Caring for Your Silver and Gold Jewelry
As a jeweler and metalsmith, I get a lot of questions about what materials I use and how to care for a piece once it has been purchased. I totally understand. When you invest in a piece of jewelry, you want to make sure you are getting good quality materials and that you can care for a piece easily and properly, so it lasts.
What is in my jewelry
All my jewelry is handcrafted from raw materials by me. Most of the pieces are made with 925 silver, or sterling silver, which is 92.5% of pure silver and 7.5% of other metals, generally copper. Sometimes, I also use fine silver, which is 99.9% pure silver. Fine silver is often too soft to use for most designs, which is why I prefer working with sterling. I love that sterling silver has just enough strength but is still malleable. As an artist, it allows me to create movement even in a static piece. Sterling silver will tarnish naturally over time; however, it can be cleaned easily using a polishing cloth (and you can use it to brighten gold as well)..
I also create some pieces in gold or with gold accents; I use only 14, 18, 22 karat gold. I never use plated metals or vermeil. Honestly, if I am going to invest in a piece of jewelry, I want it to be the real deal, and I know most people feel the same way. I love the richness of the gold and the beautiful contrast that exists between gold and silver when they are combined.
How each piece is cared for in the studio
I often give my silver or mixed metal jewelry designs a patina, which will darken the piece or the texture. I do this by oxidizing the metal with liver of sulfur, a liver-colored mixture that contains potassium sulfide, which is used in among other things medicinal ointment, but it also does a lovely job of creating a rich black color on silver. Once applied, I buff the item by hand or with the buffer to pull back a lot of the oxidation while leaving it in the texture or pattern. I recommend using special care with oxidized jewelry designs since the finish can come off with anything abrasive, and your piece will not be the same as when you purchased it. A polishing cloth will lift the tarnish off of the high points without affecting the oxidation in the pattern or textured surface. In addition, I recommend avoiding silver cleaner as well unless you want to remove all oxidation from a piece. Silver cleaner can potentially strip the patina from a patterned surface if you submerge it or brush too hard.
Avoiding things that damage your piece and storing them safely
Caring for your jewelry well also means avoiding contact with chemicals, cleaners, perfume, hairspray, lotions, chlorine, and salt water. These can strip the finish or damage or ruin a gemstone if your jewelry has stones. This also means avoid wearing silver jewelry in a pool or hot tub. A good rule to follow: jewelry goes on last and comes off first.
All jewelry naturally accumulates wear and a change in color over time. Your body chemistry, daily care, and exposure to natural elements can all affect a piece of jewelry. I recommend polishing your jewelry often to keep it clean and store it properly. When I am not wearing my jewelry, I store my pieces in a small plastic bag with a small piece of acid-free paper or a silica packet from a vitamin container or shoe box. This slows or prevents sterling silver from tarnishing/oxidizing. This is also how I store my jewelry designs until they sell. By the way, the paper or silica packet will absorb the moisture and prevent oxidation.
I hope this helps a little and gives you some hints about how to care for your jewelry. In my next blog post, I will share how to get the correct size when ordering a ring online.