Daily Wire Tip: Commercial Jewelry and Tarnish

By on November 2, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

I get so many questions about tarnish. Why doesn’t the jewelry in commercial jewelry stores tarnish (for instance, my wedding ring) if they are made out of the same sterling silver and gold as our wire?

-Danette in Brush Prairie, Washington

Answer:

Danette, if you mean your wedding ring is white gold, the reason it does not tarnish is due to the fact that all commercial white gold has been heavily electro-plated with a metal such as rhodium (see What is White Gold).

It has been my personal experience that all commercial sterling silver will eventually tarnish as well. The tarnish just takes a bit more time to appear, as each commercially-made piece of sterling silver jewelry has been treated with a special coating or tarnish shield.

There is one specific strong product that I have used personally; however, it is quite dangerous to use. Do an Internet search for “tarnish shield” to investigate the choices available.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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40 Comments

  1. avatar

    Danette

    November 3, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Thank you so much for answering my question! I did do a search for “tarnish shield” and found a super great article.

    Tarnish is the bane of my business. I’ve had people ask if the pieces will tarnish and then walk away when I try to explain that ANY true sterling or copper or even gold will tarnish over time unless it’s stored and kept well. I’ve even had a customer send her jewelry back to me after it tarnished and said she didn’t want it anymore. ugh It seems to me that people want an experience that doesn’t include them taking care of their own possessions. It can be discouraging. I appreciate having a forum to get answers like here at Wire-Sculpture!!

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      November 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

      You are welcome Danette – glad I could help!
      Dale

  2. avatar

    DeLane

    November 3, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Danette, if you have ever watched a jewelry counter being filled at store opening, you will see that just about every piece is polished as it is placed in the case. Therefore, it shines. No tarnish allowed!

  3. avatar

    Brenda Gordon

    November 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    There is one specific product that I have used personally; however, it is quite dangerous to use. Do an Internet search for “tarnish shield” to investigate the choices available

    I would like to know what you used and why it was dangerous. I looked on the Internet for the tarnish shield and found polishes but nothing looked dangerous or lasting.

    Am I missing something.
    Brenda

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      November 3, 2010 at 5:39 pm

      Brenda, I just did a Google search for ‘tarnish shield’ and came up with several products. The one I mention, Midas, is dangerous because the fumes are extremely toxic.

  4. avatar

    Dharlee

    November 3, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    What about Argentium? Does that tarnish at a slower rate, or not at all?

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      November 3, 2010 at 5:41 pm

      Dharlee, Argentium takes a very long time to show any type of tarnish or patina – which is usually a slight blonde color that can be wiped off with a piece of lint free cloth.

  5. avatar

    Jim Seaberg

    November 3, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Why not just use clear fingernail polish. As a former gun smith I know of a coating for guns but it is not really easily adapted, you have to heat the metal in hot water hot enough to flash dry then dip the piece in the solution.

  6. avatar

    Barbara

    November 3, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I wear two silver rings and while they acquire the prettiest patina colours from the sulphur in our well water every time I have a shower, they quickly go back to being shiny just from daily wear.

    Tell your customers to wear their jewellery to help keep it tarnish-free. They didn’t buy it just to look at, did they?

    For chains and whatnot that I sell and which sit out all the time and over time do start to discolour, I’ve been using one of those dip gem & jewellery cleaners, which works just fine. I have to get a different type for pearls, though. I’m looking at eventually buying one of those machines to clean pearl and turquoise jewellery as those are the stones I use almost exclusively now and I have too much stuff to be cleaning pieces one or two at a time.

  7. avatar

    John

    November 3, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Rhoduim plate is very seldom used on white gold unless the manufacturer wishes to enhance the whiteness of the piece. On a ring it will wear off quickly. Sometimes a white gold piece will have a yellow hue too it because the piece is made with yellow gold and nickle and the yellow gold causes the hue. A cleaning and polishing will usuallly make it white again. Manufacturers are now using a new white gold which hold the color better. Rhodium is also used by domestic manufacturers on sterling silver. Most sterling silver imported is natural sterling silver and will tarnish is place near anything containing acids. After a piece is finished it can be rhodium plated to keep it from tarnishing. Wire should be rhodium plated after being formed. You can also use the rhodium plating on other base metals. 3m has an antitarnish paper to keep in a jewelry box to retard tarnishing. Hope this helps.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      November 3, 2010 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks for the update John.

