Versatile, timeless, classic. Sterling silver can be a cornerstone in any jewelry collection.
As one of the most affordable and hard-wearing of all the precious metals, sterling silver really is the go-to for anyone looking for everyday, as well as occasion, jewelry.
So how do you take care of your sterling silver jewelry? How exactly do you make sure your shiny sterling silver stays just as beautiful today as the day you bought it?
We’ll take you through a few tips that work, from prevention and maintenance, all the way through to gentle home remedies.
What is sterling silver and how is it manufactured?
First, let’s take a closer look at how sterling silver is made. That way, it’s easier to understand what happens when it gets dirty, and how to make it shine again.
But before that, let’s take pure silver. Silver is a soft metal. Hypothetically, if you were to make a piece of jewelry out of 100% silver, it would be easy to dent, bend, or damage.
Because of this, for centuries silver has been mixed with other metals to create a more robust finished product. The sterling silver jewelry you hold in your hand consists of 92.5% pure silver, with the other 7.5% compromising a mixture of copper and other metals, making it much harder and more durable.
To identify sterling silver, you’ll notice that it’s stamped with a tiny “925” (you may need a magnifying glass to see it). This hallmark is a legal requirement for all jewelry manufacturers to use so consumers are assured of the authenticity of their sterling silver item.
Sterling silver manufacturing techniques differ across the world, depending on whether they’re a small artisan or a factory intended for mass production. The two main approaches are die-struck or lost wax casting, the latter being the most common.
Taking the most common approach, lost wax casting, the process begins with producing a cast out of wax either by hand or with the support of computer-aided design (CAD). The wax molds are then “sprued” to make a tree that is placed within a metal flask which is then filled with plaster. When the plaster hardens, the flask is put into a kiln where the wax melts and is replaced by sterling silver.
From here, the sterling silver is cooled and the jewelry is cast, and the more detailed process of shaping and filing takes place.
However, it’s how the sterling silver jewelry is finished that matters most to how you care for it.
When left as it is, sterling silver tarnishes relatively easily - tarnishing is the process by which a metal darkens when it’s exposed to particular elements in the air. To remedy this, you’d have to use silver polish and a soft cloth to remove the tarnishing and restore the jewelry’s original shine.
To avoid the need to polish your jewelry on a regular basis, Monica Rich Kosann silver sterling jewelry is plated with rhodium, a silvery-white precious metal that, as of this writing, averaged more than ten times the price of gold. When rhodium is plated onto sterling silver, it protects the jewelry from tarnishing and keeps it bright-looking for years.
Is sterling silver jewelry good for long-term wear?
The quick answer to that question is: yes, sterling silver is an excellent choice for long-term jewelry wear. Unlike pure silver, which is soft and therefore easily damaged, the mixed metal added to sterling silver makes for a robust finished article.
In fact, sterling silver is one of the most durable metals you can wear, especially if it is plated with rhodium. If you wore it every day (even with water exposure) without cleaning it, it would still stay shiny for an extended period of time. Silver sterling doesn’t corrode or rust; the only thing it’s particularly susceptible to is tarnishing.
The truth is that sterling silver actually benefits from being worn for long periods of time. Your skin’s natural oils protect your jewelry from tarnishing, keeping the shine for longer.
How to care for your sterling silver jewelry
When you approach your sterling silver care, it’s worth keeping in mind the finish of your jewelry. At Monica Rich Kosann, we finish all our sterling silver with rhodium to protect the silver underneath. Bear in mind, not all the sterling silver in your jewelry box will have this layer of protection.
So, let’s first take a look at how to look after your rhodium-finished pieces.
As with most things in life, prevention rather than cure is a much safer strategy when caring for your jewelry. And even though sterling silver is one of the most robust of the precious metals, it’s still good practice to keep it safe from scratches, tarnishing, and other forms of damage.
Protect the rhodium finish
It’s the rhodium finish that does a lot of the hard work in caring for your sterling silver..
To protect your jewelry’s rhodium plating, simply avoid any contact with harsh chemicals or abrasives. These risk eroding it, leaving your sterling silver open to the elements. At the same time, avoid rubbing the jewelry with polishing cloths as this will degrade the rhodium finish over time. If you want to remove a fingerprint, buff the piece lightly with a soft cloth.
