About Sterling Silver

Everything you ever wanted to know about STERLING SILVER :)

Sterling silver is a metal alloy comprised of .925 fine silver.  The remaining percentage is usually copper.  When you see a piece of jewelry stamped '.925' or 'STERLING' by law it is solid sterling silver.  There is no nickel in the alloy of sterling silver I use.  Commercially manufactured sterling jewelry is usually plated with the metal rhodium to provide a bright white color, cover solder seams, and act as an anti-tarnish barrier.  (I do not plate my jewelry, because of the chemicals and studio space involved.

All sterling silver tarnishes over time.  It is an unfortunate fact of life, but is easy to manage.  Tarnish usually builds up on the surface of the metal as it is exposed to air and the environment.  Certain environments can cause it to occur faster (high sulfur areas, coastal areas with saltwater, etc.)  

The best way to prevent tarnish is to store your jewelry in a small zip lock bag, or an anti-tarnish bag.  If you wear your jewelry it also tends to prevent tarnish from building up on the surface.  For example, if you are wearing a ring regularly it will constantly be rubbing against various surfaces (door knobs, plates, clothing, phone, etc) and that prevents the tarnish from being able to accumulate on the surface.

When you are wearing your sterling silver, do be aware that some chemicals can cause the metal to discolor.  Pool chemicals, bleach, and cleaning supplies are notorious for causing sterling silver to discolor.  Cosmetics such as perfumes and lotions can also have an effect.  Often the discoloration is black in color.  Luckily these discolorations are only on the surface (just like tarnish.)

To clean your sterling silver I recommend using a polishing cloth on any items that have oxidized (darkened) lettering.  This allows you to give the surface of the jewelry a shiny finish, while at the same time not removing the oxidation in the letters.  Liquid dip style jewelry cleaners are great for chains or pieces made only of sterling.  Be aware that some of these solutions are too harsh for gemstones, pearls, and glass.  They also can remove the oxidation from the lettering on stamped pieces.  Be sure to read the label first, so that your jewelry is not damaged by the cleaning solution.  This blog post  talks about how to clean my posey rings.

Most people can wear sterling without issue, however some people do have a skin sensitivity to it.  In those situations the wearer will usually see the sterling silver metal turn black, and/or will see a black mark on their skin.  The black mark on the metal will easily wipe off of the surface with a polishing cloth, and the mark left on the wearers skin is harmless and will come off with soap and water.  

Sensitivity to sterling silver comes down to body chemistry.  Some medications, high acidity diets, or changes in hormones can cause an individual to react with sterling silver.  Sometimes it only lasts for a few months, other times an individual might be born with a sensitivity that lasts throughout their life.  If you find that you are reacting to the sterling silver you can try applying a clear lacquer (such as clear fingernail polish) to coat the metal and act as a barrier between the metal and your skin.  Having your sterling silver plated with rhodium can also be effective.  (Be aware that the lacquer and plating will both need to be reapplied as they wear off over time.)