    • avatar

      Chrissi

      November 27, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      someone told me a lot of commercial sterling jewellery has been rhodium plated for quite a few years now thing is if you need to repair it obviously the plate comes off and the natural silver is then open to the air and so will tarnish – how would a small scale jeweller replate this?

  8. avatar

    Dorothy

    November 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    This was a really good question, because I’ve been wondering the same thing seeing that I just started to work with finer metals such as silver. Thank you for all the great answers ! Now I know too.

  9. avatar

    Unkamengifts

    November 5, 2010 at 9:13 am

    It is the copper content in sterling silver that causes the tarnishing.
    There are many possible reasons for the shiny jewelry in the window! Yes, the employees all have polishing cloths, but there are a number of other possibilities. There are many anti tarnishing products; cubes, papers and cloths that are treated with chemicals and placed in the display case. They may also be stored overnight in specially treated baggies. The pieces may have been plated in fine silver, or as mentioned above, they may be my favorite material, Argentium Sterling Silver which is sterling silver that has had germanium added to it. It not only inhibits tarnish but can be heat hardened and it does not produce firescale. Wikipedia has more info about Argentium.

  10. avatar

    Jenna Lokey

    November 5, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I write a personal note in each piece I ship or deliver for them to buy a jewelers cloth at their local hobby shop, I personally store each piece in a baggie with a silica packet or capsule found in shoes, purses, etc that you purchase, or vitamins & medications contain the capsules. My husband deals with alot of wire in his business and brings home handfuls of silica capsules. I keep them also in my bags of wire, and other metal findings.

  11. avatar

    Joni Stinson

    November 6, 2010 at 9:09 am

    I sold a sterling silver watch I had made to a customer at Pow Wow. I instructed her on its proper maintenance to keep tarnish to a minimum. However, she brings it to me at each Pow Wow to polish for her. It only takes a minute or two and I’m happy to do it for her. She is happy with the product and I get to re-visit it about three times a year.

  12. avatar

    Robyn

    November 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    There are two products that can help prevent tarnish, both available through archival supply stores like Carr McLean. Archivists and museum conservators use them to help preserve silver items in their collections.

    The first is Pacific Silvercloth. Cut off a small piece and store it with your jewellery, sew it into pouches, etc. It will absorb the sulphur compounds in the air that tarnish and patina silver.

    The other is called Renaissance Wax. It both polishes silver and becomes a clear coating that protects it from further tarnish.

    Personally, I`m very surprised that more jewellery suppliers don`t carry these products. They really work like a charm.

  13. avatar

    Kathy

    November 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    This is a wonderful article. This subject has haunted me for way too long.
    Thanks

  14. avatar

    Debo

    November 8, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Dale et al – I purchased Tarnish Shield in a gallon jug from another supplier and have yet to use it. I’m scared now from what’s been said here and from the info they give on the label. The instructions aren’t just dip and dry like I thought from what I’ve previously read. I’m giving the label info and use instructions here to help others interested in this product. Had I known all this, I probably wouldn’t have bought it! I could still return it as it’s unopened, but wanted input first from other readers.
    The label says:
    “Keeps silver, gold, silver-plated, and gold plated item free from discoloration and oxidation with this invisible protective coating. Provides a longer shelf life. Safe for stones.
    DANGER POISON! Contains Perchloroethylene, which is toxic. Use in a well ventilated area. Use a respirator. Avoid contact with skin. Wear gloves, and goggles. (They further give First Aid instructions for eye or skin contact, inhalation or ingestion.

    DIRECTIONS: The following recommended procedure produces an oxidation resistant, sparking finish. Hold parts with a tweezer or a basket to avoid fingerprints.
    1.Clean parts in an ultrasonic cleaner or with a soft brush and soap to remove any polishing compound.
    2.Rinse parts under running tap water.
    3.Dip parts in acid dip or pickle
    4.Rinse in running tap water.
    5.Immerse in Tarnish Shield for 10 minutes.
    6.Rinse in warm running tap water.
    7.Rinse in de-ionized or distilled water, and air dry.

