When I solder jump rings onto my sterling silver chain, my chain
gets dull and "yucky" (to be technical!) I can't seem to get it to
shine again no matter how much buffing or polishing.
Sounds typical of rhodium plated silver.
How can I tell if the chain is plated or not?
The color is different. Carefully compare the color of your chain to
a piece of properly polished clean sterling silver. Rhodium plated
silver, while white, is a significantly darker tone than sterling.
Another quick test is a drop of silver oxidizing solution (liver of
sulphur, or a commercial oxidizer). The plated silver won't react.
And if it is, other than plating it again, is there any way to
regain the original luster?
Not really. Chains, especially, are a problem, since you can't just
buff off the plating. Tumbling in steel shot, or a magnetic finisher
can help a little, but it's not a total fix, since the damaged
plating is not really repaired, or the damaged layer really removed.
And if you DO buff off the damaged plating, then that area has a
different color. Even replating the damaged area, if you buff off the
damage, is tricky, since silver cannot just be dipped in the rhodium
plating bath (it contaminates the rhodium, a costly mistake). It
first has to be copper plated, then nickle plated, before the
rhodium. All in all, a PIA.
Or where can I get chain that is NOT plated so as not to have this
Just ask your supplier. Many offer, especially in bulk chains,
unplated sterling. But you have to ask if they do, and which styles
are offered. Cargo Hold is one supplier I've used in the past. I
think they're still around (?). Or, I think Rio has some chain
available unplated. Other suppliers will too. Just takes some careful
If you DO have to put findings on rhodium plated chain, you can
often limit damage to a very small area, by taking steps to heat sink
the chain very close to the joint. Or us a method like linking the
jump ring through the chain, so only the link needs to be soldered
shut, rather than soldering to the chain itself. Obviously, not all
chain styles work with that, but if it's an option, you then can
avoid heating the plated parts at all.
And of course, methods like PUK welders or laser welders will also
minimize the damage to the plating by keeping heat confined to the
weld area only. If you don't have such, and need it, you may be able
to find a local jeweler or workshop who does, and would do that work