Daily Wire Tip Mar. 24: Siamese Jewelry and Nielloware

By on March 23, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
March 24, 2011

Question:

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

Answer:

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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6 Comments

  1. avatar

    Cathy Sizer

    March 24, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Great information, Dale…I am selling my dear departed mother in law’s jewelry and she has a piece of the “Siam” jewelry and it reminded me of a ring I had a long time ago made from the same materials. How interesting to find a discussion about this very topic!! Thanks, I read these posts every day with great interest..Cathy

  2. avatar

    Helen

    March 24, 2011 at 9:47 am

    oxidized jewelry can discolor everything tumbled with it, even the shot. coca cola can be used to not only clean the shot but the discolored jewelry as well. use diet coke so you don’t have to deal with the sticky sugar. rinse all well after cleaning.

  3. avatar

    Judy

    March 24, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I don’t tumble my jewelry after a total disaster with hematite cabs. Using stainless steel shot, I ended up with dings and cracks in the hematite that spoiled the entire lot of mirror-finish hematite cabs.

  4. avatar

    Lila

    March 24, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Judith,

    Try cleaning the shot, in the tumbler, by itself, with Dawn dish soap, but use more than a few drops. Probably a good squirt or two. Then let the tumbler run for a long time, for 3 – 4 hours at least but it could be as long as 24 hours. You may want to check it after 4 hours to see if there is improvement. I am not familiar with “Siam” jewelry or the coating, but the above method might just work. It works to clean shot in general. It certainly can’t hurt! Good luck!

  5. avatar

    Dharlee

    March 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    The break down of the rubber of the tumbler barrel can also cause items to turn black. This will produce a smell generally that smells like tires. The black substance is very hard to clean at that point and can cause your items to blacken. A really good tumbler brand, particularly the Lortone is the best brand to use. Some tumblers barrels are not made with the same rubber they use and will really cause you problems. also be careful not to use acidic products ever in your tumbler barrel and these will cause the rubber to start to break down over time.

  6. avatar

    lynn rossman

    March 25, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Siam silver jewelry is no longer being made. It is considered vintage and quite collectible. The unique beauty of Siam silver jewelry is the Nielloware. To maintain it’s collectibility, this should not be removed. I thoroughly enjoy the pieces I have in my collection, and I hope others do also.
    I hope that Judith’s tumbler can be restored with a heavy-duty Dawn treatment.

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