Tarnish Resistant Silver Alloys
Silver has been mined for thousands of years. Used in ornaments, utensils, religious artifacts, jewelry, and as the basis of monetary systems around the globe, silver’s been a desirable metal since it’s discovery long ago.
But, silver does have one weakness….
It’s proverbial Achilles heel is tarnish- the dark discoloration that occurs when silver is exposed to corrosive gases like sulfides. Another reason silver tarnishes: the silver we’re most familiar with and use most widely is sterling silver alloy.
While pure silver never tarnishes, it’s too soft to be used in most anything. That’s why sterling silver incorporates 92.5% silver with 7.5% copper. By adding copper into the equation, the silver gains durability, strength and can be used to make any number of different items.
Copper alloy comes with a downside, however, because copper oxidizes. In reacting with the oxygen in the air, the copper contained in any sterling silver piece will lead to tarnish or corrosion.
These problems have plagued silversmiths, jewelers and jewelry owners for centuries. While there are ways to clean jewelry tarnish – or prevent it from ever happening in the first place – metallurgists and scientists have developed new ways of making silver, creating alloys that are theoretically less prone to tarnish.
These are often times referred to as Tarnish Resistant Alloys, and they utilize metals and elements other than copper (though sometimes in addition to copper) in the hopes that they’ll be less reactive with oxygen and other atmospheric gases and pollutants.
If One Were to Use Significantly Less Silver in Their Jewelry Pieces, Wouldn’t That Solve the Tarnishing Problem?
You might find yourself asking this question or thinking, why bother using so much silver if that’s what leads to the tarnish in the first place?
Well, the National Gold and Silver Stamping Act of 1906 declares that:
“No article or tag, card, or label attached thereto, or box, package, cover, or wrapper in which such article is incased or enclosed shall be marked, stamped, branded, engraved, or printed with the word ‘sterling’ or ‘sterling silver’ or any colorable imitation thereof, unless such article or parts thereof purporting to be silver contains nine hundred and twenty-five one-thousandth parts pure silver”.
By law, in order for something to be considered sterling – the “gold standard” of silver – it must contain 92.5% silver. If it does not reach this threshold, it cannot be considered sterling.
This is the problem that metallurgists have been working around; they’re allotted a quantum of 7.5% to do with as they please, it’s finding the correct amounts of the correct metals that’s the challenge. Do some research on tarnish resistant alloys and you’ll find enough elements on the periodic table to make your head spin:
These are only a small sampling of the proposed agents of tarnish resistance, and a substantial amount of patents have been filed with the U.S. Patent Office protecting specific formulas.
So, What’s the Verdict on Tarnish Resistant Alloys?
With this, we come to the crux of the matter – Do any of these alloys actually work?
A quick overview of the jewelry marketplace, product offerings and the silver industry as a whole leads you to one conclusion – Most likely not.
Much like any other magic cure or quick fix, these tarnish resist alloys don’t seem to be making very many waves, which begs the question, If these tarnish resistant alloys work so well, why aren’t they already the industry standard?
Often times, tarnish resistant alloys are more expensive then standard sterling silver, less durable and contain a certain aura of unpredictability. Furthermore (and most importantly) tarnish resistant alloys are just that - tarnish resistant. They are not impervious to tarnish and they do experience corrosion over time.
Indeed, if there were a tarnish-proof sterling silver alloy, it would be an entirely different story and would certainly shake up the industry a bit. As of late, no such thing exists.
Speculation over a tarnish-proof alloy does bring up a variety of thoughts and feelings. If one could have a sterling silver alloy that never tarnishes, life would be perfect, wouldn’t it? Maybe not.
An interview conducted with silversmith Sam Patania raises an interesting point and enduring philosophy on the matter. When asked about the potential of a tarnish-proof alloy, his response helps us gain some perspective:
“Face it, patina is the natural fate of silver, all silversmiths want patina. The idea of eternal youth for a piece of silver jewelry is silly. There is nothing wrong with looking your age when you age with grace”.
An immortal silver is hardly a silver at all, and much like our own lives, the life of silver is meant to be linear and of consequence.
Cheating oneself out of the aging process is not a benefit but a detriment and viewing age as a dotage passes over the point entirely, lest we forget that silver only gets better with time!
To Intercept™ Silver & Jewelry Care Co., tarnish resistant alloys seem unnatural and unfitting. Your silver should be worn and used throughout your lifetime, and the fact that it undertakes the journey with you is what makes it special.