The ABCs of Oxidizing Jewelry

Jan 19, 2009

The ABCs of Oxidizing Jewelry

I don’t remember when I first became aware of sterling silver jewelry that was purposely NOT shiny. When I think of the hours I’ve spent over the years trying to shine up my sterling pieces! I bought every chemical, every cloth, every dip I saw that promised my jewelry would come out looking like new.

At some point, though, I realized that my taste was shifting more toward appreciating antiquities, and jewelry that looked as though it had just been unearthed. The aging process adds a natural patina that gives old pieces a warmth and a depth that just isn’t there on new, shiny jewelry. Not everyone agrees, I know. Every time I show my latest creation to my sister, she says, “Mmmm, nice. I’d like it better if it were shiny.”

But, I’m not alone in my love of that aged look. It’s so popular that there are products you can buy to oxidize silver, adding the darkened patina of age in the blink of an eye. There is also an all-natural trick that will do the same thing, albeit a little more slowly. 

Solutions such as Black Max will blacken a piece of silver instantly. Once it’s rinsed and dried, use a small piece of fine steel wool, or a 3M pad to polish away some of the oxidization on the high parts of the piece, leaving the recessed areas of the design dark.

Tumbling the piece in a rotary tumbler with steel shot will really bring back the shine on the high points, but still leave the black in the crevices. It’s the contrast between the shiny and the dark that really gives a piece depth and character.

Liver of sulfur is the standard, most commonly used chemical for oxidizing silver. It comes in a liquid form and a solid form (chunks), and works best if either the solution or the piece of jewelry is hot. The fabulous thing about liver of sulfur is that it can create an array of colors on your metal. If you experiment with the temperature of the solution, the temperature of your piece and the length of time you leave your piece submerged, you can come out with vivid shades of violet, peacock blue, and teal! Ultimately, though, if you leave it in long enough, you will get that deep grey/black color. Again, it will need to be rinsed and dried and polished to get the full effect.

For those of you who prefer an all-natural process, you can oxidize silver with a hard boiled egg! Yes, it’s true. Cut a hard boiled egg in half, or in pieces, and throw it into a plastic bag with your piece of jewelry. After a day (perhaps two), the sulfur in the egg will darken your silver.

So that’s all there is to it . . . nothing mysterious, not difficult. But don’t tell anyone, let them just think you’re wearing ancient, priceless jewelry!

By the way, all of these techniques will also work on copper, though the darkness of copper makes the contrast not quite as striking.

Check out the Spring 2009 issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry or subscribe to Step by Step Wire Jewelry today for two beautiful necklace projects that use oxidizing to enhance the wirework--Convertible Steampunk Necklace by Deborah Gray-Wurz and See Lantern Necklace by Gaea Cannaday.   You'll also find step-by-step photos of the oxidizing process with liver of sulphur in my book, Wire Style.

Denise Peck is editor in chief of Step by Step Wire Jewelry magazine, senior editor of Jewelry Artist, and author of the new book, Wire Style. An editor by trade and a lifelong lover of jewelry, she was able to pursue both when she joined Lapidary Journal in 2004. Denise has a bench jeweler's certificate from Studio Jeweler's Ltd.








 

