Keeping copper from tarnishing


Am making jewelry (chains, earrings, and pendants) with copper wire.
After fashioning them they are polished and tumbled with steel
"shot." They come out of this process looking “brilliant” and very
bright. Have heard that there are various ways to preserve this
"brilliant" look (rather and dulling down over time) through various
means. Would appreciate any tips on what works best, how to do it,
what to use, etc. to keep the tarnish from occurring. Have dipped
copper in lemon juice to restore the luster and that works fine as a
temporary measure as the darkening begins again after awhile. Am
looking for something durable to keep it bright all the time and
over time.


Am looking for something durable to keep it bright all the time and
over time. 

If you find such a process patent it as you will make a fortune not
from the jewelry industry but all the industrial users who are
troubled by the tarnish of copper and its alloys. But until someone
figures out such process you will have to rely on tarnish removal by
chemical or mechanical means. Even the best clear coatings fail when
worn as jewelry or just exposed to the changes in atmospheric
humidity and temperature over time.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


I am have thought about this question extensively, since I work in
copper constantly, and will share my thoughts. I will also very much
look forward to what others with more experience say on this
subject, always hoping to learn. Maybe there’s a solution I don’t
know about.

There are some options to prevent patination that would seem obvious

  • lacquer is one. But I feel that copper’s natural luster is ruined
    by lacquer, no matter how thinly applied. Lacquer also does not last
    forever. It wears off over time, will craze, and then you have
    patination happening underneath and unevenly. Wax is a another
    option, but it definitely must be redone periodically, so that is not
    going to solve the problem. You will still end up with a customer who
    thought the piece was going to remain looking one way and so
    eventually will be unhappy with what is happening to it. I had some
    hopes for Renaissance Wax, which is a conservator-level wax used
    extensively in museums. But I have tried it, and had several
    conversations with the vendor who I bought it from - he is himself an
    antiques dealer and has a lot of experience using it himself - and
    the bottom line is that it really does not work with copper. Copper
    patinates easily, that is the nature of the metal. It is better on
    brass and bronze, but, again, must be periodically reapplied.

Then there are products like “Everbrite” which are sold for
protecting things like weather vanes and decorative copper objects.
I have not tried any of those. Too much hassle to apply and since my
pieces are mixed metal I don’t see how I could selectively apply
such a product without some further fabrication step messing it up,
or messing up the rest of the piece, depending on where in the
assembly process I used it. In addition, Everbrite does not last
indefinitely, either, so again there would be the problem of a piece
of jewelry eventually beginning to patinate. (Or needing another
application of the product.)

Here is where I ended up regarding this issue: It was very important
to me that I be able to retain the beauty of the metal - I use
copper because I love its natural color - and anything I put on it
besides wax would prevent me from doing that. Neither did I want to
coat a piece with something that would break down or wear off some
time in the future, after I’d sold it and the customer had taken it
home. I think that is everyone’s nightmare - that you sell something
and in time it begins to fall apart, degrade in some way, and the
customer is very unhappy with you.

In truth, there is a very simple and absolutely foolproof way to
keep copper shiny and lustrous forever, and that is with a polishing
cloth. It only takes a moment to buff down a piece and in that way a
customer can keep a piece shiny indefinitely. (Or not. There are
those who like patinated copper.)

If a customer wants to wax a piece on their own to slow things down,
that’s their business, and if they do they know they are going to
have to redo it from time to time.

My solution therefore has been to provide a Sunshine Cloth with
every piece of jewelry (the small ones are cheap and can be bought
in quantity from Rio) and include a care sheet. Then I feel
confident that anyone who buys my work can easily maintain the
shine, and will not be faced with unexpected problems down the line.

Now - I hope someone out there will blow all of this out of the
water by presenting a wonderful alternative.


When I was in school we would use Simonize paste auto wax to preserve
the finish on copper and bronze items. I was in school late seventies
and I have several copper vessels that still look as good as when
originally finished with no re-application over the years. This was
far more successful than messy lacquers and practically foolproof in
application. Of course items frequently handled will need
re-application periodically and trying to use this technique on chain
or highly detailed or textured items would be problematic. It’s one
more option, however.

Les Brown
L F Brown Goldwork, Inc

Hi Chris,

Try coating the finished copper item with a light coat of
Renaissance Wax.

Keep shining,