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Old pickle

I’ve never had this happen before: I put a piece of Sterling
Silver in some old pickle that had been standing around for a long
while, and the entire thing turned coppery pink. Since the pickle
wasn’t really hot, I let it get hot and thought the piece would
turn back to silver. It didn’t. I tried heating it and some of
the silver came off, but very grudgingly. Can anyone tell me what
happened? Did it get coated with copper from the pickle
mixture(Sparex) or was the copper in the Sterling brought to the
surface? What’s the best way of handling this without heating the
silver too much and getting firescale instead? Really looking
forward to an answer. Thanks! Sandra/Elegant Bee

Beautiful, springlike New York-the dogwood trees are really magnificent!

 It was probably plated from the copper dissolved in old pickel.

An easy solution to this problem (works great on brass also) is to
mix equal parts hot pickel with room temp. hydrogen peroxide (drug
store variety.) Dip peice in question in (30-60 sec.) and watch the
copper dissapear!!! Do not leave the peice in to long or it will
discolor, which is very hard to get rid of. This mixture gives off
bubbles and fumes so be careful.-Jordan

Hi Sandra,

It appears you’ve become the victim of iron contaminated pickle.
Well used pickle has a lot of copper molecules in suspension.
Introduction of iron or steel will cause the copper to plate, or
bond to other metal items in the solution. A non-scientific
explanation, of course! :wink:

I had a similar (but different) situation repairing a bracelet
last week. I ended up having to solder two of the links together,
and after removing it from the pickle I found that the areas that
were under the torch had turned bright and coppery, but the rest
was still silver. I first suspected contaminated pickle, then
realized the whole thing would be copper-covered. Since the
problem only affected the heated part, I’m assuming it was silver

Before ever seeing the item I asked the customer if it was plated,
and she said she didn’t think so. The stamp said “.925 Italy”. It
seemed the right weight and patina to be a solid silver piece, but
I’m assuming not.

Now I’ve got to figure out what to tell the customer. Anyone have
any suggestions? Soldering was not in the original game plan,
although I’m certain it would have been acceptable, had I not
ruined the bracelet.

Any way of correcting the problem cost-effectively?



Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio
Charlotte, NC (USA)

Hi Dave, Why not silver plate the whole thing , or at least the
dicolred part? Tom


I do a lot of repairs for an importer of Italian silver. Most of
the items are difficult to repair because the majority of them are
rhodium plated. When soldering you destroy the plating on that area
but not on the surrounding areas (if you are careful.) Even though
I use uncontaminated pickel I get this plating copper plating
effect on the heated parts (probably due to the rhoidum.) My
solution is to use equal parts hot pickel and hydrogen peroxide (
drug store variety), then tumble for about an hour using stainless
steel shot with burnishing compound. These items usually cannot be
polished as you will take off the plating in surrounding areas and
the item may discolor. Jordan.

Hi Dave,

    I found that the areas that were under the torch had turned
bright and coppery, but the rest was still silver.  I first
suspected contaminated pickle, then realized the whole thing
would be copper-covered.  Since the problem only affected the
heated part, I'm assuming it was silver plated.

Is it possible the item was coated with some anti tarnish

There’s a firm in Tucson mfgr (I think Rio sells it also) an
acrylic plating system for for jewelry. There also may be some
ferrous metal components on the piece that make it ‘self
contaminating’ when put in the pickle.

I’ve never had trouble cleaning off the ‘copper plate’ by heating
the pie ce & putting it in a fresh, hot pickle. For severe cases,
I’ve used sulphic acid instead of Sparex.


Hi Dave.

I recommend replating the parts you killed, or the whole thing.
The two little parts shouldn’t cost much. Do you have platers
where you are? …a plater whom you know?

