how to fix tarnish

How to Fix Tarnished Jewelry

So, this may confuse you but: you can and you can’t.

How you can: When the jewelry isn’t plated.

How you can’t: When the jewelry is plated.

This is pivotal when it comes to making jewelry, but with wearing and buying jewelry it’s also important to know, too.

I’m not going to say plated jewelry is evil and a waste of money and that there aren’t jewelers who don’t do it right (there are. Some jewelers will re-plate their work for free if it should ever rub off).

But, what’s happening? What does “plated” really mean and how can we get jewelry that lasts through washing our hands, dipping in the pool, and us wearing them everyday for years?

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So, people ask me how to fix an item that's tarnished. The thing is, not all metal is made the same.

To be made into jewelry, metals must be mixed with other metals to strength them.

These alloys, or mixtures of metals, tarnish. No matter what. Tarnishing only doesn't happen when metal is coated in enamel. And once that enamel is worn off, the same will happen.

Okay, so:

  1. There are metals that are the same metal alloy all the way through to their core (such as sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver and the rest is other metals to strengthen the alloy).

  2. There are other metals that are coated in other metals. At the core, they are a mixture of base metals that are coppery, brassy, or a dully gray. On the outside is a shiny gold or silver plating, for example.

For the 2nd, when the surface layer is tarnished--well, when we try to polish it up with a cloth, the tarnished layer comes off. Or it might've been rubbed off from being worn.

So, no. They can't be polished or brightened up. The only way to fix the item is to get the piece re-plated. For some pieces, this is a simple option.

For resin jewelry in particular, which I’m a maker and teacher of—re-plating involves heat and processes that can damage the resin beyond repair.

That means plated jewelry is often NOT the best option for resin jewelry in particular, because you likely can’t re-plate it and when tarnished the piece is just done.

Now, for the 1st, when a layer tarnishes and get's rubbed or polished off--underneath is layer after layer of bright, shiny new metal. This is the stuff heirlooms are made of.

When plating DOES last longer

A plated piece can still last a while. I have a pair of Kendra Scott earrings that are gold-plated and have not tarnished for a few years now. I don't wear it often and take care of it when I don't--but the plating is also covered in enamel.

On top of how often the piece is worn, the area it is worn on makes a difference, two. Rings can the most beatings, while earrings take less so.

For everyday wear, for rings, for the things you may not take off in the pool or when you wash your hands, for the things you'd like to pass on to your daughter, sell, etc., etc., etc.--

Go with something that's solid in the sense that the alloy, though not one metal, goes through to the core.

For example, .925 sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver with the remaining percentage being other metals to strength the silver and make it suitable for jewelry. On it’s own, it’s too soft and wouldn’t hold up as jewelry.

So it’s not technically “solid” silver, but it’s as solid as we’re going to get.

Similarly, “solid” brass or bronze, “solid” copper, high carat gold or gold-filled, or .925 sterling silver. That's the stuff that, when tarnished, are not totally ruined (and all metals tarnish, even the most high-quality. When exposed to oxygen, the oils of the human skin, and so on the metal oxidizes and )

“Is there an affordable in-between that isn’t brass or copper?”

Yes! Between plated and “solid” metals there’s something new:

Filled jewelry.

When it comes to silver, it’s affordable and I recommend .925 sterling silver.

But, when it comes to expensive gold, I highly recommend gold-filled jewelry.

It can come in many karats, commonly 14k and 18k. Think of it like this:

  • The higher the number, the more real gold content and the more yellow-gold color.

  • The lower the number, the less real gold and the more rose-gold the color.

However, a 14k gold-filled piece is not 14k gold all the way through. But, if it was, it’d be pricey.

With filled jewelry, it’s plated with 100 layers. So, while still plated, it will last longer than a typical plated piece that has one layer.

So, gold-filled will last 100x longer than gold-plated.

It may not make it to your great-great-great granddaughter, but it won’t be tarnished by next month, or next year, either.

So, if you try to polish something and it doesn't look better--it was probably plated and it's not going to come back.

This is part of the reason why I absolutely adore .925 sterling silver (also a good read on how to take care of and remove tarnish from sterling silver).

It's great for even sensitive skin, is way more affordable than gold, and is a shiny silver through to it's core. Layer after layer can tarnish and it can still be brought back to life.

Plated jewelry can still be fun and is still an option. But it will not last as long. When coated in enamel, it can last longer--but especially with open bezels it's difficult to find enamel coated plated jewelry.

In addition, re-plating would be damaging to resin jewelry.

Picking the right bezels, in the right metals, is important. We don’t want our creative efforts spent on pieces that will only last a few months. We want to create something lasting.

Not fast fashion.

Slow, thoughtful, intentional pieces of art we can hand down, sell, donate—we need to create things that can be re-used.

I'm teaching about this and SO MUCH more in my new course: the Resin Jewelry Guide.

It's jam-packed with info for only $15. Seriously. When finished, it'll only be $25 For secrets, tips, knowledge, and step-by-step plans from a teacher who's worked with resin for 3 years--

It's insanely affordable and valuable. Get your butt in now while it's 40% off.

I hope you go on to create/ wear/ share beautiful jewelry with or without a teacher.

But if you choose to have a teacher, I’ll be here to cheer you on and answer your questions.