Enamel & Other Coloring Agents

This may sound dumb but, I don’t know what Liver of Sulpher is. Can
you help me or tell me where to get it and how to use it?

Dear Fawniel,

Liver of Sulphur is a coloring agent or patina, used primarily for
blackening silver. You’ve probably seen a lot of Southwestern silver
jewelry with cutout patterns that have been patinated with Liver of
Sulphur to bring out the contrast between raised areas and lower
areas. The result can be a very dramatic white (polished silver) on
black (patinated silver) pattern. There are also proprietary
blackening agents but Liver of Sulphur is the traditional medium.

Compared to proprietary blackening agents, however, Liver of Sulphur
has the added benefit of taking silver through pretty much the whole
rainbow of iridescent colors on its way to black. I’m not an expert
on its use, but I know that it works best when either the piece you’re
going to dip is warmed up first or when the Liver of Sulphur itself is
warm. As you dip the piece, you’ll see various colors appear and you
need to pull the piece out quickly before it goes grey and then black
(unless that’s what you want).

The best results I ever got were a result of laziness/ignorance and I
can’t recommend this method from a safety viewpoint. I had the Liver
of Sulphur in a glass jar and instead of heating it up evenly, I held
a torch over the top of the jar (stupid, I know!). However, in
addition to producing lots of noxious fumes, the Liver of Sulphur was
heated unevenly so that when I dipped the metal in, I got an instant
rainbow of colors. I suspect there’s a safe way to achieve this
effect, but I went on to other things and never continued the
experiment. Also, as I said in my first posting, you have to wax or
otherwise coat the surface of the metal to prevent natural oxidation
processes from greying out the colors. (P.S., Liver of Sulphur does
not affect gold, which can make a nice contrast with blackened

There’s a wonderful jeweler named Patricia Telesco who makes
“paintings” out of married metals and Liver of Sulphur. Her work has
been published in various jewelry related magazines and you might want
to keep an eye out for it. [I tried a search on the web but apparently there’s another Patricia Telesco who’s involved with witchcraft (!), and that’s what came up.]

You can buy Liver of Sulphur from virtually any jewelry supply place
or catalog, such as Rio Grande. It comes in solid form that needs to
be mixed with water or it can be bought already in solution. Most
people buy the solid and mix it as they need it, especially since it
doesn’t remain potent forever once mixed. By the way, store it safely
and use it with good ventilation � it’s nasty smelling stuff and toxic
like most of the chemicals we seem to use. Hope this helps.


The gradual progression through the rainbow is more easily controlled
by using a weak solution rather than the usual strength of Liver of

Pam Chott
Song of the Phoenix