What is sterling silver?
Sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals – usually copper (for strength). Pure silver is simply too soft to make good, structural jewellery that doesn’t bend. It’s fine for things that aren’t under stress, but for items that are regularly worn, it can deform and scratch far easier than sterling.
Why does sterling silver tarnish?
Silver tarnishes in the presence of sulphur compounds in the air. These sulphur compounds come from things like decaying plant matter and natural sources, so there’s no way to hide from them completely. When they interact with the silver, they become silver sulphide. Silver sulphide is black, and so you get a fine layer of black that builds up on top of your silver jewellery.
How can I avoid tarnish?
In essence, there’s no way to completely avoid tarnish on your jewellery. Nothing leaves our store without being completely polished. Silver tarnishing is a natural process that occurs over time. But there are ways to minimise it. Simply wearing sterling jewellery can help, because the sterling rubbing against your skin and clothing will often keep the tarnish from building up. Montgomery-Ramsay sterling jewellery comes in a box that has, inside it, an anti-tarnish strip (a small black square beneath the black velvet portion of the box). That anti-tarnish strip will absorb some of those sulphur compounds so that they don’t deposit on your silver. But they won’t keep your jewellery from tarnishing indefinitely. Eventually, you will have to polish things again.
What’s the best way to polish sterling silver?
There are a lot of ways to polish silver. Most of them involve a little work. We recommend a good silver polishing paste like Wright’s Silver Cream. On outer surfaces, it can be applied gently with the included sponge, and on inner surfaces, it can be applied with a Q-tip or some small cotton swab or patch. Once rubbed on, rinse it off carefully in warm water and pat the jewellery dry. Wright’s does an excellent job and is perfectly safe for even the most delicate of silver finishes. This is also the best option for jewellery that has been ‘aged’ intentionally.
We do NOT recommend silver dip. Silver dip seems like a very easy and quick method for polishing silver – just dip the jewellery into the mixture, wait a minute, and pull it out fully polished. That quickness, however, comes with serious drawbacks. The first being that silver dips use toxic and carcinogenic compounds like acidified thiourea. The second being that they actually cause a rapid retarnishing of your sterling. Those compounds used for rapid removal of the tarnish stick around on the silver and will cause a tarnish buildup very quickly.
One of the quickest and easiest methods of removing tarnish from complicated and intricate designs like some of our pieces, however, is safe, non-toxic, and easy to do at home. Take a small salad or soup bowl, and push a piece of aluminium foil down into it. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda. Put your silver jewellery into it and pour in some very hot water. You will immediately smell the smell of the sulphur (it’s not a pleasant smell, I’m afraid) and you’ll see the jewellery almost instantly polished. Carefully remove the silver jewellery from the hot water, being careful not to drag the jewellery along the surface of the aluminium foil, and also careful not to scald yourself in the hot water. And then rinse the silver in cool, clean water and pat it dry. This method has been tested on all of our sterling silver jewellery, and is safe, quick, and effective.
If your sterling silver jewellery has gems, you must be a little more cautious, as some gems don’t tolerate heat very well (opals, for instance, are notoriously delicate when it comes to heat). In this case, either hand polishing or cleaning with an ionic (not ultrasonic) cleaner is recommended.