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Comments

Gayle@48 wrote
on Jan 19, 2009 7:15 AM
Could you tell me the best way to have the silver shine again! This past weekend I wore my new sterling silver ring in a hot tub, not realizing what it would do, now it's very dull and muddy looking. . . I've tried jewelry cleaner and polish rags, nothing is working yet, is there a houshold chemical fix that would help? I don't wear much silver so I don't know what to do! Thanks, Gayle
BethM@3 wrote
on Jan 19, 2009 10:29 AM
Thanks for the info! Are the blackening agents damaging to stones and pearls? I'd like to wire-wrap stones and pearls with silver wire, and then darken it, but I worry that the chemicals will destroy the beads. I'm pretty sure the egg technique would be safe, but I also am big into instant gratification! Thanks for any help you might be able to give.
BarbS@39 wrote
on Jan 19, 2009 12:36 PM
Hi All, I enjoyed Denise's post about oxidizing your work, but want to add some extra information that has come up in my classes. Black Max and Silver Black should not be used for oxidizing copper! Silver Black will turn copper an ugly, flaky pink color. Putting copper into these solutions destroys them and trashes any silver you put into it afterwards. If you want to oxidize copper, use liver of sulphur. Do not use Black Max or Silver Black on plated findings, they will strip off the plating (even high-quality TierraCast products). These products are quite toxic and should be used with gloves, ventilation and great care. A tumbler is a power-tool for oxidation, but only if you polish the piece by hand first to provide highlight areas. If you put a completely oxidized piece into a tumbler without polishing it, it will come out a lovely shiny black with no silver highlights. Beaducation.com has a great, free pdf on antiquing and oxidizing your pieces that you can download and access any time. It's in the Tips & Tricks section of the web site.
Jane Lunders wrote
on Jan 19, 2009 7:18 PM
Where can I find Black Mac. Silver Black is no longer available from Rio Grande.
on Jan 27, 2009 11:07 AM
IF you cut the egg, BE SURE TO INCLUDE a piece of the egg yolk in the plastic bag, it has the most sulfur. Stan B.
Denise Peck wrote
on Mar 3, 2009 1:45 PM
Thanks for the additional information regarding using the chemical agents on copper. Good to know! Black Max is available through Rio Grande. And as for bringing back the shine on tarnished silver, the easiest way I know of is to line a bowl with aluminum foil, add a tbsp of baking soda, place your piece in the bowl and add boiling water. This method works will on a large scale as well, for sterling and silver plated flatware.
Radegunde wrote
on Jul 3, 2009 2:24 AM
Hello Gayle, your question as to how make silver shine again has been a couple of months ago, but perhaps you are still interested in an answer! So here it comes: you need: a small bowl aluminium foil (the normal household quality) 1 teaspoon seasalt 1 teaspoon baking soda hot water With the aluminium foil , cover all the inside of the bowl, add the salt and the baking soda and the hot water. Leave your silverring for an hour in this solution, then rub it with a soft fabric: the tarnish will come off quite easily. If you want to clean several pieces of silver, pay attention that they do not touch each other. This home-done electrolysis (in an salty environment, the silver-ions are migrating towards the aluminium) is great for oxidized silverchains, but be aware, that everytime you do it, your silver loses some of its substance, so don't do it too often and don't leave it for longer than an hour.
Russtty wrote
on Aug 3, 2009 10:16 AM
re: the abc's of oxidizing silver For general purpose information, there are two compounds that can be found in most households. Clorox, will give you a nice black finish,at 50/50 water as at full strength it will eat your silver. Amonia, Amonia gives you a very nice warm purple finish. The higher the concentraions of amonia the darker the purple will be.This finish does darken with age, but is plesant high lighted when polished. Both of these solutions require inteligent care,this means watch them carefully. This means if it has started to pit your silver the solution is too high. If planning to use an egg to darken your silver,only use the yolk,cut it into very small crumbly peices. Take a Quart zip-lock bag,put your crumbled egg pieces on a plastic drink lid,place it in the zip lock,place your silver in the bag beside it, zip it closed. Useing the egg method is a matter of Days not hours for darkening silver.
semajrn wrote
on Dec 2, 2010 5:34 PM

What would you use to darken metal that is NOT real silver, copper, or brass? I am using a magnetic clasp that  I purchased online, which looks like a shiny gold, but, of course is not! I would like to dull down the shine very much.

sfjohnson54 wrote
on May 7, 2013 10:12 AM

Hi. I am a beginner and have been making a handmade chain. I am using silver coated wire (or so the package says) and tried putting some scrap pieces in a bag with a cooked egg mashed up. Nothing happened. I only left the pieces in the bag for about fifteen minutes or so.

Is there a product I can use to age this cheap wire?

thanks in advance.