I would get a second or third opinion from someone to whom you can
show the piece…

and just tell the customer. When I worked as an appraiser, I had
to tell lots of people that great grandma’s old “ruby” was
synthetic, that grandma’s pearls were fake. I found this method:

Say one of those “bad news coming” things to prepare them, (ease
into it) then give evidence, evidence, evidence. Part of their
mind wants to disagree with you, hate you, but the facts you keep
stating will eventually sink in.

But, unless you have an explicity policy on repairs/silver repairs
that you have in writing on your envelope/stated to her when you
took the job, then IMHO, I feel we, as repair people should make
good on our errors. Often, when these mistakes happen, we could
have prevented them by being more cautious.

I once fried a charm from the Caribean which had cells filled with
colored paper and glue or something! My client was upset, but I
refilled it with the same colors with Colores Epoxy Resins.
Luckily, it wasn’t too sentimental, and she was happy with my
re-do. I lost money on soldering that jump ring, but she was happy
with me. And that’s what matters.

Midwest, US
Chicago, Illinois
At the tip of the Great Lake, Lake Michigan

Dave - you may have stumbled upon a silver plated copper-based
metal. when working in Europe in the late 60’s and 70’s we would
often come upon Italian made objects, with all the convincing
hallmarks, that would be paper thin and filled with pitch, gold or
silver plated or set with synthetics. short of testing each and
every item that you take in for repair or alterations, you may want
to revise your reciepts to state that the item is based on vosual
inspection ONLY and you can’t be held responsible for the invisible
hoaxes. Diamond fillings, synthetics, plated goods or jewelry that
has been botched by amateurs (low carat solders or worse yet, tin).
As for the immediate problem you may want to test the metal for
silver content. First filing a discrete portion of the bracelet
(which can be later repolished) and test it with the necessary
acid. If it is solid silver than you can reheat the bracelet and
repickle it (possibly several times) in a fresh, strong solution.
Good luck. Kim

Dear Dave, sorry about your problem, but how fascinating. Could
the bracelet have been rivetted with a copper rivet? Could the
copper be scraped off around the soldered area? Could it have been
an area of badly flooded solder from the original manufacturer
which has partially discoloured the area? I look forward to other
Orchid comments. Regards, Rex from Oz.

hi dave,

from the +ACM- of responses you’ve gotten, i know you know by now
it can be many possibilities. another possibility i’d like to add
is that it is sterling and rhodium plated with perhaps interim
plated layers of copper and nickel.

best regards from the long absent, just finishing moving to
ventura, calif, still remodeling kitchen and starting new business.

geo fox

Sandra/Elegant Bee,

You certainly did recieve quite a few responses to your pickle
question. I noticed that a large number of folks decided you
contaminated the pickle with the more obvious items (steel tongs,
binding wire, etc.). Hopefully, you are familiar with those
problems (if not, you are now).

If your pickle was blueish before you put the piece in, I would
tend to agree with Ed Colbeth’s statement, “Your pickle turned into
copper plating solution. If your going to use sparex type pickle
you have to change it when it starts to change color or all of
those little copper ions will start to deposit themselves on your

If the pickle was not blueish, I tend to doubt it was overly
saturated with copper.

That leads us back to contamination. Assuming it was not one of the
more obvious sources of contamination, look at the less obvious.
You don’t want this to happen again so it’s worth figuring out.
Specificly, I did not find anyone suggesting steel wool as a
culprit. This stuff is a real pain. Do you use steel wool? If so,
look for an alternative (Scotch-Brite, sandpaper, etc.). If you
must use steel wool, try to use it in a location other than your
main work area. Those little bits of steel can get everywhere.
Also, in case you don’t, keep your pickle covered. That helps to
keep bits of flying debris out (ie: broken sawblades, steel wool

As to fixing the problem, definately try the 50/50 solution of
fresh pickle and hydrogen peroxide. BTY, this solution has a shelf
life equal to the life of a cupcake in a large dog’s mouth. Once
your finished fixing your piece, you can (properly) dispose of the

Good luck. I hope it never happens to you again. --Sam