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  • Writer's pictureVaune


Updated: Sep 1, 2022

We've all experienced our jewellery beginning to tarnish... you start off with a lovely bright piece of bling, and then somehow the shine begins to fade, sometimes dramatically all at once, your jewellery darkens up or gains a funny hue.

Other times, the tarnish is a gradual process, or can happen over time if you have not worn a piece for a while.

Tarnish is what we call it when a piece of jewellery darkens up when you don't really want it to.... but... sometimes that darker colour can add an extra layer of interest to our designs.

Then we call it: PATINA.

A work in progress shot of a landscape design in silver.
This student has used texture, shape and a patina to add drama to their deisgn.

Patina is a latin word that means "a fine layer on a surface". Tarnish, or patina, develops when the atmosphere or chemicals around us react with the surface of the metal in your jewellery. This creates an oxide or layer of oxidation on the metal, and that is what dulls or covers your jewellery in a darker layer.

That patina can be polished back off your jewellery, using a polishing cloth or a silver dip. If your jewellery is textured, the darker colour of the patina will sit in the crevices of the texture, and actually adds a layer of drama (as well as colour) to your piece! This is because the darker areas really help the highlights of your design to pop!

So. How do you create a patina (rather than a tarnish) deliberately?

Wide hand made textured rings in silver with a little brass stripe detail and a patina applied.
Textured rings in silver and brass with a patina.

One of the easiest ways to create a nice dark tarnish is using Lime Sulphur and hot water.

Lime sulphur is available from garden centres, its an antifungal treatment for roses and fruit trees! Spoiler alert - it's sulphur so it's pretty stinky!

If you use a tiny bit of lime sulphur in hot water, and your jewellery is clean and free of grease, you can expect a deep grey colour - which is as close to a true black as we can get.

Check out Annie demonstrating the process in this little video, and then keep reading for easy to follow instructions, as well as hints and tips for experimentation!

The Patina Process step-by-step.

First - health and safety !Lime Sulphur is toxic to aquatic life. Please do not tip used solution into drains or septic tanks! Also you cannot use anything you've used for lime sulphur for food, so make sure you're doing this away from any food prep items.

We like to save our solution in a sealed container for use through the day. Then we decant the used solution into a "sump" bottle - best if it's an old clear plastic container like an old juice or milk bottle. Then place that bottle in the UV light for a few days until the liquid is clear. This exposure to light over time lets the sulphur decrease in potency and it can then be flushed into main sewerage systems, or tipped into the garden (away from fishponds and drains). The amount you use in a patina solution is TINY so the diluted and aged solution is very weak. You can also check the instructions for disposal on the back of the package you purchase.

Step 1: Make sure your metal is free of grease. Finger grease and moisturiser will inhibit the solution reaching all the areas you want to colour.

Step 2: Boil some water, and set up an old container with a lid (we use old plastic hummus dip containers), a pair of tweezers, and your very fine sandpaper or extra fine steel wool on the sink bench.

Step 3: Add enough hot water to your container to cover the item you're blackening, and add in a few drops of lime sulphur, and your item. You can add the item first, and then the lime sulphur, it's up to you.

A fern patterned silver ring, all grey after applying patina.
A Fern Ring in silver by The Wild, showing the grey patina straight out of the solution.

Step 4: Watch the metal and once it reaches the colour you're aiming for, remove it from the solution using tweezers (you don't want to get the solution on your skin - it's stinky and it stains) and rinse clean under running water. Give the item a good rub to remove any residue of lime sulphur solution. You might notice a little of the black residue rubbing off on your fingers. That is some of the oxide rubbing off, and can be washed off with soap and water.

Step 5: Decide how much of the patina you want to remove to show off the highlights on

The Silver Fern ring with highlights rubbed back and polished.
The Fern Ring after rubbing back the patina, now the detail pops!

your piece. Smooth surfaces will eventually have the oxide polished off through wear, but the oxide will stay in cracks and crevices of designs. Use fine sandpaper or steel wool to rub back the patina until you're happy. Rinse and dry. Your piece is now ready to wear, or ready to tumble to a brighter polish.

A few more notes and ideas to try out:

The patina is just a fine layer on the surface.... it will rub off any smooth exposed areas with wear. Some folks like that... it gives your jewellery a life as it is worn. If you use a polishing BRUSH or wheel, it will remove the patina. If you use a tumbler to polish, it will shine up the patina without really removing it (check what media you're using though!)

Brass and silver bear hug rings by Vaune Mason
Brass and silver rings by me.

Lime Sulphur can be used on Silver, Copper, Brass, Bronze and Gold - with varying results. The oxide reaction is mostly caused by the sulphur is reacting with the copper in these metals. Brass will not go grey black, but any copper brought to the surface through the making process will blacken. Brass usually just goes a deeper yellow. Which still gives an excellent add of depth to the design. Copper can blacken SUPER fast, and if you make your solution too strong, or leave the piece in for too long, the oxide will flake off and is known as Sulphur Ash. If this happens you need to sand the piece back and re-patina.

This solution can also produce amazing COLOURS! If you experiment with a lukewarm solution instead of a hot one, and try dipping your work into a cold bath to halt the oxide process you can see amazing colours. You will need to seal the patina with matt lacquer or renaissance wax to keep the colour though, otherwise if it's left exposed to air, it will keep evolving until it reaches the grey colour.

You can also achieve a patina using a hard boiled egg....

Happy experimenting!

xx Vaune.

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