When looking to add some dimension to your silver jewelry with patina, there are a few things that you need to know.
Silver is not easily colored with heat the same way copper is, so that means that most of your process will involve acquainting yourself with a variety of chemicals. Not to worry, these can be used safely, it’s just important that you make sure you know what you’re doing first. In this article I’ll introduce you to three techniques. My advice would be to pick one or two, acquaint yourself with all of the information and then proceed with experimenting.
It’s always best when using a patina to thoroughly clean your piece first to rid it of oils that might alter the affect of the patina. That includes oils from your hands, so be careful to hold it by the edges after it’s been washed.
Note: Never, ever combine chemicals as some combinations can be incredibly toxic.
Liver of Sulfur
This is my personal favorite. I’ll be honest here, I like the way metal looks when it’s darkened and I like that there is a little element of surprise to this one. Occasionally I’ll have a piece that comes out and looks perfectly like a rainbow. Of course, if all you’re wanting is to darken your metal, you might not find quite as much joy in that result.
There are a lot of variables when working with this chemical. Solution mixture, temperature and surface texture can all play a role. Often, you can vary the darkness of your piece by how long you leave it in the solution, which can give you nice control.
Liver of sulfur is often found in lump form, which is then dissolved in warm water. More recently though, it also comes in gel form which is thought to have a better shelf life and can be easier to mix. Again, it will need to be diluted.
Things to be careful about when using liver of sulfur:
- There are a lot of interesting results that can be achieved with liver of sulfur, so be patient and willing to do some trial and error.
- Always work in a well-ventilated area. It has a very potent rotten egg smell.
- Never mix it with any acids as it will fume hydrogen sulfide. It’s very poisonous, corrosive, flammable and explosive.
- In its solid form, it can be flammable so store it carefully.
For a more thorough tutorial might I suggest taking a peek at Ganoksin’s Liver of Sulfur page.
Midas Black Max
Midas Black Max is a product that will make your silver a velvety and flat black and can also be used with gold to achieve an antiqued look. While this is a brand name, it contains tellurium and hydrochloric acid so be careful not to inhale it! Familiarize yourself with the risks and proper use before experimenting.
To read more see the Midas Black Max page.
Things to consider when using Midas Black Max:
- Lots of people swear by this process and insist that this not only works every time, but the results are consistent.
- Wear your safety glasses.
- Do not breathe this in.
Boiled egg method
Using this method will likely not give you as dramatic of results as the two above, but there are less safety concerns. One thing to consider here is that results can vary incredibly and everyone seems to have an opinion about what works best.
This method is also safe to use with pearls or stones. Eggs are rich in sulfur compounds which we learned above darken silver. Ever jumped into a hot spring only to emerge with your ring a new color? That’s the sulfur. The idea of this method is that you’d trap your metal with the sulfur compounds that are emitted by the boiled eggs in a closed container and voila — darkened silver. As tasty as it might look, go ahead and skip eating your egg after.
For a more in-depth look at this process, check out The Beading Gems Journal.
Things to consider when using the boiled egg method:
- Shiny silver will likely take longer to oxidize than silver that has been cleaned and roughened up a bit. I’d suggest saving those pieces or using one of the above methods for better results.
- Results are far less guaranteed with this method.
- Use hard boiled, not soft boiled eggs. Aside from the fact that you wouldn’t want to dig your pieces out of soft boiled yolks, the aromas are stronger coming from a hard boiled one.
After creating patina on any metal, it’s a good idea to wash it with a mild soap and a soft toothbrush just to be sure to remove any left0ver chemicals.
People’s ideal patina results vary. Do your research and see what might be the best fit for your applications, then take into account the safety factors. Wear safety glasses when necessary and always work in well-ventilated areas.