    WHEW!!!! I thought this would be an easy answer to the tarnish problem, but was I wrong! I’d sure appreciate if someone who has used this PLEASE reply with their experience and advice on if I REALLY have to use the acid dip or pickle, which I don’t have and have never used. I also don’t have an ultrasonic cleaner. Up to now I’ve been dipping my sterling and silver-plated jewelry in the liquid silver cleaner you can buy anywhere and rinsing. Pearls and soft stones I clean with cleaning cloths. I’d love to just put the cleaned jewelry in the Tarnish Shield without having to use acid dip or pickle, but would like feedback on whether or not this is critical to the success of the product. The product said it’s safe for stones, but is the acid dip and pickle safe for pearls and stones?

    Also, FYI – due to the tarnish problems and the always increasing costs of sterling and Argentium, I’ve switched to Artistic Wire Silver-plated Non-tarnish copper wires for wrapping. It handles wonderfully well, is inexpensive and has the look of sterling.

    Thanks too Dale for all the wonderful info available in this site. I have learned soooooooooo much!
    Debo in Cincy

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      November 9, 2010 at 12:39 am

      Hi Debo,
      Yes, several members of the Wire Sculpture Faculty and I use this tarnish shield and no, we do not pickle or acid dip anything as we do not solder : ) We all use an ionic cleaner to make sure there is nothing on the item and let it air dry overnight. Then proceed with the rest of the directions. (Oh, and it is safe on opals, emeralds and pearls.) Although we all have different schedules and live in different parts of the country, we all seem to do this about 2 or 3 times a year, when we have full batches of new pieces to prepare (usually anywhere from 50 to 100 or more items). In this way we use the product to its fullest and although it takes a few days per batch – you get what you work for : )

      And thanks for your appreciative comments!
      Dale

      • avatar

        Peggy Powers

        October 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm

        Thank you Dale for your response. Now I think I’ll try to find it and use it. It sounds like an all purpose product, especially if it’s safe for stones as well.
        -Peggy

  15. avatar

    yotababy

    January 26, 2012 at 8:16 am

    I love your site, I don’t often comment because I’m really new to making my own wire jewelry, however, I have strung beads, gems, etc for awhile.

    I love the color of silver, Over the years I have learned to put my most prized silver jewelry in ziplock bags. I have found that when they do not come in daily contact with the air and other metals in my jewelry box I do not have to polish them everytime I want to wear them. Also, by being in a ziplock bag all the pieces in the set are together and I don’t have to hunt for a piece I want to wear.

    Thanks for your site, its has been very helpful to me and my friend over the past two years I joined.

  16. avatar

    Cathie Delgado

    January 26, 2012 at 8:21 am

    I am just learning wire wrapping and only make it for myself and my family, but this made me think about what I use for my silver Victorian tea set, serving pieces, and flatware.

    Pacific silvercloth is great and the small packs of treated paper also work well. The best thing is to seal the item in plastic bags when not using to reduce air contact. When I had a Paul Revere bowl refinished I was told that if I display my pieces to put a few pieces of blackboard chalk around and that will help prevent tarnishing! Probably works like the silica gel packs, which I have begun hoarding. :)

    The absolute best polishing and tarnish removing product I have found (and I have tried A LOT) is Maas Metal Polish. It can be used on all metals, not just silver. Their web site is
    http://www.maasinc.com

  17. avatar

    Sasha C

    January 26, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Dale, No one has mentioned “Intercept”. It is safe and inexpensive. The Smithsonian Museum uses it….good recommendation for me.
    It does not remove tarnish…but keeps finished pieces tarnish free. I package a 1×1 inch square with every piece I store or sell. One square protects 36cu inches for one year.

