How to oxidize silver jewelry

Written by sarah snow
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How to oxidize silver jewelry
This raised silver on this oxidised ring has been polished, creating a defined contrast within the design. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Every material on this planet breaks down over time. For silver, this process is called oxidisation. Over time silver bonds with oxygen, creating a dark patina similar to rust. Antique jewellery will blacken from oxidisation if it is not regularly polished. Many jewellery artisans like to add an oxidised patina to their jewellery. This can be accomplished by applying liver of sulphur to the silver. In addition to creating the antiqued, black patina, liver of sulfer can create a rainbow-coloured patina on silver. Experimentation with the oxidisation of silver will result in a wide range of colours, shades and designs.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Liver of sulphur
  • Silver jewellery
  • Baking soda
  • 2 bowls
  • Water
  • Heat source
  • Rubber gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Wire
  • Rag
  • Toothbrush
  • Silver polishing cloth

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  1. 1

    Clean all oil, dirt and fingerprints off of your silver piece. Use a mild detergent and a fingernail brush or toothbrush to get into recessed areas. Rinse thoroughly, and only touch the silver with gloved hands to prevent natural body oils from adhering to its surface.

    How to oxidize silver jewelry
    Heated sulphur produces a smell like rotten eggs. (Jupiterimages/ Images)
  2. 2

    Choose which type of patina you want to create add to your silver jewellery. An antiqued patina requires a very hot liver of sulphur solution and rainbow patinas are achieved with a moderate temperature solution.

  3. 3

    Create the liver of sulphur solution. Depending on what type of liver of sulphur you are using (stabilised gel, liquid, pellets or powder) follow the manufacturer's directions for the water and sulphur ratio.

  4. 4

    Create a neutralising solution with cold water and baking soda. Add 1/4 cup baking soda for each cup of cold water.

  1. 1

    Dip your silver jewellery into the liver of sulphur solution. Use a bent wire or tweezers for this step. Do not leave the jewellery soaking for extended periods of time because the patina will become too thick and chip of flake later.

    How to oxidize silver jewelry
    Gemstones can be immersed in liver of sulphur, except porous stones like pearls and opals. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  2. 2

    Leave the silver immersed in the liver of sulphur solution until it reaches the desired colour or until 15 seconds have passed. Do not leave it immersed for more than 15 seconds.

  3. 3

    Remove the silver jewellery from the liver of sulphur solution and place it in the cold water neutralising solution. It should rest here for at least one minute to stop the oxidisation process.

  4. 4

    Dip the silver jewellery into the liver of sulphur solution again to increase the darkness of the patina. Continue moving the silver jewellery from the liver of sulphur solution to the neutralising solution until you achieve your desired patina.

  1. 1

    Use a silver polishing cloth, wire brush or very fine jeweller's sandpaper to remove unwanted patina. This process is commonly used to polish the raised silver.

    How to oxidize silver jewelry
    Polishing silver jewellery can be done with many tools. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  2. 2

    Protect the patina by placing a sealant on the silver jewellery. There are two popular sealants for silver patina: a natural beeswax sealant and a jewellery laquer. The beeswax sealant comes in a paste form while the laquer is spray-on.

  3. 3

    Allow the silver jewellery piece adequate time to dry after the sealant has been applied. If this jewellery item is worn often, the sealant will need to be reapplied at a later time.

Tips and warnings

  • Experiment with the oxidisation process to get different and unique results.
  • Add a small amount of ammonia (1 tbsp per cup of liver of sulphur solution) to increase the rainbow colours in the patina.
  • Sulphur is used on matches to ignite flame. If you are using a powder or tablet form of sulphur, keep it away from any flames.

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