Everything You Need to Know About Tarnish

This entry was posted June 12, 2024

What is tarnish?

As a jeweler, you will undoubtedly encounter tarnished silver during your career. But what is tarnish exactly, and how can you minimize the risk of it affecting jewelry?

When jewelry tarnishes, there is an oxidation process occurring on the silver, which typically manifests as the piece becoming dull, matte, and gray – possibly even nearly black.

Tarnishing involves a form of etching on the jewelry, but unlike rust, tarnish does not destroy the underlying metal. In fact, when jewelry tarnishes, this oxidation process can actually help protect the underlying metal.

Tarnish develops through a chemical reaction with airborne components. As the reaction progresses, silver changes color from shiny and reflective to dull yellowish or gray, and eventually black, depending on how long the process is allowed to continue.

The chemistry behind it

Tarnish is the result of a chemical reaction between silver and sulfur-containing substances in the air, which together form silver sulfide, a black compound. When a thin layer of silver sulfide forms on the silver surface, it tarnishes the silver, making it dull and dark.

Everyday items cause tarnish.

It's not possible to protect your silver jewelry completely from tarnish because silver reacts with many different substances. For example, silver can react to foods, liquids, cosmetics, hairspray, perfume, clothing, and even something as simple as tap water.

When wearing silver jewelry, oils from the skin accumulate on the surface of the jewelry, contributing to an increased risk of tarnishing. Even relatively mild chemicals in sweat can accelerate the tarnishing process, especially when supported by heat and air.

This is how you avoid tarnish.

As mentioned, there's no way to completely protect your silver jewelry from tarnish. The best approach is to slow down the process, and here's where you can take action in the store – and in guiding your customers.

In your store, it's a good idea to:

  • - Choose air-restricting storage, such as zip-lock bags
  • - Ensure low humidity, for example, by using discreet silica gel packets in your storage.


Guide your customers. Tell them it's a good idea to:

  • - Wipe the silver jewelry after use.
  • - Avoid wearing silver jewelry when washing dishes or taking a shower.
  • - Remove the silver jewelry while cooking.
  • - Avoid contact with wool, rubber, and latex.


Only cheap silver tarnishes—or does it?

The quality of silver greatly affects the speed of the oxidation process. However, since silver is a relatively unstable metal, all silver will tarnish over time. Generally, though, purer silver will undergo the reaction more slowly.

We recommend

A little prevention is worth it in the long run.

We recommend advising your customers to ensure proper storage (as airtight as possible) and regular maintenance, including polishing or buffing, of their silver jewelry using products that prevent tarnishing.

At the same time, we recommend creating the optimal environment for your silver jewelry in your store, with minimal handling and low humidity. Ensure you use the right packaging for your jewelry. At Westpack, we continuously test both jewelry boxes and pouches, cases, and displays for tarnishing.

What does Westpack do to prevent tarnishing?

We know it's not possible to completely prevent tarnishing, but with over 60 years of experience in developing, designing, and manufacturing jewelry packaging and display materials, we have tested a wide range of materials and processes. Therefore, we know exactly which materials to use and which to avoid in order to slow down the tarnishing process.

When it comes to premature tarnishing, it's often the packaging in which the jewelry has been stored that accelerates the tarnishing process. Some materials in the packaging can actually expedite tarnish development. In fact, such materials can cause precious metal jewelry stored in this type of packaging to show visible tarnish within just 24 hours. Therefore, we recommend using Westpack's packaging.

At Westpack, we continuously stress-test all packaging and presentation materials that come into contact with jewelry at our own testing facilities. This ensures that our products do not cause tarnishing.

Prior to each production run, we test both the finished product and the associated raw materials individually. This ensures that our packaging is free from unnecessary tarnish-promoting substances.

Our tests last for 3-7 days depending on the product, conducted under high humidity and high heat in large ovens. Additionally, we work closely with our trusted suppliers to procure raw materials, ensuring only suitable materials are used in productions both in Asia and Europe.

In other words, when you purchase your jewelry packaging—or any other product intended to come into direct contact with your jewelry—from Westpack, these products will be free from unnecessary tarnish-promoting substances. Therefore, with packaging from Westpack, you can be sure that your customer will never return to your store with a silver piece that has turned black due to the packaging.


Posted in: Tips & Tricks
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