  18. avatar

    Judy Coppeland

    January 26, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Hello Dale,
    So appreciative of this information. A few months ago researched this topic online and came up witha company called Everbright and purchased a Metal polish called Maas for all Metals. Have used this on both silver, brass and gold and works great so far. Also in the order aquired a prodoct called Protecta Clear Coating. Still haven’t used the Protecta Clear, as you need to clean your pieces first with a polish then with a soloution mixture of 1 cup of soda mixed with 1 gallon of water then eylene or denatured alcohol let dry and start the application of the coating.
    Understand this is a toxit coating and needs venelation. I am a bit caucious yet about using it. This is why I’am asking if anyone has used these products and what has been their results with this Product from Everbrite especially the coating. As I mentioned love the Metal Metal Polish works well as long as I have been using it. If anyone has used this would like responses of how the coating has lasted after they gave or sold it to customers.

    Thank You for this wonderful topic as I too have wondered about this tarnish issue, as the sample pieces I keep from a few years back are now tarnishing made from gold craft wire,and jeweler’s brass. Oh by the way has anyone used this product on the Argutium wire, or should you use any kind of coating on this wire and what would you recomend.

    Thanks So Very Much,

    Judy Copeland

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 29, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Judy, I can only respond with personal knowledge here. I have only used Protecta Clear on unpolished stones, dried flowers, pastel drawings and sea shells.
      No, in my opinion you do not have to coat Argentium with anything as one of its special properties is that it is tarnish resistant. I live in a very humid area and have been using Argentium wire since 2005. I have purposely left pieces sitting on a shelf in my studio for years, waiting to see if it will tarnish. The only negative result was that immediately next to the wraps, the construction wires occasionally turn a very pale blonde color, that easily rubs away by using a piece of cotton – no polish necessary.

  19. avatar

    Nathalie

    January 26, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Thank you Debo for the details and directions on Tarnish Shield. Living in the North West, my jewelry is plagued with tarnish constantly and I have been looking high and low for a long lasting solution that has been tried and true. Thanks to Dale’s feedback, I will now be able to use a product that will protect my pieces.

  20. avatar

    Susan

    January 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    As Robyn mentioned, Renaissance Wax does seem to protect from tarnish for several months and perhaps jewelers use this on their sterling silver jewelry, I don’t know. Currently, I do use Argentium wire almost exclusively and I have never had a complaint from past customers about tarnish. However, I do have a question about Argentium.

    I have read about Argentium on several older blogs and forums (from about 2009) and folks on those were saying that you need to heat treat your wire in the oven prior to use in order to “activate” the anti-tarnish properties. Has anyone else heard or read about this? Is this necessary, or has the manufacture of Argentium changed since then, so that heat treating doesn’t have to be done? I’ve never tried heat treating my wire, so I’m just curious.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 29, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      Hi Susan, yes I have also read and spoken with folks who insist that you have to heat Argentium to release the non-tarnish properties. Personally I have been working with Argentium wire since 2005. I have never heated it and it does not tarnish black or gray like sterling does. So, the choice would be yours :)

  21. avatar

    Audrey Greenwell

    January 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Thanks so much for this blog of info on the non-tarnish liquid mentioned above. I was looking for something to use as well and am glad to see the ins and outs of using Tarnish Shield. I have not used anything other than Argentinium, but now can see a method that will work with me.

  22. avatar

    Moraima Annandsingh

    January 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I think this is the fear of every jeweller,because we want to sell our products but some time stay to long in our hands and start to tarnish. I had use pickle while at school, but we had to put it under the torch first and then in it, but it is difficult to find here in Trinidad. I had use the cleaning cloth, but since I learn about fingernail polish I started to use it, the only thing is that I used it in chains and the chains got stiff, so funny, so I don’t know what to use on chain, I think I will have to buy the tarnish shield that the friends are speaking about.
    Thank you, I benefited also

    Moraima

  23. avatar

    Cairenn

    January 27, 2012 at 4:14 am

    Silver cloth can also be bought at many fabric stores, such as JoAnns and Hancocks. It will be in the area where the interfacings are sold. It is sold by the yard. I have cut pieces of it to use in the trays in my jewelry case.

    I have a folding earring display that I use at shows and a piece of silver cloth goes in between the sides.

  24. avatar

    Judy Coppeland

    February 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Thank you Dale for your information on Protecta Clear, and Argetium wire and the tarnish issue. This is the first time using Argetium wire for a friend who is very allergic to any type of wire even gold filled and like others has to wear white gold. Did assure her that Agetium would be a nice alternative and have sent her all the information from you about the Nickle in other metals causing allergic reactions and assured her of the purity of Argetium Sterling Silver.

