Antiqued silver pieces are real silver. Alloys and fine silver darken over time, creating an antique finish where the high points are silver and the recessed portions are dark. New silver and silver alloy items are sometimes treated so they gain years of patina in a fraction of the time.
The photo below shows an antique, low-silver-content, alloy ring with a gray cats eye stone. The antique finish occurred naturally and slowly over a very long period of time. You can tell two things by looking at the patina. First, it is soft and variable in the high and low spots in the design which indicates that it was not patina treated. Second, you can tell it’s an allow because the silver color is gold-tinged. It is probably a brass-silver alloy but only acid testing could provide certainty.
Here we have a .999 fine silver antique French skull ring. The patina appears organic, especially when viewed in light of the micro-scratches on the raised surfaces of the skull. In this example you can see how the patina gathers in crevasses and slowly fades as the surface protrudes. There are no sharp defining lines between the patina surfaces and shiny surfaces which indicates it is naturally occurring.
If you are ever curious about an unmarked vintage or antique item, you can paper test it. Hold the jewelry like a pen and write with it on plain white paper. Fine silver leave bold gray marks. Fine and sterling silver plated and .925 silver leave faint gray marks. Less than .500 silver alloys will require a lot of “writing” to leave any mark.
The vintage amber ring in the photo below arrived from Avon with the patina you see here. Being stamped .925 silver, the ring passes the writing test. At the factory, Avon applied a patina which remains unchanged. A popular way to apply patina is with the alchemic-sounding ingredient liver of sulphur. Liver of sulphur is sulphurated potash mostly consisting of potassium polysulfides. It is alkaline, and will turn silver and other metals black on contact. Liver of sulphur is a stone alkaline, and caustic, so handle with care. Avon most likely used liver of sulphur to chemically age the amber ring.
The last ring we discuss is a celestial-themed toe ring. This toe ring is .925 silver with an applied patina. Made in 2015, the toe ring has a perfect aged patina thanks to liver of sulphur. You can tell the difference between a newer liver of sulphur patina and an organic patina right away, by the crispness of the patina. The new patina ends abruptly; there is no fading. Over time, it is more difficult to tell which patinas are genuine and which are not.
If a jewelry item is old enough to have a patina there is almost no way to tell the difference between genuine and applied patinas. In addition, some silversmiths apply patina in layers so that the patina looks aged. They apply thin layers one at a time and remove enough of the liver of sulphur in-between coats to layer patina in deeper areas, and leave only a thin layer in shallow places. Part of the reason it is difficult to tell which patinas are genuine and which patinas are applied is because exposure to alkaline substances is what causes patina. Whether your jewelry slowly achieved its patina or arrived from the jewelry store with a beautiful patina, the patina is evidence of the same chemical reaction.
Cleaning a silver patina ring requires gentle soap and warm water. Polishing, however, can remove the patina and is typically unnecessary. If you chose to polish your patina jewelry take heed to polish only the raised surfaces. Read more about polishing your silver in this Pendant and Ring post!
Come back on Tuesday to review upcoming winter jewelry trends!