As we’ve already covered, the wood used inside and outside our homes and stores is not nearly as “clean” as one might think. Wood is inherently acidic even in its most natural state, often containing acetic acid. Wood is treated in an effort to mitigate its corrosive properties and to preserve its strength.
Unfortunately, this brings on an entirely new set of problems for us in the jewelry business.
You might remember this 60 Minutes news story, investigating the presence of formaldehyde in wood flooring. The story was particularly scandalous because formaldehyde is a known carcinogen by all accounts and is considered hazardous by OSHA and the EPA. Formaldehyde is a corrosive agent and an harbinger of problems big and small.
“Formaldehyde is found in resins that act as a
glue in the manufacture of pressed wood products.”
Source: National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme
Shockingly, the presence of formaldehyde and other volatile preservatives is more common than you might think. Not only should this be of concern for health reasons, but also for reasons of materialistic degradation. Formaldehyde reacts with air pressure and humidity. Its presence around your jewelry stock will undoubtedly cause tarnish issues.
While we’re on the topic of caustic chemicals, there’s another material often found in jewelry showcases that’s worth examining.
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
Perhaps more of an issue for jewelers than the jewelry owners themselves is a material called Medium Density Fiberboard.
Frequently used to make jewelry showcases, MDF is a type of engineered wood. In essence, MDF is compacted dust from hard and soft wood fibers, bound together through heated resins and waxes.
MDF is typically made up of:
- 82% wood fiber
- 9% formaldehyde resin
- 8% water
- 1% Paraffin wax
In recent years, MDF has been increasingly used for commercial purposes and many people have problems with this, for both moral and utilitarian reasons.
From a structural standpoint, Medium Density Fiberboard has a reputation of being less costly but also being less sturdy. Similarly, its also been known to have issues with shrinking in high humidity climates.
While the above problems aren’t particularly relevant to jewelry, the use of formaldehyde resins and paraffin wax are a primary concern. As mentioned earlier, formaldehyde is a health risk, as well as a volatile corrosive.
Similarly, Paraffin wax - which is derived from petroleum, coal and oil shale - could actually work to retain the caustic properties of formaldehyde within the immediate atmosphere of the jewelry case. By its chemical nature, Paraffin wax acts as a barrier to gases; rather than absorbing corrosives, it’s repelling them.
This means that MDF boards in jewelry cases could be producing corrosive agents within their sealed glass environment, effectively exposing the jewelry contained within to tarnish causing gases in perpetuity.
The Take Away
- Materials in direct contact with your jewelry can cause tarnish.
- Materials NOT IN DIRECT CONTACT with your jewelry can cause tarnish.
- Wood contains corrosives, namely, its natural acetic acid and it’s non-organic preservatives.
- Storing your jewelry in a wooden jewelry box that’s high in acetic acid or still contains moisture will inevitably result in tarnish if extra measures aren’t taken.
- Jewelers should be concerned about the materials in their showcases.
- Medium Density Fiberboard, a common showcase material, contains corrosives like formaldehyde.
The world is full of reactive gases that will invariably end up on your jewelry. Whether you’re a jewelry owner or a jewelry retailer, there are any number of things you can do to maintain your jewelry’s integrity.