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Many people have problems in working with Sterling Silver jewelry wire.
The problems are two fold. First, in some environments and for some
people, sterling silver will tarnish very rapidly, loosing it shiny
appearance and becoming almost black. Second, once a jewelry item is
completed it is not very easy to polish the silver without resorting to
chemical baths. In the following paragraphs we will discuss some
options for minimizing this problem.
First, let's discuss why we have this problem. The current generation of Sterling Silver is defined as a metal alloy containing 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper and is frequently stamped as "925" silver, indicating the percentage of silver. The term alloy means that the composition of the metal is essentially a soup of individual atoms of silver and copper combined in the percentages given. On the microscopic level the wire is basically silver and copper, each with their own chemical properties. Unlike many molecules like salt, where the sodium and chlorine combine to form a compound unlike either sodium or chlorine, in the sterling silver alloy the silver and copper each behave as silver and copper. Silver is a precious metal because it is very stable and doesn't react easily. Copper is not a precious metal because it is less stable and is more likely to react with other chemicals forming a new molecule like salt. In essence, tarnish on sterling silver is formed by the copper and silver atoms in the alloy reacting with chemicals in the atmosphere like chlorine and sulfur compounds forming a new molecule with a dark almost black color.
In the next page we will discuss some options for minimizing this tarnish.
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