Storing and Handling Silver

Silver jewelry is vulnerable and can get damaged easily. In contact with air, silver tarnishes quickly. It this therefore advisable to handle silver items with care. Here you will find some tips and guidance for the most common situations, although this is by no means exhaustive.

Jewelry in Cairo. It is exposed to air and collects dust and dirt every day

Composite items
Composite items consist of silver items as part of a larger ensemble with other materials. Necklaces with silver and coral beads strung on cotton thread for example require a different approach in cleaning and storing than a necklace made out of silver beads and chainwork. In composite items, the most vulnerable element is leading in storing and cleaning. This can be the thread or cloth a silver item is mounted on, or one of the other elements such as clove and coral.

Composite jewelry element where a silver pendant is strung with shell, coral and amber. The coral beads are old and fragile, as is the shell

Another composite piece where a coral bead is strung with a cotton thread on a silver pendant, decorated with niello and enamel

Polishing cloth and a clean toothbrush will go a long way in cleaning single silver items

Single silver jewelry
Store items away from direct contact with air, for example in plastic zipper pouches. To avoid denting and scratching, wrap the jewelry in bubble wrap before you put it in the pouch. Write the contents on the pouch for future ease when you want to locate a certain item.

Cleaning silver
Cleaning silver should also be done with care. Do not use silver polish: the polish can get clotted in an intricate design like filigree and is hard to remove. In addition, it is not always clear what the silver content of a traditional piece is. The polish may react with the base metal and lead to disappointing results. Polish silver items with a polishing cloth without additions. If you store the jewelry away from air, the need for polishing will diminish significantly.

Fragile materials
Some materials have qualities that require special attention. A lukewarm bath with a mild biological detergent can have excellent results on single silver items to clean dirt and grease, but will have devastating results on materials such as coral and pearls: remember that these are organic! The wood inside an amulet container will expand when soaked and shrink when drying, which may damage the silver cover and the wood itself. When the silver items are part of a composite piece, always familiarize yourself with the properties of each and every material before attempting any conservation at all.

From Desert Silver