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Daily Wire Tip Mar. 24: Siamese Jewelry and Nielloware
Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
March 24, 2011
I have read that Dale does not use a tumbler, but maybe someone else can tell me what happened. I use a tumbler for short periods of time to polish my work and harden jump rings without any problems. I was polishing several pieces of old jewelry, a few at a time in my tumbler – never more than 30 minutes at a time. The last few I was not sure of; they were marked "Siam" with some oxidizing, I thought they were sterling silver. When I opened the tumbler, everything was black with a strong metallic smell. I was using stainless steel shot and a couple of drops of detergent.
I washed everything, but the shot turned dark. I tried to dry it, and it turned my towel black. Can I salvage the shot? I don’t dare try to use it without knowing if it is safe. I think one of the old pieces must have been some strange alloy. I’ll never put anything in a tumbler again if it is not marked, or I do not know what it is made of. How does one clean stainless steel shot?
-Judith in Rock Hall, Maryland
Hi Judith, I may not use a tumbler for my jewelry, but I know a lot of folks who do, and I have done a lot of research on it. In your unusual case, I believe it was the "Siam" jewelry that colored your shot.
The older Siam jewelry pieces are unique in their appearance, because they are made using a very specific combination of skills and materials called Nielloware (link to Google Images search). These items are marked for where the style originated, Siam (which became Thailand in 1939). This lovely jewelry was a popular gift from American servicemen from the 1930s through the 1970s.
Now we come to the materials that are probably the messy culprit. The variety of ingredients can contain sulphides of silver (yes, an anion of sulfur), copper, and lead. Each combination varies according to each artist, so there is no way to know exactly what your individual pieces are made of.
To clean your stainless steel shot, I’d like to direct you to a discussion we had on the tip How to Keep Stainless Shot Free of Residue, because there were some great comments added by our experienced readers.
Answer contributed by Dale "Cougar" Armstrong
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