Jewellers & Watchmakers of New Zealand Inc.
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Sterling Silver


 What is sterling silver?

Sterling silver is a metal containing at least 92.5% silver. This is the legal standard of purity set by the assay offices in Britain and used for most silver jewellery throughout the world. It means that the metal used is of a specific quality. Pure silver is never used, as it is too soft to be practical.

 Why does sterling silver tarnish?

Tarnishing of sterling silver is not attributable to the manufacturing process of making jewellery from this metal. Sterling silver jewellery items that are exposed to air will tarnish with time.

As sterling silver is a mixture of metals with at least 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, it is the other metals, usually copper that oxidises, resulting in the build-up of a tarnished layer on sterling silver jewellery. 

Sterling silver tarnishes faster in areas with high humidity and air pollution. Additionally, contact with materials like cosmetics, hairspray, perfume, deodorant, body lotion, bleach, etc, can speed up the tarnishing process. The silver in your ring may also become oxidised by reacting with acids in your skin, the moisture in perspiration, or by reacting with some other lotion or chemical on your skin. 

Sterling silver jewellery stored on jewellery pads or in jewellery boxes may tarnish more quickly, due to the glues that may have been used in the manufacture of those items. Areas in New Zealand with high sulphur content in the air, such as Rotorua, can result in rapid tarnishing of your sterling silver jewellery. Visits to hot pools and spas can also have a similar effect.

Remember to remove rings and other jewellery while applying make-up. Using soap and water, clean the areas of your skin that will come into contact with the jewellery, making sure all soap is rinsed off and your hands are dry.

Cleaning tarnished sterling silver

A solution is to use a silver cloth to polish your jewellery, or a silver jewellery cleaning solution.

Always follow the instructions provided by the cleaning cloth or cleaning solution manufacturer to ensure safe cleaning of your jewellery. Take note in regards any special instructions for the cleaning of gemstone-set sterling silver items.