Caring for Argentium Sterling Silver Jewelry

Argentium Chainmaille Clear Quartz Dangles
Argentium Sterling Silver ... what is it? I've talked about Argentium before in my blog. I've sung its praises, I've shown it and described it to everyone I meet (it seems) but I still hear a question now and then that breaks my heart: "What is Argentium - is it real Sterling silver?"  ...  alas, my tiny little world is not the world where everyone lives. So I'll start with some basic information.

One way to understand Argentium Sterling Silver is to compare it to standard Sterling Silver, which more people are familiar with. Regular Sterling contains 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. In addition, it contains a tiny bit of "something else" which acts as the hardener. If you've read my previous blog posts, you'll know that this little bit of unidentified silver stuff can sometimes be nickel, and for those of us with allergies, is the source of some aggravation.  

Enter: Argentium Sterling Silver. Argentium Sterling Silver is correctly identified as Sterling Silver, since it meets the definition of having at least the same amount of silver, in combination with copper. In fact it contains either 93.5% or 96% pure silver, and the rest is copper. And the tiny bit of something? ... the magic that makes it Argentium ... is Germanium. Germanium in Sterling silver means a couple of important things for me and my nickel-allergic friends out there. The most important thing is that Argentium is reliably, always, and guaranteed to be ... nickel-free. The 
Overlapping Argentium Satin Disk Earrings
presence of germanium in silver also has the thrilling effect of making Argentium Sterling Silver tarnish resistant. Well, if you really love scrubbing the tarnish off your standard Sterling jewelry every month or so, go ahead, but for most of us, it's a serious "Aha" moment when we learn there is another kind of Sterling silver jewelry.

The reason Argentium is tarnish resistant is that the germanium oxidizes more readily than the copper. To say it another way, the germanium tarnishes first. The germanium oxide that forms on the surface of the silver is perfectly clear, and actually prevents the copper beneath it from tarnishing. (Silver doesn't tarnish, by the way, only copper does.) 

So as you care for your Argentium Sterling Silver jewelry, visualize this layer of germanium as the thing you want to protect and preserve. If the clear layer of germanium oxide becomes scratched or damaged, the silver/copper alloy beneath it will tarnish more readily. I have even learned that Argentium becomes more tarnish resistant over time - this comes from the fact that the germanium will naturally rise to the surface of the metal on its own. Nevertheless, it is not tarnish "proof" - it can darken or yellow over time, so here are some basic guidelines for caring for your jewelry. 

Rose Quartz Argentium Wire Wrapped Dangles (Sold)

Argentium Jewelry Care

For starters, do not use cleaners that are intended for use with standard Sterling Silver. Most of these are intended to rip the outer layer of the metal off, and that is not what you want to do at all. 

You can clean your Argentium jewelry from time to time with a mild dish soap solution, but with a word of caution, so please allow me my little speech:

I know some of you out there like shiny clean jewelry all of the time, so you like to scrub at it every night as hard as you can. But I'm trying to tell you as nicely as I can, DON'T do this to your Argentium. You will hardly have to clean your Argentium Sterling Silver jewelry at all, actually, but as life's little messes occur, sometimes a bit of soap and water is called for.  Just remember to handle the jewelry gently - place it in a small bowl, cover it with plain water and a small drop of dish soap. You can swirl it gently, let it soak for a few minutes, and pat it gently dry with a soft cloth. 

Black Glass Argentium Spiral Earrings
Rinse any soap throughly from your jewelry. Soap, itself, can sometimes be a source for allergies, or  cause dry skin that makes you more vulnerable to allergies. Rinsing your jewelry in clear water with no soap is also a good option for everyday care, and will at least get sweat and dust particles off of it. It is best practice to store each jewelry item in it's own little plastic zipper pouch, but make sure your jewelry is completely dry before sealing it in anything.

Weird, But True: 

Don't store your Argentium near rubber bands. The rubber bands are made rubbery by using sulfur on them when they are made, and as they age, residual sulfur gets into the air around. This is enough sulfur to make your Argentium tarnish. Huh, who knew?

Similarly, there are some geographical areas which just have more sulfur in the air than others. If you have a high-sulfur environment, you may find that you need to clean or polish your jewelry more frequently. As usual, keeping jewelry in a  zipper pouch is also a good safeguard.

General Jewelry Care 

There are a few things you should avoid with all of your quality jewelry - these include chlorinated pool water, hair spray, perfumes, lotion, hand sanitizer, and household cleaning chemicals. Also, do not let the cat eat it, don't drop it down the sewer grate, and don't leave it behind on the city bus. Just sayin'. 

What I Can Do For You

Now that I have been learning more about Argentium, I have actually changed and enhanced some of my shop practices. To ensure that your jewelry has Maximum Tarnish Resistance Super Powers, I have learned that I have to bake it. Yes, you heard me correctly. I now have a small oven dedicated to this purpose. Heat-treating the metal after it is formed into jewelry causes the germanium to rise to the top layer of the metal again, and voil√°, your jewelry is shiny for the duration. Heating the metal actually stiffens the wire a little too, making it even more durable. 

Did I mention that Argentium is made entirely of recycled silver? That makes it one of the greenest options in metal jewelry available. I love Argentium. 

And furthermore ... I am now a proud member of the Argentium Sterling Silver Guild. In this way I can continue to improve my metal-working and design ideas for this rather special metal. 

So carry on, enjoy your jewelry, and live life exuberantly. 

Comments

  1. Argentium earrings are definitely in my future, Mary Jo!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Donna Jo, actually, but no prob. I'm glad you like the sound of Argentium - you'll love it in person.

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