Do you own a piece of silver jewellery that has been blackened as part of the design?
Did you know that in reference to silver jewellery the terms oxidized, blackened, antiqued and patinated all mean the same thing?
In this blog post we're diving into blackened silver jewellery and the undeniable charm it brings to these unique pieces. We explore the process of achieving this distinctive patina, why we use this technique and how to properly care for your blackened silver jewellery.
In the world of jewellery, where creativity abounds, artisans are constantly seeking new ways to captivate the senses and create pieces that resonate. One technique that has stood the test of time and continues to allure both jewellery lovers and makers is the use of patina. Patina, a delicate layer that forms on metal surfaces due to intentional oxidation or natural aging, adds a unique character and depth to jewellery, lending it a touch of antiquity and a story to tell.
THE ORIGINS OF PATINA IN JEWELLERY
The concept of patina can be traced back centuries, with its origins deeply rooted in ancient civilizations. The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, revered for their intricate metalwork, were among the early adopters of using patina to enhance the beauty of their jewellery. In these ancient cultures, patina was seen not as a sign of wear and tear but as a mark of distinction, a testament to the passage of time and the durability of the piece. Over time, the technique evolved and spread to various cultures, becoming an integral part of jewelry-making traditions worldwide.
BLACKENED SILVER JEWELLERY: THE PROCESS
Silver jewellery can become patinated naturally over time or it can be blackened intentionally as part of the design process.
Patina is the result of a natural chemical reaction that occurs when silver interacts with its environment over an extended period. Environmental factors such as air, moisture, and pollutants trigger a slow oxidation process that eventually forms a thin layer on the metal's surface, resulting in a unique range of colours. This natural patination process can take years, with each piece developing its own distinct patina based on its exposure and the elements it encounters. This process is also known as tarnishing!
But we jewellers can't wait around for years for a piece to develop a natural patina so we use an oxidizing solution that hurries this process right along. Our chemical of choice here at Mikel Grant Jewellery is called liver of sulfur. This (stinky) chemical gets mixed with hot water and our silver pieces are dipped repeatedly into the solution until a beautiful, rich black colour is achieved. We almost always polish away part of the patina in order to highlight a texture or pattern that has been applied to the silver.
As an aside: the pieces actually go through a range of colours when dipped in the liver of sulfur solution from straw yellow through orange and pinky-red to blue and purple and finally black. It's quite a beautiful process to observe. We choose to remove the pieces only once they are a deep rich black because the other colours are too difficult to maintain for any length of time on a piece of jewellery.
BLACKENED SILVER: DEFINING TERMS
From the Cambridge Dictionary: Patina: a thin surface layer that develops on something because of use, age, or chemical action.
As we have discovered, both a deliberate oxidation and natural processes lead to silver jewellery developing a patina, a blackened appearance. When this is done intentionally by jewellers the piece achieves a look that mimics antique jewellery.
This is why the terms oxidized, blackened, patinated and antiqued are all used interchangeably to describe blackened silver jewellery.
WHY USE PATINA ON SILVER JEWELLERY?
We jewellery artisans have embraced the use of patina as a means of artistic expression. With the use of patina we can create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that speak to the individuality of the wearer.
By intentionally inducing the patination process, we can create custom finishes and highlight specific design elements. The juxtaposition of patinated and polished surfaces, for example, creates a striking contrast that draws attention to intricate details, textures, and patterns and accentuates the design adding depth to the overall piece.
Jewellery that combines the contrasting tones of blackened silver with gold elements creates a visually striking and sophisticated aesthetic. The dark allure of blackened silver beautifully complements the warm, radiant glow of gold and effortlessly catches the eye.
And nothing makes gemstones and pearls pop like combining them with blackened silver. The darkened metal provides a striking backdrop for the vibrant hues and lustrous shine of gems and pearls, exuding a sense of depth and drama.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR BLACKENED SILVER JEWELLERY
It is important to remember that patina is a surface treatment.
To preserve your patina, it is necessary to clean your patinated jewelry with care. Avoid harsh chemicals (like dip polish or silver paste cleaner), excessive polishing, or abrasive cleaning methods including the baking soda cleaning method (see our blog post on cleaning your tarnished jewellery for a discussion of this method).
We advise giving your piece a rinse in mild soap and water only. This should remove any dirt or build up without damaging the patina.
In pieces that have contrasting areas of patina (in the recesses of a design) and shiny silver, you can use a very soft pass with one of our soft polishing cloths. This will shine up the areas of high polish without taking away the patina.
Also be aware that jewellery pieces that get a lot of wear (like rings), this patina can wear away with time so just be aware of this when purchasing a patinated piece. However, a patina can usually be re-applied by a jeweller.
The allure of patina in jewellery lies in its ability to add depth and dimension to jewellery pieces. As both a natural process and an artistic technique, patina continues to captivate jewellery enthusiasts, offering a window into the past and an enchanting appeal that transcends trends and time.
Embrace the beauty of patina, and let your jewelry whisper its mysterious charms.
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