The material used at Bracken Designs is mostly reclaimed sterling silver. Sometimes fine silver is used. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver mixed with 7.75% other metals to make it stronger, usually copper. Fine silver is 99.9% pure silver and is very soft so can’t be used to make structural pieces.
Occasionally my items are created with 14k layered gold (aka gold-fill), a solid layer of gold mechanically bonded to sterling silver or a base metal. Gold filled jewelry contains a real 14k gold layer which is many times thicker than the normal electoplating or gold plating that fade over time.
Copper (also used in some Bracken Designs jewelry) is one of the alloys used to give sterling silver its structural strength. Copper oxidizes easily, therefore sterling silver can as well. Bronze contains a lot of copper so will also need care if oxidation is to be kept at bay.
When exposed to air, most metal oxidizes (or gets darker), some more than others. Oxidation can produce beautiful patinas on metal but that can change the intended design too. Continued oxidation can lead to tarnish.
Some metals that oxidize more slowly include: gold, fine silver, and Argentium.
Some metals that can oxidize more rapidly include: sterling silver, copper and bronze.
Here are some things you can do to help slow down oxidation or tarnish:
- When not being worn, keep your jewelry in Ziploc bags (with a tarnish resistant strip if possible).
- Last on, first off. Put jewelry on after you are dressed and perfumed; take it off before you do your bedtime routine.
- Don’t swim, garden, shower, go to the gym, etc. with jewelry on.
- Use specially coated cleaning cloths to restore shine. (Sunshine cloth, pro-polishing pad, etc)
Sometimes you can coat your jewelry with waxes, acrylic, or lacquer finishes, but these are not my prefernce because:
- Depending on the wear duration and placement, the coating will eventually wear off and will need to be replaced (not always possible)
- In my opinion, coatings and sealants take away from the aesthetics of wearing metal jewelry
Should you want to restore shine to your metal jewelry, you can use a specially treated cloth called a “Sunshine” cloth. I don’t recommend jewelry “dips” or other similar metal cleaners as these etch away the metal, which actually increases tarnish. Sunshine cloth may be used repeatedly until it is completely black. The more pressure you apply with this cloth, the more shine you will elicit from your piece.
Take care not to polish intentionally darkened areas of your jewelry (for example, the recesses of an etched piece). For those pieces, start with a light touch and try to stay on the highlights or raised areas of the metal.
Most metal pieces suffer little damage with brief exposure to tap water (showers, etc), but saltwater (the ocean), bleach, and pool chemicals can be harsh to metal so if possible remove jewelry before pool or ocean water exposure and before using bleach.
Do not bend metal back and forth (trying to make rings or bracelets tighter and looser) as this will create brittle metal that will eventually crack and break.
I am a fan of bare metal and as such do not like to coat it with plastic sealants. Uncoated metal will try to evolve naturally, generally by darkening in appearance with exposure to air. A little bit of knowledge and occasional easy cleaning will keep your pieces in top shape. Empower yourself by learning how to care for your metal jewelry and gain a lifetime of high quality pieces that do not need to look dull OR go to jewelry shops for expensive cleaning.