putting your jewellery on the last thing you do before going out.
So how do you keep your lovely silver nice and shiny? One way is to wear it. Now, I’m not sure why this works. I have done a little bit of research to find out why this is so and turned up nothing so far (perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place?) but I suspect the answer may lie in the oils secreted by your skin. Perhaps they provide a protective barrier of sorts? If you know the answer, please get in touch as I’d really love to know.
Now wearing your silver jewellery is not a 100% fool proof way to prevent tarnishing. This is because changes in your body chemistry, using deodorants, body or face creams can, in fact, cause the tarnishing process to speed up, turning your beautiful sparkling silver pendant into something that resembles a piece of coal on a chain (and who wants to wear coal, unless its a piece of coal thats been compressed into a diamond?).
If you don’t fancy sporting the blinged up Christmas Tree look by wearing every single piece of silver jewellery you own at the same time, then storage that prevents tarnishing is what you want. You can do this in a number of ways. The most cost effective solution is to store your silver jewellery in a ziplock plastic bag with as little air in it as possible.
Now, if you don’t like the idea of cluttering up your jewellery drawer with lots of plastic bags (you should only put one piece of jewellery in each bag) you can get anti-tarnish bags from most online jewellery supply stores. The bags have been treated with an anti-tarnish solution so will keep your silver nice and shiny.
If bags aren’t your ‘bag’ at all, you can purchase anti-tarnish tags (again from most online jewellery supply stores). Pop one into your jewellery box with your silver and it will help to slow the tarnishing process down. All my jewellery comes in either a gift box with a little anti-tarnish tab on the inside of the lid or an anti-tarnish bag.
If you prefer an eco-friendly solution to tarnishing, try placing a piece of chalk in with your silver. I haven’t tried this, so I don’t know how effective it is, but the idea is that the chalk will absorb any moisture and chemical residues that will tarnish your jewellery.
If your silver starts to tarnish, clean it as soon as possible as the quicker you polish it, the easier the tarnish is to remove. You can get specialised silver cloths from jewellers and jewellery supply shops.
Another option are silver polishes. These polishes (cream and liquid) are great for removing tarnish and are gentle on the silver. To make sure you get the polish out of all the nooks and crannies of a textured piece or chain, give the item a quick rinse in water and buff with a soft cloth to bring back the shine. Always make sure your polish is formulated for silver. A general metal polish will be far too abrasive for silver and will damage the surface, ultimately causing your piece to tarnish a lot faster.
Do not be tempted under any circumstances to use baking powder or toothpaste to clean your silver. These are extremely abrasive products and will damage the surface of your silver.
If your silver has become very badly tarnished, it might be a good idea to bring it to a professional jewellery to have it cleaned.
If you follow the advice for storing and cleaning your jewellery, treat it gently and only wear it when you go out (ie don’t wear it when you are doing the housework, gardening, moving heavy furniture etc), then your silver jewellery will continue to shine and look amazing for years to come.
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