Does Sterling Silver Tarnish Green?

Does Sterling Silver Tarnish Green? Yes, unfortunately, it does! This doesn't indicate that sterling silver's low quality though; it's actually quite the contrary.  Let’s discover everything amazing about sterling silver and what causes it to tarnish green.


 The Nature Of Silver

To understand what tarnish is and how it occurs we first have to learn about the nature of silver and the many forms it takes.  Silver is a native element that forms along the earth’s surface.  Silver is most commonly found in parts of the earth where volcanic and hydrothermal activity is present.  Although silver is a native element, it is rarely found in pure form as a nugget, lode or placer deposit.  The most common form of silver is obtained from alloys, mineral deposits or in trace amounts of other ores.  

What Is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is a quality silver alloy that’s commonly used in the jewellery craft.  Sterling silver can also be called 925 Sterling Silver referencing its structure that contains 925 parts silver and 75 parts other metal, usually copper.  The other metal present in the composition of sterling silver accounts for its hardness and durability.  When compared to pure silver, sterling silver is more suitable for jewellery making but the high level of natural silver content present in the alloy still makes it soft and prone to scratches and dents.  The beauty of sterling silver is in the lustrous colour combination that makes it so unique and highly sought after.  Sterling silver appears bright and shiny but the chemical makeup of the precious metal can react to substances and cause it to tarnish over time.  

How Does Sterling Silver Tarnish Green? 

Sterling silver is the most superior of the silvers readily available to create jewellery.  The chemical composition of the alloy is a perfect mix of soft and hard that retains the natural DNA of pure silver with a mix of copper or other alloys that make it malleable and easy to work with.  Unfortunately, it’s the addition of copper that causes sterling silver to tarnish green.  

Moisture in the air or on the skin can react with the copper variant in sterling silver causing a green or black discolouration.  What specifically causes sterling silver to tarnish green? The simple answer is exposure to salty air, chlorine, salt water, sulfur, humidity, perspiration, cosmetics, household bleaches and strong chemicals. 

While the green may appear unsightly on your lustrous sterling silver jewellery, do not despair! Tarnish is a natural phenomenon that occurs when certain chemicals and metals react, the good news is that it’s not permanent and with the correct jewellery cleaning products it’s easily removable on your sterling silver jewellery.  

Popular Grades Of Silver

Fine .999 Silver

Fine .999 silver is the closest grade of silver to the element in its natural form.  The marking .999 specifies a 99.9% purity rating of silver.  Fine silver presents a greyer, slightly dull appearance that is soft and prone to damage.  Due to its fragile nature, fine silver is usually used to make earrings and necklaces rather than rings and bangles which are more likely to be bumped and scratched.  Pure silver has a high resistance to tarnish because the natural silver alloy does not tarnish. 

925 Sterling Silver 

925 Sterling Silver is the most popular silver metal used to create fine jewellery.  While sterling silver is predominantly silver in its pure form, the small portion of the other metal present, usually copper makes it susceptible to tarnish.  The copper that exists in the alloy can react to substances in the air and in household products and beauty products that cause the sterling silver to tarnish green.  The good news about this ugly truth is that tarnish on sterling silver is not permanent and can easily be removed with the proper cleaning practices.  

Non-Tarnish Silver

Non-tarnish silvers are relatively new to the market; they have a similar make-up to sterling silver with a slightly higher content of pure silver blended with a mix of alloys that counter the heavy copper content.  The addition of geranium is usually present in these non-tarnish silvers because germanium absorbs atmospheric chemicals that cause tarnish.  Germanium adds a layer of hardness to the silver and more importantly a tarnish resistance that makes it superior to its counterpart sterling silver.  Modern non-tarnish alloys include Argentium, Silvadium, Sterlium and Sterilite.  Although non-tarnish silvers offer a great alternative to sterling silver, they are more expensive to make and have not received much attention in the practices of jewellery making.   

Coin Silver

Coin silver is made up of 900 parts silver and 100 parts copper.  In the modern world, coin silver is merely a name that refers to the history of coinage.  Today monetary coins are made up of inexpensive metals that contain very little to no silver at all in their makeup.  Collectable coins that accompany certificates of authenticity will generally specify the silver content present in the coin silver.  Coin silver jewellery that holds the 900 stamps is still in circulation but is mostly antiques.  

Types Of Silver Coatings

Silver Filled

Silver filled is a byproduct of sterling silver.  It is created using a thick layer of sterling silver over a base metal.  Silver-filled is either 5 parts filled or 10 parts filled sterling silver that bonds to the surface layer of a copper-alloy or brass-alloy centre.  Silver filled can sometimes be stamped 925 SF, which is very similar to sterling silver's 925 stamps.  While the two markings appear similar they are extremely different in quality and composition.  The two metals represent very different products and standards that should never be confused or misinterpreted as the same.  Like its counterpart sterling silver, silver-filled jewellery will tarnish over time.

Silver Plated

Silver plated is the process where a thin layer of pure silver is applied to a base metal such as copper or brass.  Silver-plated jewellery indicates that 5% or less of the metal’s structure contains pure silver.  Silver plated is usually used to make costume jewellery and can appear to flake off and tarnish over time.  

Types Of Fake Silver

Silver is a general term in the jewellery craft and is very undefined.  The term silver is generally referred to for its colour rubric rather than bearing a silver composition.  When silver is used in jewellery it should always be identified as a specific standard and marked to that standard.  If a piece of silver is unmarked it can be assumed that the silver alloy present is of very low quality carrying only the attributes of the colour grain.  

Nickel Silver

Nickel silver takes on many aliases, the most common alternatives are German or Argentan silver or nickel brass.   While nickel silver has the appearance of silver due to its silvery exterior, it does not actually contain any silver content in its structure.  In this way, the name nickel silver attributes to the colour rather than the composition.  Nickel silver is actually made up of an alloy mix that contains 60% copper, with equal parts nickel and zinc.  It’s hard not to be fooled by nickel silver's shiny appearance, but nickel silver has zero real silver present.  The high copper content in nickel silver can cause skin discolouration that usually results in skin turning an unsightly green or black colour.  This is due to oxygen exposure and its reaction to the copper alloy.  Nickel silver is easily malleable and is mostly used to make costume jewellery. 

Tibetan or Tribal Silver

Tibetan or ‘Tribal’ silver is very similar to nickel silver in that it does not contain any real silver content in its composition it only appears silver on the outside.  Tibetan or Tribal silver usually contains a silver-coloured alloy mixed with copper-tin and copper-nickel alloys.  Much like nickel silver, Tibetan or tribal silver contains nickel which has a tendency to cause irritation and allergy.

Now that you know about the different grades of silver and what causes them to tarnish green, you can understand and appreciate why sterling silver is the best silver standard available on the market, and in the world for jewellery.  Always be sure to check that your sterling silver jewellery is stamped 925 to ensure its authenticity.  Visit Silver Chic for an exceptional range of quality sterling silver jewellery.  Silver Chic has one of the widest selections of sterling silver rings, necklaces, bracelets, chains, anklets, and earrings available for women, men and kids, shop now.  

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