How to Care for Other Jewelry in Your Jewelry Box
If your sterling silver jewelry from other sources than MRK and hasn’t been finished with rhodium, you will need to take extra care both in avoiding damage and how you revive tarnished or stained pieces.
You may be wearing your sterling silver most days, if not every day. If this is the case, then you don’t need to worry too much about where you store it. As long as it’s safe from being stolen or damaged.
If, however, you’re not going to wear your sterling silver jewelry for an extended period of time, it’s best to store it in a protective pouches or a small zip-loc bag. Avoid storing sterling silver in paper or cardboard which may contain traces of sulfur.
Since sunlight, heat, and moisture accelerate tarnishing, store your jewelry in a cool, dark place. Try and store each of your pieces individually so they don’t scratch one another.
If you like, you can also store your jewelry with some extra items to reduce the chances of tarnishing.
A piece of chalk will absorb any extra moisture, as will silica packs you find in the packaging of new clothing or shoes. You can also purchase dedicated anti-tarnish strips which absorb water as well as sulfur from the air.
Know when to remove your sterling silver
As we’ve already explored, sterling silver is relatively robust and can withstand contact with water.
That said, it’s not the water itself that can damage your jewelry, rather the chemicals found therein. Even using body wash in the shower can leave your jewelry vulnerable to tarnishing.
The chlorine found in swimming pools is a relatively harsh chemical, and there’s an even higher concentration in hot tubs. If you do go to the pool or tub and forget to remove your jewelry first, make sure you rinse and dry it afterward.
Hot springs are also an unusual instance where you need to take extra care of your sterling silver jewelry. Hot springs contain sulfur and this is not friendly towards sterling silver.
Even the lotions and perfumes you use on a day-to-day basis can affect your sterling silver. So, when you apply your daily creams and sprays, let them dry first before you put on your jewelry.
You might also consider removing your jewelry or wearing protective gloves when undertaking household chores or gardening. This will protect your silver from unnecessary scratches, bumps, and dirt.
Buffing your sterling silver jewelry
Despite your best efforts to avoid tarnishing, your sterling silver jewelry may tarnish after extended wear and exposure, especially if the other sterling silver pieces in your jewelry box lack the rhodium finish we have on our pieces.
Luckily, tarnishing can be removed easily at home in no time.
Simply use a soft cloth (or a specialist jewelry cloth) to wipe down your jewelry.
Use long up and down strokes to gently buff your jewelry, rotating the cloth every now and then so you don’t inadvertently spread tarnish from your cloth back onto the jewelry. Avoid circular motions as they can make the tarnish worse.
If your jewelry has hard to reach, detailed areas, use a Q-tip to rub over the tarnishing.
Home-made jewelry cleaners
It’s not usually necessary to use any kind of product to clean or buff your sterling silver. Harsh chemicals are more likely to be harmful and may even damage the sterling silver itself.
That said, for stubborn stains on your non-rhodium plated jewelry, there are a few gentle home remedies you can try.
Dishwashing liquid and water
When your sterling silver jewelry gets dirty, there’s no harm done by rinsing it under the tap. But, rather than using harsh chemicals for that extra clean, use a mild dishwashing soap before rinsing under the tap.
Don’t forget to pat your jewelry dry before wearing it again or storing it away.
Water and baking soda
If you want to get rid of more stubborn dirt, you might opt for a slightly stronger approach.
Combine one part water with one part baking soda and stir into a paste. Use a small brush or an old toothbrush to gently apply the paste to your jewelry and use long upward and downward strokes to clean.
Again, rinse and dry your jewelry thoroughly when you’re finished.
Sterling silver is one of the most enduring metals in your jewelry collection. Not only does it benefit from everyday use, but it’s also resilient to erosion and tarnishing, especially if it’s been plated by the all-important rhodium.
Every item of jewelry needs a bit of TLC, and sterling silver is no different. From proper storage, through to cleaning and buffing, our care and maintenance steps will have your sterling silver jewelry back to its sparkling self in no time.
What are your top cleaning tips for your sterling silver jewelry? We’d love to hear all about them.