Caring for Fine Silver

Half Hoop Earrings, Designed by Anna Harper

Most people don’t consider fine silver as an option when choosing jewelry. There are many reasons for this, mostly myths about its properties and limitations. One myth is that silver is softer than gold. Another misconception is that it is not a precious metal; while it is cheaper than both platinum and gold, it is still a precious metal.

Fine silver is a pure metal, silver without any copper added. At 2.5 on the Mohs scale, it is too soft for most jewelry. Fine silver is most commonly marked with .999 FS, or only .999, indicating 99.9% purity. The 0.1% remaining consists of trace elements of insignificant quantity. However, it has the same hardness as pure (24k) gold.

Fine silver is an excellent choice for ceremonial Jewish wedding bands, a continuous band of pure fine silver without end. And fine silver ceremonial wedding rings are much more affordable than 24k pure gold ceremonial wedding bands. And depending on the design, and the use it's also a wonderful alternative choice for people who are allergic to sterling silver. The piece should be designed in a way that minimizes the wear on the softer metal. And wearing a fine silver ring for everyday use is not advisable because it will easily scratch.


Most forms of silver will tarnish over time. Wearing your jewelry will help keep it from tarnishing too quickly. silver doesn’t tarnish if it’s polished regularly. When you wear it regularly, as it rubs against your skin is polished. Another option is putting it in an airtight zipper bag when not in use, slowing down the tarnishing process. This also will keep it from getting scratched by harder other jewelry when stored in a jewelry box. 

Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that forms over copper, brass, aluminum, magnesium, neodymium, and other similar metals as their outermost layer undergo a chemical reaction. Tarnish does not always result from the sole effects of oxygen in the air. For example, silver needs hydrogen sulfide to tarnish, although it may tarnish with oxygen over time. It often appears as a dull, gray, or black film or coating over metal. 

The effect of oxidizing pieces is different. Oxidation happens when silver jewelry is purposely exposed to air that contains sulfur. This compound, silver sulfide, creates blacked patches, which gives the silver a dark black finish.

Both oxidation and tarnish are surface phenomena and self-limiting. Unlike rust, only the top few layers of the metal react, and the layer of tarnish seals and protects the underlying layers from reacting.


It’s safe to clean most silver jewelry and antiques with an anti-tarnish polishing cloth as long as you take great care that it does not come in contact with a gemstone stone or that you rub off any areas that may have an oxidized, a patina, or a painted finish.

Lacquered pieces should only be wiped with a clean soft cotton cloth, free of cleaning solutions. Damp the cloth with warm water only, rub very lightly or patted dry with a clean soft cotton cloth, gently dabbing any excess water from the stone. Never soak a lacquered piece. If they are yellowed or sticky to touch, it is time to take them to a professional who can safely remove the aged lacquer and restore its finish.

If your silver has no stones, special surface finishes, or anything extra that would react to soaking or heat, you can use a hands-free process to clean your silver. Check out my care guide: The Non-toxic Way to Clean Your Sterling Silver Jewelry.

For very old vintage and antique pieces with untreated stones, you can use a toothpick to carefully remove thick debris and dirt from the metal. If you are careful not to touch the stone with them, they may scratch it. Many collectors will want to keep the natural patina; polishing can devalue a piece. If it is a piece of value, I highly advise taking it to a trained jeweler who can clean and repair it for you if needed.


‘Tarnish’, Wikipedia:

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