All You Need To Know About Tarnish

This entry was posted May 8, 2018

Tarnished silver jewellery is something every jeweller will come across at one point or another. Maybe customers will come by to have their tarnished jewellery buffed or polished, or you will need to advise customers on how to prevent tarnish. But what is tarnish, and how can we avoid it from developing?

What is Tarnish?

Tarnish is an oxidisation of silver jewellery, that usually displays as a dull, grey, or black film coating over the jewellery.

Silver tarnish is a form of corrosion, but unlike rust, it does not destroy the underlying metal. Because the tarnishing process only affects the top layers, the tarnished layer itself will ultimately protect the underlying silver.

Tarnish develops as a chemical reaction with air-based components. As the reaction develops, the silver will change colour from a shiny, mirror bright surface, to a yellow sheen, to completely black, depending on how long the process is allowed to continue.

The Chemistry

Tarnish is a result of a chemical reaction between the silver and sulphur-containing substances in the air. The silver from your jewellery combines with sulphur and forms silver sulphide. Silver sulphide is black. When a thin coating of silver sulphide forms on the surface of silver, it darkens the silver. That’s what we call "tarnish".

Everyday Items Cause Tarnish

There is no way to completely protect your silver jewellery from tarnishing because silver reacts with so many different components found in our everyday life, in foods, fluids (tap water!), cosmetics and even clothing. For instance, tarnishing can be accelerated by any chlorine-containing item, acidic components or perfume and hairspray.

Wearing silver jewellery leaves oils from your skin to accumulate on the surface of the jewellery and can predispose it to oxidisation. Even the relatively mild chemicals in our sweat will accelerate the oxidisation, especially when supported by warmth and air.

Avoid Tarnish

As said, it is not possible to completely prevent the tarnishing process. The best way to deal with tarnish is slow the rate in which it develops. Advise your customers to wipe down their silver jewellery after use, as it slows down the process. Advise your customers to avoid wearing silver jewellery when washing up or taking a bath, to remove silver rings while preparing food, and to avoid contact with wool, rubber, and latex items.

In your shop, choose storage solutions that are suitable for storing silver, preferably storage solutions that are air-restricted, as it will greatly diminish the developing of tarnish, due to the limited exposure of the silver to the air.

A low humidity will also help slow the rate with which your silver jewellery will tarnish. If humidity is a problem in your shop, try adding silicate bags to your storage solution, as they reduce the humidity in the air.

 

Remove Tarnish

There are many polishing agents available. Our product range offers both Hagerty’s and Connoisseurs cleaning products to keep your jewellery clean and sparkling. The range contains many different kinds of products, some even with a tarnish-preventing agent.

Polishing Cloths
Polishing cloths are usually gentler and are perfect for removing tarnish in its early phases. The cloths are available with and without special treatment. Finely detailed items are often harder to polish with a cloth, as you cannot reach everywhere.
View our selection of polishing cloths here

Dip Baths
Dipping fluids chemically remove the tarnished layer and will easily and quickly clean your jewellery, but do not offer any protection from tarnish over time.
View our selection of dipping fluids here

Polish
Silver polishes also remove the tarnished layer but do require a bit more work to clean. The biggest benefit of the silver polishes is the tarnish-preventing agent that has been added to these products that will slow the tarnishing process down and protect your jewellery over time.
View our selection of silver polishes here



Only Cheap Silver Tarnishes. Or Does It?

The quality of the silver greatly influences the oxidisation speed of the jewellery. However, as silver is a relatively unstable metal, over time all silver items will tarnish, even pure silver. In general, though, the purer the silver is, the slower the reaction will take place.

 

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Basically, the best thing you can do is advise your customers to properly store and maintain their jewellery and use a silver polish with tarnish preventative.

In your shop, you can create optimal storage conditions that will reduce the speed with which tarnish will develop, but unfortunately, there is no such thing as completely tarnish-free silver jewellery

Make sure you use the right packaging for your jewellery and choose Westpack jewellery boxes, pouches, and bag. Use Westpack jewellery displays and display trays to slow down the tarnishing process of your silver jewellery exposed to air, in your counter or shop window.

 

What Does Westpack Do to Prevent Tarnish?

We know that it is not possible to completely prevent tarnish. We have over 60 years of experience in developing, designing, and manufacturing jewellery packaging and display material. Imagine how many different materials and manufacturing processes we have tested during those years! We now know exactly which materials to use and to avoid, as to not accelerate the tarnishing process.

In case of premature tarnishing, the packaging is often to blame for accelerating the process, as your jewellery generally spends a quite a bit of time snugly packed in its box. Packaging may contain tarnish accelerating chemicals and cause your jewellery to blacken within just 24 hours! Use Westpack’s packaging to ensure you will never have to deal with a situation like this.

We have our own testing facilities to ensure our products do not cause your silver items to tarnish. We test both the materials and the finished products before mass production, to be sure that our products do not contain tarnish-accelerating chemicals. We also regularly check existing products to ensure they are up to our high quality standards.

The testing is done by stress testing the items in a warm environment with high humidity, to “provoke”, or catalyse a reaction.

The test takes 3-7 days, depending on the product. We work closely together with our well-established, long-term suppliers in Asia and Europe, to make sure that only the right materials are used in the manufacturing of Westpack products.

You can rest assured that when you buy our jewellery boxes, jewellery displays, trays, bags, pouches, or any of our other products that come in direct contact with your jewellery, these products will not contain tarnish-accelerating chemicals.

Therefore, if you use Westpack packaging, your customer will never have to return to your shop with a piece of silver jewellery that has blackened in its packaging.

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