Caring for and cleaning sterling silver jewelry comes up several times a month. It’s the question we hear most often (other than “what’s under the kilts?”). Whether for a new piece of Celtic sterling hand cast by us or a hundred-year-old Victorian silver treasure, proper care is easy once you know how. Just follow these basic guidelines for polishing and maintaining these soon-to-be family heirlooms.
Cleaning Sterling Jewelry
Our customers love the durability and lasting shine of sterling. It takes a beating and keeps looking fantastic. This may sound counterintuitive, but you’ll want a little of the darkness (the tarnish or patina) over time. The contrast makes the brighter surface areas shine even more — very important to the look of quality silver jewelry.
We urge you to avoid jewelry cleaning dips for three very important reasons. First, if you dip unevenly or inconsistently, lines will develop on your jewelry where each dip ends. These can be very difficult to remove later. Second, dips tend to give a bright, consistent shine across the entire piece. As I pointed out, sterling silver jewelry should have darker and lighter areas. The deeper patina in the pits and crevices gives it visual relief and is an intentional part of the design. Most important, many commercial dips will create microscopic abrasions and pits in your silver, which will damage the piece over time.
Need a good cleaning for a long-neglected piece? Start with a little soap and water. If there’s any dirt or debris, a soft brush will take it right off. To remove the darkest layer of tarnish, make a paste of baking soda and water in a small ramekin. A surprisingly small amount of water will give a few teaspoons of soda a toothpaste consistency. Gently buff the paste into the exposed silver areas of the piece. This deoxidizes the tarnish without harming the silver. Rinse with warm water and dry thoroughly. For a deeper cleaning, you may need to repeat the process.
Again, the goal isn’t a brilliant shine. You want a warm, natural sheen with highlights and lowlights like quality old silver.
Maintaining Sterling Jewelry
If you wear your Celtic and Scottish silver jewelry on a regular basis, you are already doing the right maintenance. In fact, the more you wear your jewelry, likely the more lustre it will keep. If you feel the need to give your jewelry a quick shine, use a dry silver cloth. Find these online or at most home and kitchen stores. Just a few seconds of buffing will give your piece a nice glow. A single cloth can be used over and over again. Between uses, store your silver in a clean, dry space. Some like to use a silver cleaning cloth as a space liner, but with regular wear that shouldn’t be necessary.
A Word of Caution
While most silver will resist most daily wear and regular cleaning, be aware of the stones in your treasures. Softer stones — such as opals, cameos, pearls and marcasite — may scratch from even gentle care. If you aren’t sure, drop us a line or ask another expert. There are always options for giving your silver heirlooms a new shine.
If you need more general help with care of vintage and antique jewelry, you can check out our online guide here.
If you ever have a question about cleaning sterling silver jewelry or the proper care of an antique piece, let us know. We will give you our best guidance or point you in the direction of someone better suited to your specific needs.