I must admit I was extremely skeptical about using a Silver Jewelry Polishing Cloth to shine up tarnished silver items. However, we recently found this Connoisseurs Ultrasoft cloth at The Container Store for about 5 bucks so we decided to give it a shot.
First, why even bother with a cloth? Well, if you’re a jewelry designer and you work with standard silver, tarnishing is definitely going to be a problem. This is especially true for those designers who are constrained by working conditions to make a number of jewelry pieces in advance before they are ordered. For instance, at Bellaceti, we always try to have at least 2 of each item already made so that when someone buys something there isn’t such a huge delay if we don’t have time to make the piece right away. We try our best to prevent it, but a little tarnishing always occurs for pre-made items.
Many people make jewelry “to-order” and if so this won’t be such an issue for you. However, this is also something to consider for people who buy jewelry. I think a lot of people who don’t buy jewelry often are surprised at how fast the silver from tarnish. For my own experiments, depending on the humidity, weather and other environmental factors, I’ve found that silver findings left out in normal conditions can tarnish in as little as 1 to 2 weeks.
I’m not going to get into the exact chemical reactions (not that I could, I nearly failed Chemistry) that occur, but basically when any type of silver is left out it eventually starts to react with the air and forms oxides on its surface. This leads to silver jewelry turning a “gold”-ish color almost like brass. The best way to try and prevent silver from oxidizing so quickly is to minimize its contact with the air.
Update April 08: A chemistry person recently told me the following regarding the oxidation mentioned. Here it is paraphrased: “It is sulfides of silver instead of oxides. Air pollution causes silver sulfide, which is what gives the goldish tone. Oxides are rust mostly, by the way.”
I find that placing putting it away in a container like a jewelry box helps some and if it’s airtight then all the better. What works even better is to get small non-reactive ziploc bags and seal jewelry in it. For our supply of silver findings I like to double bag (or even triple bag) things. This really seems to help slow the tarnishing down. I have also heard that keeping a tiny strip of aluminum foil in the bag helps with slowing it down. Again, I wish I had the chemical knowledge to talk about this… someone correct me if I’m wrong. I believe it has something to do with the reactivity of the aluminum versus that of silver, that the aluminum acts as a sacrificial so it tend to tarnish first before the silver.