How do I care for my Oxidized Silver or 14K Gold Vermeil pieces?
Both oxidized silver and 14K gold vermeil pieces have undergone a special surface treatment and they must be handled differently that regular silver or gold. Never use any abrasive methods to clean these pieces, (including jewelry cloths!) as these will remove the surface treatment all together. The best way to care for these pieces is to rub them gently with a soft cloth (cotton jersey is great) lengthwise in one direction. If they remain dull or have residue on them you can first soak them in warm soapy water and gently go over the area with your fingers and then pat dry thouroughly (never rub). Over time with frequent wear, the surface treatment will wear and take on a patina which some people love, as it gives a unique character to each piece. However any piece can easily and affordably be brought back to its original look by re-doing the surface treatment process. If you are interested in having this process re-done feel free to contact me!
What is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver is an alloy (mixture) of silver containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper, but several other metals are also used depending upon the ultimate use. Fine silver (99.9% pure) is generally too soft for use in many jewelry applications; therefore, silver is usually alloyed with other metals to give strength while preserving the ductility of the metal.
Why does Silver Tarnish?
As the copper alloy present in Sterling Silver reacts with oxygen and moisture in the air, it forms the compound silver sulfide, commonly referred to as silver tarnish, an inevitable characteristic of Sterling Silver. It appears as a grayish/brownish discoloration on the surface of the metal; it can also make the metal appear dull, and is caused by the copper in the metal undergoing a process known as oxidation. Certain preventative measures however are very effective in reducing the appearance of tarnish or in slowing down the process altogether.
Sterling silver should be stored away from moisture and oxygen and excess contact with water should be avoided (remove before showering and swimming if possible). Moisturizers, perfumes, hair and body products will also hasten the tarnishing process so it is best to apply those before your jewelry. Skin chemistry can the also be the culprit in a piece that is tarnishing quickly, this can't really be avoided but is not generally harmful and does not indicate a problem with the metal. If silver is exposed to certain chemicals, i.e. cleaning products or pool chlorine, it may cause the entire surface to turn black and will require abrasive polishing to remove (usually by a professional). Always remove your silver pieces if you will come in contact with any such chemicals. Try as you might, sterling will tarnish but don't worry; there are numerous methods to remove it quickly and easily. Here are some of my recommended solutions. Start by cleaning the piece first with some warm soapy water and drying with a soft cloth, followed by one of the methods outlined below.
This is generally the safest and easiest way to remove tarnish and can be used to polish almost any metal without harming delicate stones. The cloths actually contain a polishing compound within the fibers, so avoid getting them wet and they should never be washed (washing them would remove the polishing compound). They will eventually turn dark but will continue to work despite this. Depending upon the frequency of use they can last for several years.
Liquid Cleaning Solutions
These solutions are fantastic when used to clean chains and other more intricate pieces that can be difficult to polish with a cloth (i.e., pieces with prongs, filigree, etc.). Exercise caution when using the liquid on a piece with stones! Transparent faceted stones are generally safe but never use with organic or porous materials such as amber, coral, turquoise or pearls. I recommend avoiding contact with any stones all together and just using the solution on the metal surfaces (a Q-tip can come in handy for this). Never leave any piece submerged for longer than a minute (it should only take a few seconds to remove tarnish), it can cause the metal to discolor and require professional cleaning. I also recommend following up with a quick swipe with the polishing cloth for extra shine.
One of my favorite ways to both clean and polish is a brass brush. It removes tarnish and will also restore the luster to metal more effectively than a cloth or liquid and is one of the few ways to bring oxidized pieces back to life. Things to keep in mind with a brass brush: only use ones that are approved for jewelry, I prefer the smaller ones. Aim for a brush with fine rather than coarse bristles, use with rubber gloves under water with a drop of liquid soap. On oxidized pieces, use a very light touch, brush gently in one direction and don't scrub. I have never had a problem using the brass brush with stones or beads but exercise caution on anything you deem delicate.
There are many more ways to clean silver but in my many years of polishing silver these are just the ones I prefer. A general note, always check to make sure that the method you use is appropriate for jewelry and for the specific metal you are cleaning (i.e. polish for silverware will remove tarnish from your jewelry, but that doesn't mean it is the best way). If you need any recommendations on specific brands I use and where to locate them, or if you have any further questions on anything jewelry related, please feel free to contact me.
Hope this ensures you will enjoy your jewelry for years to come!