Don’t you wish you could instantly tell if the jewelry you are about to buy will tarnish or not?
Well, you can, and it all lies in understanding what metals are used for the jewelry and also the properties of the metal.
Some metals will always tarnish, regardless of how well you care for them, but others are much more resistant and will retain most of the original sparkle for years.
So, if you are getting ready to go jewelry shopping, this article shares insights on everything you need to know about jewelry metals that will tarnish and the ones that will be resistant to tarnishing.
What Metals Tarnish? Why?
When shopping for fashion jewelry, tarnishing is always a big cause of concern, especially because these kinds of jewelry are made with cheaper metals that don’t often have the best properties.
So, while the jewelry will look great when the pieces are still new and haven’t been worn much, you will notice color changes soon enough.
This means that although fashion jewelry gives you access to a wider variety of stunning jewelry varieties that work quite well with different outfits and you won’t have to re-do your whole wardrobe, there is the frustration that comes from this kind of jewelry tarnishing too quickly, rusting, chipping, and fading.
It is also wise to take time to understand the properties of different metals used in fashion jewelry because jewelry manufacturers and retailers hardly ever share these details or warn you about the fact that the jewelry may eventually tarnish.
Before we look at the listed metals that tarnish, what are the meanings of the common words used to describe metals and their wearing-out processes?
First, alloys refer to the metals that are created from the combination of at least two metallic elements, resulting in higher strength and more durable metals.
Tarnish results from an outermost metal layer reaction that takes place after the metal’s exposure to moisture and air.
The layer of tarnish on the outer surface of the metal is thin and dull, which represents the corrosion from the chemical reaction that has taken place.
Often, this dull layer leads to the discoloration of the metal. Depending on the metal, this dull, tarnished layer can be easily removed by cleaning and maintaining the jewelry appropriately.
That said, tarnish shouldn’t be confused with patina, which develops after a long time. Also, patina may develop naturally or even intentionally when applied to the metals.
Often, the patina features a gray, green, black, or brown hue, depending on the metals in question. But in most cases, jewelry with a patina ‘finish’ will be described as jewelry with an ‘oxidized finish.’
So, here is an outline of the metals that will most certainly tarnish.
Copper is the most popular metal used in jewelry, but along with its alloys, copper tarnishes when exposed to moisture and air and will develop a blue-green patina after some time.
Note that pure copper is naturally orange-red and tarnishes, developing a reddish tarnish thanks to oxidation. As a result, copper is the main reason for tarnishing in most copper alloys.
2. Sterling Silver
Although sterling silver is a superior quality metal often used in varieties of fine jewelry, it is, unfortunately, not resistant to tarnishing.
This is because even though it is borne out of the precious metal silver, silver is too soft to create solid and durable jewelry. But it is a beautiful metal, so it must be utilized in jewelry – for this, the silver is alloyed with copper, albeit at a low concentration.
Sterling silver results from the alloying of 92.5% pure silver with 7.5% copper and maybe other metals.
Despite the low copper content, that copper is more than enough to spark tarnishing.
This happens when the copper is oxidized, often following the exposure of sterling silver jewelry to air and/or other chemical agents present in the body, skin, and hair care products.
Exposure to chlorine in the swimming pool will also trigger oxidation and tarnishing of the metal.
Often, tarnishing in sterling silver is seen as a darkened film on the sterling silver, and the jewelry pieces lose their original bright luster. In other cases, tarnished sterling silver will leave a green discoloration on your skin.
Brass boasts a stunning golden finish, but you should know that this metal is not the most durable metal, and it is undoubtedly not tarnish-free. Brass is an alloy created from zinc and copper.
It will tarnish because the copper in the metal readily oxidizes when it comes in contact with different environmental elements and even your skin.
You may not notice when the changes start happening, but soon enough, the color of the jewelry will change, and you will easily tell that there is some unwanted reaction when you notice the green discoloration or stains deposited on your skin.
4. Gold-Plated Jewelry (Including Gold-filled and gold-vermeils over low-quality base metals)
Most of the plated, filled, and gold-vermeil fashion jewelry may tarnish, although it largely depends on what the base metal is.
But in most cases, when the layer of plated gold wears away, the underlying base metal, like brass, nickel, or pewter, is exposed to the surface, and if the base metal’s components are easily oxidized, the jewelry will tarnish quite easily.
In the case of gold vermeils, whose base metal is sterling silver, the rate of tarnishing is quite slow because the vermeil features a relatively thick gold layer.
It will not wear out easily, which is why most gold vermeil jewelry pieces last for years and don’t tarnish.
However, the gold-filled jewelry pieces will tarnish sooner than the vermeils but not as fast as the gold-plated pieces that often have a very thin layer of gold which wears out quite fast.
Although it is not a commonly used metal in jewelry making, some jewelers use it. If it’s made of pure aluminum, the tarnish develops as a clear, protective film that won’t tarnish.
However, you will notice significant tarnishing for jewelry made of aluminum alloys.
Despite being the most durable of the copper alloys, bronze made of tin and copper will tarnish quickly when exposed to air and moisture, forming a green film when the layer of tarnish is not removed.
Are there metals that may tarnish?
Yes. The metals that may or may not tarnish include pure silver, all gold-plated varieties, and stainless steel.
What Metals won’t Tarnish? Why?
If you want good quality jewelry that will never rust and boasts the best quality materials, we recommend choosing jewelry made of solid gold, preferably the higher karat solid gold pieces.
Because gold is essentially the least reactive metal on earth in its purest forms, it always retains its bright and shiny, and lustrous finish without any tarnishing or discoloration.
Unfortunately, it has to be alloyed for use in jewelry, and copper is the metal that is often alloyed with pure gold, meaning that in gold pieces made with high copper content, there is the possibility of tarnishing.
But the risk of tarnishing is mostly averted for pieces made with more pure gold and a low concentration of other metals, like 18k gold that is mostly alloyed with silver. With 14k gold, there is a slim possibility of tarnishing.
A great alternative to the expensive and tarnish-resistant high karat solid gold is titanium, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Titanium is non-reactive and highly resistant to corrosion, rusting, and tarnish – air and water interactions have no effect on this metal.
And it will always retain its shine and lustrous finish with minimal maintenance.
The other affordable, tarnish-resistant metal for you to try is niobium, which will not react or get tarnished when exposed to air, moisture, or other conditions.
4. Tungsten (Tungsten Carbide)
Tungsten, better known as tungsten carbide, is regarded as the hardest metals that is incorporated in jewelry, and it is mainly used because of its unique color profile, durability, and the fact that it doesn’t tarnish or get corroded at all, which means that it will always look as good as new.
Just avoid the lower-quality industrial-grade tungsten options.
Although platinum is tarnish-resistant, it develops a patina over time when it’s dented or nicked, not because of oxidation.
The most interesting bit is that a number of people are pulled to that patina to look over platinum, and they treasure the older pieces even more.
This is the other stunning, durable, and high-quality metal that will retain its lustrous bright shine and finish for a very long time.
It is extremely resistant to tarnishing.
Last on our list of great quality and tarnish-resistant metals is cobalt.
The main features include being a naturally hard metal that doesn’t tarnish and can be used as is and without any later plating.
Its natural color is stunning, and you won’t have to worry about it dulling after some time.
Now that you know which metals tarnish and which ones will not tarnish, or even the ones that may tarnish, you will make better choices regarding good quality jewelry.
Read more jewelry metal posts here or here!
Tiger is a fashion&jewelry lover. He is also a fashion jewelry manufacturer that help thousands of small business to grow and also do business with some big fashion jewelry brands. He is a truly metal expert and he will share some information you are looking for.