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Badly tarnished silver jewellery


I made several bracelets using silver chain, freshwater pearls and
semi precious stones for a customer some months ago which she
returned to me because after a few months they were really badly
tarnished (the clasp, chain and headpins were black!).

I tried to clean them but it was virtually impossible because of the
fineness of the headpins, so in the end i just made new bracelets
and put the silver wire and chain in my scrap pot. They seemed to be
alright again for 3 or so months and then again they went black.

This has never happened to me before and I have tried to work out
what has caused it but I am at a loss.

The chain and headpins for the first bracelets where stored in my
workshop which is only heated for a couple half days a week but they
were wrapped in plastic. The second time I stored all the components
in the house so there was no way they got cold or damp.

There was no heating involved in the process and when I wasnt
working on them they were wrapped so the air wasnt getting to them.

I thought about brass brushing the whole thing and polishing it with
tripoli and rouge but that would be very fidly and I thought it would
risk damaging the pearls and stones

If anyone could help me to understand what is going wrong and also
how could clean the chain/headpins/clasps without taking the whole
thing appart again and without damaging the pearls and stones I would
be so grateful.

many thanks

If anyone could help me to understand what is going wrong and also
how could clean the chain/headpins/clasps without taking the whole
thing appart again and without damaging the pearls and stones I
would be so grateful. 

I cannot really help you on the going black in the first place
(maybe switch to Argentium? Polish everything with TarniShield
before assembly?) but you may be able to clean the pieces
effectively with an ionic cleaner-- it removes tarnish without
disassembly or damage to stones, etc.

I use my titanium anodizer with the terminals reversed for ionic
cleaning. I have read also that you can consrtuct an ionic cleaner
from an old “wall wart”-- one of those chargers/adaptors for cell
phones, etc, though I have not done that. Or, you could just buy
one… the usual seems to be Speed Brite.


Hi Jeanette,

Have you tried using an ionic cleaner for removing the tarnish?

Ionic cleaners work by using electrolysis for removing the tarnish.
Unless the the liquid in the cleaner is an unusual one I’ve never
had it affect stones or pearls. However, that’s not to say that it
might not someday.

In the US Speedbrite is a good ionic cleaner brand. Usual
disclaimers, just a satisfied user.


Hi Jeanette

this might be a problem to do with the customer and not you. A number
of years ago I worked in a jewellery store here in town and we had
one man who brought his heavy sterling chain in about every 2 months
or so. Something in the chemistry of his skin turned the silver black
(and I do mean BLACK). It took quite a while to clean off the black
as well. The funny part was that the first time it turned black was
in spite of the fact that it was rhodium plated. Of course the first
repolish removed that. Before the first repolish I also tried to
clean in ultra sound and then pickle to no avail.

Karen Bahr - Karen’s Artworx
Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Is this is a personal customer or a store?

I would suggest talking to her about how she is storing it before
you do anything else. You have no control over the bracelets for 3
months so you have no idea what they are being exposed to.

Amery Carriere Designs
Romantic Jewelry with an Edge


I would invest in a Speed Brite ionic cleaner to clean your existing
pieces. It will safely clean silver with pearls, opals, etc.

Then I would invest in anti-tarnish plastic bags or anti-tarnish
strips to put in the bags. I store my silver jewelry in jewelry trays
covered with silver cloth. I bought the silver cloth at a local
fabric store and cut it to size that covers the tray. I store my
jewelry in a safe in an unheated, unfinished garage so it goes
through some radical temperature changes. I don’t get any tarnish.

Sulfides are what tarnishes silver. You need to determine the source
of the sulfides. Do you have a gas stove in the kithchen? Also, if
you are on a well sulfides can be released by the running water. Just
a couple thoughts…

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Rocky Mountain Wonders
Colorado Springs, Colorado

If the silver wasn’t tarnishing while in your care, then I would
assume how you have handled it has nothing to do with the problem.
It was fine when it left you, and came back only after a few months
in someone else’s possession, so then wouldn’t that say it’s how THEY
are treating it? How are they storing it? Do they keep it somewhere
damp or in other tarnish-friendly conditions? Do they wear the
jewelry into a pool, or some other place that would encourange
tarnish? Does her skin tend to tarnish silver faster than normal?
Some people’s chemistry just does that. There are all sorts of
things that could be happening with the piece to make it tarnish so
quickly. I can’t offer you an easy way to clean tarnish that’s right
next to pearls, but as for HOW it’s happening, I’d stop worrying
about how YOU took care of it before she took it, and look into how
SHE is taking care of it, or not, as the case may be. Good luck
solving the mystery! :slight_smile:

Designs by Lisa Gallagher

I suspect that your client is storing the jewelry improperly. It
sounds like it may be kept in bleached cotton, like a gift box from
the dime store. The cluprit could be a jewelry box that is lined with
fabric that is glued in so it is off-gassig something that is turning
the jewelry black.

Hello Jeannette

I am just wondering if your customer may, by chance, use a home perm
or work in a hair salon. Perming solution is pretty much guarranteed
to turn silver black almost instantly. I found this out the last time
I had my hair done and forgot to remove a piece of jewelry. I tried
cleaning the silver piece when I got home with small success but
eventually the black has worn off and I have silver again. Just a

Happy New Year to all on Orchid, and hope that your year will be
prosperous and wonderful.

Sheila…in VERY snowy Ontario Canada

Hello Orchidland,

I’ll share my silver storage secret. I get old silverware chests,
take out the little rack that holds the utensils, and put my jewelry
inside to store. The chests are lined with “pacific cloth”, which
keeps tarnish at bay. The last one I bought cost me US$3.00. Add some
sheets of pacific cloth between layers and a hosiery elastic to keep
the lid closed, and you’ve got excellent silver storage !

Check rummage sales, tag sales, Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift
stores for these chests. Some even have a little drawer, which gives
more storage room.

There. You have a new thing to look for. Happy hunting.
Judy in Kansas

Hi Susan

Thanks for that thought, she is storing it in the box I sold it to
her in it has black velvet glued into the bottom and thinking about
it other braclets in those boxes have tarnished slightly too- but
hers actually went black! Her house is quite cold and damp so maybe
that has made things worse.

I only have a few of those boxes left so I’ll ditch them to be on
the safe side!

Many thanks

Thanks Dave, I have been doing a bit of research and we dont appear
to have ionic cleaners but I have found a few that I could get
shipped form the US, they sound very useful thanks again


Hi everyone…

I have another novel idea for storing Silver Jewelry. I purchase the
9x13 baking pans with clear plastic lids, line the pans with Pacific
Silver Cloth and store silver jewelry in them. It is easy to see
what item I desire to wear, and the air is shut out. Sulfur from the
natural gas in our furnaces creates the nasty tarnish.

Rose Marie Christison