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What Causes Fine Jewellery to Tarnish and the Best Way to Avoid Tarnish

Fine jewellery is a term that refers to jewellery made of precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, or palladium, often adorned with gemstones or pearls. Fine jewellery is usually more expensive and durable than fashion jewellery, which is made of plated metals, semi-precious stones, beads, or glass. However, fine jewellery is not immune to tarnishing, which is a process of discoloration or corrosion that affects the surface of metals over time.

Causes of Tarnish

Tarnishing is caused by multiple environmental factors and the types of metal used in fine jewellery. The climate where you live, the amount of sulphur in the air, and your body’s pH balance can impact how quickly your jewellery becomes discoloured. Over time, jewellery comes in contact with moisture, acids, oils and air, which react with the metal in the jewellery, causing it to eventually wear down and tarnish.

Sulphur and other airborne chemicals are the main cause of tarnish, and jewellery tarnishes much faster if it’s left out in the open than if it’s stored away in an acid-free, closed container. Sulphur is found naturally in the air, but can also be transferred by direct contact, as it’s produced by our bodies to fight bacteria. Depending on the environment your silver is stored, it will become tarnished at varying speeds.

The reason why fine jewellery tarnishes is because the metals used in fine jewellery are generally between 9k and 18k gold, rather than pure 24k gold (which is too soft for practical everyday wear). This means that they are mixed with other metals such as copper, zinc, nickel, or silver to create alloys that are stronger and more suitable for jewellery making. However, these alloys also make the jewellery more susceptible to tarnishing.

Gold jewellery tarnishes when the other metals mixed with gold react with external factors in the environment, such as oxygen, liquids, and moisture. The higher the percentage of other metals in gold jewellery, the more likely it is to tarnish. For example, 18k gold contains 75% gold and 25% other metals, while 9k gold contains only 37.5% gold and 62.5% other metals. Therefore, 9k gold will tarnish faster than 18k gold⁵.

Silver jewellery tarnishes when it reacts with sulphur or oxygen in the air. Silver is especially reactive to sulphur and this reaction is what causes the dreaded tarnish. It will affect your silver in varying degrees, starting with a dullness or a slight golden colour, eventually resulting in a black coating on the metal. Silver also undergoes oxidation when exposed to oxygen, which can cause a darkening or a loss of shine on the surface.

Platinum and palladium jewellery are less prone to tarnishing than gold or silver jewellery because they are more resistant to corrosion and oxidation. Platinum and palladium are also hypoallergenic metals that do not cause allergic reactions or irritations on the skin. However, they can still develop scratches or dents over time due to wear and tear.

Best Ways to Avoid Tarnish

To prevent tarnishing, you can:

– Keep your jewellery dry and avoid contact with moisture and liquids. Moisture can accelerate the chemical reactions that cause tarnish. Liquids such as water, perfume, lotion, hairspray, bleach, vinegar, lemon juice, or salt water can damage your jewellery or leave stains on it.
– Store your jewellery properly in a cool, dry place and avoid exposure to air and humidity. Air and humidity can increase the amount of sulphur and oxygen that your jewellery comes in contact with. Store your jewellery in a closed jewellery box or in velvet or cotton jewellery bags. You can also add strips or cases of anti-tarnish cloth that have a patented additive that absorbs sulphur and oxygen from the air. Alternatively, you can use chalk pieces or silica gel packets that absorb moisture from the air.
– Try a jewellery protectant spray that can create a protective shield against tarnishing. These sprays are usually clear and invisible and can be applied to your jewellery before wearing it or after cleaning it. They can also help prevent scratches or dents on your jewellery.
– Give your jewellery a break and avoid wearing it when you sweat, shower, swim, or sleep. Sweat can contain acids and salts that can corrode your jewellery. Showering, swimming, or sleeping with your jewellery can expose it to water, soap, chlorine, or other chemicals that can damage it. It can also cause your jewellery to get tangled or caught on something.
– Clean your jewellery regularly to remove dirt, dust, oils, or tarnish. Cleaning your jewellery can restore its shine and prevent further tarnishing. You can use a soft cloth, a soft toothbrush, or a mild soap and water solution to gently wipe or scrub your jewellery. Avoid using abrasive or harsh cleaners that can scratch or damage your jewellery. You can also use a commercial cleaner such as a polishing cloth, a liquid polish, or a paste that are specially designed for fine jewellery. Follow the instructions on the packaging and test on a small area first. Do not soak your jewellery in a silver dip or any other chemical solution that can harm your jewellery or the stones or pearls on it.


Fine jewellery is a valuable and beautiful accessory that can enhance your appearance and style. However, it can also tarnish over time due to various environmental factors and the types of metal used in it. Tarnishing can affect the colour, shine, and quality of your jewellery and can also stain your clothes or skin. To avoid tarnishing, you need to take good care of your jewellery by keeping it dry, storing it properly, protecting it with a spray, giving it a break, and cleaning it regularly. By following these tips, you can keep your fine jewellery from tarnishing and enjoy its beauty for a long time.