What is Sterling Silver and Why is My Finger Turning Green?
Sterling silver is made up of mix (an alloy) of at least a couple of different metals. It is always 92.5% fine silver (by law), which doesn’t tarnish but is very soft and doesn’t hold its shape very well. A variety of different metals can be used in sterling, including copper, zinc, platinum, germanium, silicon, nickel or boron. In our studio, we use an older sterling recipe that uses copper to make up the balance of the 7.5%. The copper helps harden the fine silver and is more friendly to people who have metal allergies than nickel.
This can have some trade-offs, however. Copper can be reactive, especially to acids. This includes anything with chlorine in it, like swimming pools, or cleaning chemicals, and some beauty products, like lotions. We include a more complete list on the jewelry care sheet you received with your jewelry from our studio.
Depending on what it has been exposed to, copper can turn black, purple, blue, green, or reddish-orange, and change the color of your silver. This has some positive uses: the antiquing solution we use is an acidic solution that is applied to the surface of the metal, neutralized, and then partially polished off. It also means that sterling silver can develop a natural patina that is very lovely.
However, occasionally, a run-in with the wrong chemical can turn your jewelry a decidedly unusual color…green, orange, purple…and this stain can then transfer to you. So what do you do then?
The first thing we recommend is to place your jewelry in a cup of warm water with 3 teaspoons of baking soda dissolved in it for 20 minutes, then take it out and rinse it well with dish soap and water. This basic solution will stop any acidic chemicals currently reacting with your ring.
Then assess the damage. Try a polishing cloth, but not a silver dip (more chemicals aren’t really going to help…). If you need your ring cleaned and re-antiqued, a trip to a jeweler may be in order.