Tarnish, the arch nemesis of the jeweler, cannot be stopped necessarily, but it can be slowed down. For jewelers and wearers alike, tarnish prevention should be embraced as a part of caring for and wearing of your jewelry collection.
Tarnish is a chemical reaction that occurs on the top surface of some metals, including copper, brass, bronze, silver and other like metals. Tarnish causes metal to become dull and dark, replacing the shiny polished surface jewelers work so hard to achieve. Depending on the metal substrate, it can appear in a range of colors, from a pale yellow to black.
Sometimes tarnish can be a good thing; yes you heard correctly—tarnish CAN be a good thing. It protects the metal by forming a layer over the surface that prevents the metal underneath from becoming corroded or damaged by the surrounding elements. Intentional tarnish is also known as patina. As jewelers we hate tarnish when it occurs without purpose, but we do enjoy the contrasts achieved when patinas are applied intentionally. Liver of Sulfur and Black Max are two of the most common silver patina/oxidizers. A large selection of patinas and oxidizers for copper, brass, bronze and other metals is also available.
The best way to defeat tarnish is to prevent it. There are several products that can help you achieve this. The most tarnish resistant of all the products we carry is the Kliar nano-ceramic transparent e-coating. This coating provides a hard shell over your metal pieces using an electro-coating process similar to electroplating. The nano-ceramic coating helps resist tarnish, keeping your work bright and shiny. The coating itself can be thick or thin, and it does not have the gummy plastic feel that is sometimes associated with other protective coatings and lacquers.
You can also use a tarnish sealant or lacquer to coat your work. Midas finish seal lacquer is a water-based lacquer. It does not have a strong paint smell like some other lacquers and it dries clear. Midas Finish Seal Lacquer can be painted on or your piece can be dipped into it. Midas clear lacquer sealant and tarnish inhibitor is a more traditional lacquer. It too is a clear coating that will protect your work from tarnish. Lacquers are also a great way to seal your patinated surfaces.
If you choose not to lacquer your work, there are other options that can be used for silver, silver-filled, gold and gold-filled metals. Tarnish Shield and Silver Glory are very similar in how they prevent tarnish and in how they are applied. They are both immersion coatings and are applied by simply cleaning the pieces thoroughly according to the instructions and dipping into the solution for a brief period of time. Once removed from the solution, rinsed and dried, the piece will have a thin transparent shield on its surface, which will protect it from tarnish.
Anti-tarnish tabs and anti-tarnish bags can also be helpful in the fight against tarnish during storage. Anti-tarnish bags and tabs typically work up to 12 months or longer and will start to change color when it is time to for them to be replaced. The tabs can be placed in jewelry boxes and other storage containers and are great when transporting work to your suppliers or to shows.
Once tarnish has already taken over a piece, there are several ways to remove it. Polishing your piece will remove the tarnish, restore the high luster to the piece and provide some resistance to tarnish. There are several ways to polish tarnish off, including polishing motors, flex shafts, hand polishing, and tumbling. Polishing cloths such as Sunshine® Cloths and Pro-Polish pads work very well.
Sunshine® Cloth is available in various sizes and can even be hot stamped with your business name. Polishing motors and flex shafts use fiber buffs to which polishing compound is applied. There is a range of different buffs and compounds based on the metal you are working with and the final finish you desire. Rotary tumblers are another way to remove tarnish easily and hands free. A rotating barrel tumbles steel shot and burnishing compound with the metal pieces. As the shot tumbles, it rubs against the metal, burnishing the surface, removing tarnish and creating a shine.
Chemical tarnish removers that are commonly found on the counters at jewelry stores in the form of dips can remove tarnish very quickly. These chemical dips will remove all the tarnish in the most difficult to reach spaces, however, sometimes they can make the surface of the metal more prone to tarnish than it was originally. Midas Tarnish-Off is a tarnish removing dip that instantly removes tarnish from silver. We recommend polishing the piece with a final polishing compound after using it to restore the surface of the metal and prevent a faster rate of tarnish from occurring.
These are just a few of the products available to help resist and remove tarnish. There are several other methods and processes out there. Need a little guidance? Give the Rio Grande Jewelry Tech Team a call and they’ll help you find the best solution for your work.