Problems with jewellery in fishtanks

I have an exhibition next month - and of course I am now at the
panicking stage.

I would be grateful for any advice/warnings/experiences

The exhibition is in a fishtank - has anyone had any experience of
harm to fish through metals or polishing compounds etc.

I am planning on plating everything in 24ct and then boiling them -
the jewellery not the fish

The fishtank is shown live on the community television station after
programming finishes every night and these particular fish have been
around 8 months - so obviously I don’t want to endanger them in any


Alison, Having been an avid aquarist since the age of about seven, I
can tell you that unless you have recently bombed your jewelry in
cyanide and failed to properly rinse it - you should have no
problem… unless there are large Cichlids in the tank.

Oscars, and Jack Dempseys come to mind. Some of them will be curious
about the shiny objects and may rearrange them for you, or actually
swallow a piece or two. There are also a couple of varieties who may
want to spawn and then nest within a large enough bracelet…

I would have no qualms with fish who couldn’t fit the jewels into
their mouths, or carry them off and hide them.

Once upon a time, I used to hide a few things in the piranha tank
for safety when we left home… never had a problem with the jewels,
the fish, or theft.

Brian P. Marshall

   The exhibition is in a fishtank - has anyone had any experience
of harm to fish through metals or polishing compounds etc. 

Some materials are fine with fish, others are not. Stay away from
copper, brass, bronze, etc. Sterling silver is probably OK, so long
as it was soldered with hard solder or better. The copper is what’s
toxic, silver itself is a decent antibacterial (the old french foreign
legion issued canteens to the troops with silver plated interiors,
since it kept the water therein from going bad and growing things).
but it seems relatively inert insofar as higher organisms. If the
tank in question has invertibrates, then even this might be a
problem, but for usual fresh water fish, you’ll be fine. As to the
problem with copper, this an be also the case with some stones, too,
like malechite and turqoise. These copper minerals shouldn’t go in
the tank.

gold plating will help, but don’t use a nickel or copper underplate.
that means the gold plating won’t be all that permanent if on silver,
but it will last well enough for your show.

If this is a salt water tank, though, then all bets are off. Salt
water fish are often FAR more sensative to contaminants, and the salt
water is much more corosive too.

As to the polishing compounds, by all means clean the jewelery
properly. Ordinary silica based compounds like tripoli and white
diamond are from ancient sea floors, and aren’t likely to harm fish
either, though the wax and grease binders might be different. But
polishing compounds on your work will be mixed with finely divided
metal, and this clearly is not a good thing. So be sure your work is
well cleaned.

If the owners of the tank wish to be cautious, I’d recommend adding
to the filter, some of the ammonia removing chips, or the mix of
those with activated carbon. The ammonia removing chips are
zeolites, which are capable of removing traces of heavy metals,
though they’re not all that great at it. Still, it’s good
insurance. (carbon filters and normal acquarium filters won’t take
such things out.)

And get a liability release, so that if the fish all croak, you’re
not stuck with the tab. Some fish loss tends to be a routine, if
occasional, normal feature of keeping community tanks. It just
happens sometimes, even without jewelery in the tank.

Peter Rowe

Alison, This is certainly the most unusual request I have seen posted
at Orchid. The fish should be fine. I’m assuming that they are
freshwater and not seawater. Your fish would have suffered more from
the lights at the TV station. Considering they have been around for
8 months already, they sound pretty hardy. I would be concerned
though if they begin wearing it though!

Karen Christians
10 Walnut St.
Woburn, MA 01801
Fax: 781/937-3955
Accredited Jewelry Instruction

An unusual jewelry challenge to say the least. Some of the copper
might (perhaps) leach out of sterling silver or lower K gold. This
would be more likely to happen if it were a salt water aquarium.
Chances are very good I think that plating everything in 24K will
make it completely inoccuous.

Hans Durstling

Alison, I recall being told that fish can’t tolerate copper. I’m not
sure about anything else.

Deb Karash

As a rule of thumb, I’d stay away from most soluble metals in a
fresh or salt water aquarium, especially iron (steel), copper, etc.

That being said, copper sulphate solution was (maybe still is) one
of the old standby treatments for fish disease in salt water
aquaria. It was used to treat parasites such as saltwater “ich” and
"velvet" (oodinium), without harming the fish. It worked wonderfully
w/ one major caveat: it was deadly to invertabrates, such as those
found in reef tanks, including crabs, clams, shrimp, sea anemones and
urchins, corals, etc. (This is why sea going ship and boat hulls
were painted w/ a copper based coating: deadly to barnacles, sea
worms, etc.)

If a fresh water aquarium contains freshwater inverts such as
crayfish, red fiddler crabs, etc., and there is significant soluble
copper present, they will die.

Also: if a piece is hollow, make sure that is pickle free. Sparex,
etc. might readjust the ph down and out of the comfort range of
certain fish. Old pickle also contains copper.

Good luck, sounds like an interesting project.