    It is so interesting just when you need information on certian topics seems like everyone out there is on the same wave link wondering what to do.

    My goodness this site is so helpful, and thanks to you and your staff keeping us in the know on these topics.

    Judy

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      February 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

      We are happy to help – Judy :) So pleased your friend will be able to wear your lovely work.

  25. avatar

    Wilma Hughes

    March 15, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Hi Dale and all on the blog. I am a new wire artist and am investigating polishing ways. I have purchased the Renaissance Wax and from what I have read it seems that It will do the trick. My question is how would I use it on wire, before wrapping or after the piece is done. Also for maintenance, does it build up or come off when you apply a new layer.
    Thankyou to all who respond

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      March 16, 2012 at 6:06 am

      Hi Wilma, most folks prepare their wire before they create a design, especially when incorporating stones and/or beads. After the wire has been coated, you shouldn’t have to “re-coat” it so there is no problem with any type of build-up.

  26. avatar

    christine

    July 15, 2012 at 5:16 am

    Hi just to share something I got told a while back and have been useing it eversince.Before i take my jewellery to any shows I am doing i give it all gold filled,sterling silver with toothpaste and a very soft toothbrush I brush the toothpaste onto the jewellery then rince it off under hot water I then dry it with a soft cloth and i have loverly shinning jewellery to display.It works very well on anything that is very tarnished i used it on a sterling silver chain that was very nearly black with tarnish it took a few goes but I got it back to a very nice shine just thought it might help some people regards Christine

  27. avatar

    Janet Knight

    August 9, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Hi All,
    This is the first time I have replied, but I read all the time and find the info and blogs so helpful. I make copper and silver jewellery, and resell some I get from Thailand. I searched the web and found people suggesting Mop & Glo floor polish, and liquid Nu Finish car polish. I have tried both for only a few months with mixed results.

    First I cleaned my tarnished jewellery by dipping in Tarn-x (does anyone know of a better dip?) I tried baking a hot soda and salt mixture that eventually worked with scrubbing with a toothbrush.

    Nu Finish
    This product, a medium thick white liquid, actually removes a lot of tarnish that Tarn-x leaves behind – my cloth gets black from it. I did a chain for a friend who turns any silver, including Argentium, black within 5 days of wearing it. She is delighted that, after a month, this chain is not reacting to her skin in any way. I cleaned some almost black silver-plated trays and teapot, then used Nu Finish. It removed a lot of tarnish that the Tarn-x left behind, and gave a beautiful shine. The silver is still tarnish free and beautiful after 2 months. I did some chains that, although marked 925, I think are plated because I got brown tarnish on the chains as well as black (anyone have info on this?) The Nu Finish made them look great, but within a week they had the brown and black back. The tarnish also returned quickly to some 925 pendants and not to others. I don’t know why. I like this product because it is quite easy to get all of it off and leaves a great shine.

    Mop & Glo
    This is a thin liquid, so I dipped jewellery. I don’t like it very well because it leaves a slightly sticky residue, especially on chains, so stopped using it. But tried again on jewellery other than chains that the tarnish returned on after the Nu Finish, but not happy with results and will not be using it.

    A person mentioned clear nail polish. I have used this in my mosaic work on shells and it is great for that, but I wouldn’t put it on jewellery – coat is too thick. Sally Hansen Hard as Nails is superior to any other brand.

    Question – What kind of toothpaste works best? There are so many kinds at different prices.

    I am awaiting my order of Renaissance wax from England.

  28. avatar

    Chris

    April 5, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Walmart sells an awesome silver dip cleaner in their jewelry department. It doesn’t smell very good, but if you dip and then rinse in water, it is not a problem. It seems to be very gentle. I have used it for years.

  29. avatar

    Elaine

    November 14, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Good old fashioned chalk also works well as a tarnish inhibitor. I put a small piece in with my silver in a sealable plastic bag and it’s months before I have to polish anything. Chalk (I always get white) is incredibly cheap, btw. The reason it works is tarnish is caused by acid and oxidation in the air. Chalk is what’s known as a base in chemistry, which counteracts acid.

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