It certainly takes the sparkle away from your recent purchase if you find it has a had a bad polish.
Learning How to Polish Silver
I experimented with polishing for a couple of years before attending The Goldsmiths Centre's course on polishing by the master of polishing and finishing himself, Stephen M Goldsmith. Known around the streets of Hatton Garden and beyond as the gold polishing Guru.
If you would like to find out what Stephen is holding in this picture and why, I recommend his book "Polishing and Finishing for Jewellers and Silversmiths By Stephen M Goldsmith", or attend one of his courses.
I was shocked to see raw silver casts, how milky white the metal looked, the stubby sprue stump and the single solid colour across the piece, not a sparkle in sight.
Many jewellery designers have big polishing wheels, but for now I have a rotary drill and drill bits that are micro versions of the big set up. Almost all of the tools come in miniature, and though they really don't last as long and are more expensive in the long run, it is possible to create the same finish.
My Jewellery Polishing Equipment:
- Files and sand paper
- A drill - I have a cordless micro dremel and a have recently upgraded to a foredom rotary drill. The drill bits are different sizes, I have collets for the Dremel to fit them all but the rotary drill only fits the smaller pieces.
- Drill bits - these come in all shapes and sizes, you can get them from Walshes and Cookson Gold. I love the Dremel abrasive brushes to get into the corners, the buffs create a fantastic matt finish, I would be lost without the mini sand paper rollers.
- Rouge / tripoli - polishing compound to create a shine. This is essentially grease with grain in it. You can get different colours with different grain. It's a little like sand paper, the grain gets finer and finer for a more perfect shine.
- Rags - to stop my bench being covered in rouge
- Cotton wool - for the final clean
First I use the files and sand paper to smooth the item. This includes removing the sprue. The sprue is where the silver was poured in to the cast to create the jewellery, this is usually cut off after casting but leaves a small lump. All of the silver that comes off when filing this away can be collected and recycled.
I make sure all of the pieces have been properly polished, working my way through the grades of tools until I am creating a high shine with the finest rouge.
Oxidising and Blackening Silver
At this point I start to look at any changes I want to make, if I want to create depth or add texture I will oxidise the silver. This is a process that tarnishes the silver quickly, making it darker. This is only the surface of the silver and can be used to create depth and pull out details.
The ring is oxidised using ammonium hydro-sulphide or liver of sulphur. During this process the silver changes to green, purples, reds, blues and then black. You can stop and use any patina that you see on the metal, but the effect is temporary, when the surface of the metal changes with wear this colour will be rubbed away.
I use a spikey drill bit to fix the darkness into any of the textures created on the surface of the silver.
Different ways to Polish Jewellery
Next I return to the mops and felts, using them to remove the oxidised surface in areas, creating different effects and finishes on the surface of the metal.
Polishing is an art in itself and can completely change the look and feel of an item of jewellery.
The most popular finish for men's jewellery seems to be the textured look. This adds scratches and marks, perfect for anyone trying to avoid that "bling". Matt is also a subtle option.
No matter what the finish of your jewellery, it is only the starting point. The piece will change over time, joining you in day to day life, washing up, in the shower, or even if you leave it in the drawer and wear it once a year. The surface of the piece will polish up or tarnish down over time.
Tip to keep your jewellery shiny:
Wear your jewellery when you do the washing up or in the shower, this will get rid of the grime and keep it looking fresh and shiny longer.