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Sterling Silver Rings and Types of Their Finishes

When we talk about silver rings, we often focus on their symbolism and significance. But what about their design? More precisely, their finishes and treatment techniques. They heavily impact how silver looks and the way it reacts with the environment. In this post, we’d like to show you a few popular sterling silver ring finishes and pinpoint their pros (as well as possible cons).

Plated and Coated Jewelry

Everybody knows how silver looks. It is whitish and, normally, smooth to the touch. However, by the means of plating and chemical applications, jewelers learned to give it a different color, texture, and even properties. Thanks to these silver treatment techniques, we can improve wear-ability and prolong the service life of your sterling silver rings.

Gold Plating

Gold-plated jewelry carries a thin, normally up to 5 microns, layer of either 18K or 14K gold on its surface. You can meet alloys with the higher gold content but they are rather rare. Type of gold plays no role at all –yellow, rose, and even white gold is suitable for electroplating.

Such rings are a budget-friendly alternative to gold jewelry because their cost is much lower. Besides being beautiful and almost indistinguishable from gold, gold-plated silver jewelry is less susceptible to oxidation and corrosion.

Like any type of coating, a gold finish may fade and wear out as you use it. It goes without saying that you should treat your jewelry with a lot of TLC. The best way to maintain its original look is to remove it before going to bed or shower, as well as when working around the house and exercising. Keep it away from body and hair care products, chemicals, salt, sweat, and other substances that may damage the coating. Also, it is a great idea to keep gold-plated items separately in a jewelry box and don’t let them touch each other.

Rhodium Plating

This type of jewelry is similar to gold-plated but instead of gold, it features rhodium, a metal from the platinum family.

Rhodium gives a product either a dark or white coating – it depends on the color of rhodium electrolytes. Rhodium in its natural state is similar to silver in appearance but it a provides brighter luster and smoother finish.

Besides highly appreciated aesthetic properties, rhodium delivers a couple of important physical benefits:

- rhodium plating protects silver from tarnishing (unlike silver, rhodium does not react with sulfur compounds in the air);

- because rhodium is harder than silver, it protects it from scratches and scuffs.

Besides that, rhodium seldom causes allergic reactions. Neither does pure silver, to be frank, but 100% Argentum is too soft to be used in jewelry-making. Instead, jewelers utilize silver alloys that fuse pure silver with base metals. If your skin burns and turns red after wearing a piece of silver jewelry, base metals are to blame. But if you get silver items featuring rhodium coating, your skin won’t come in contact with potential allergens and everything should be alright.

Rhodium has its downsides, too. Because it is a rare metal, it noticeably increases the cost of silver rings. On top of that, some silver enthusiasts say that the bright shine inherent in rhodium looks unnatural and almost artificial. Finally, because the layer of rhodium is not thicker than a few microns, it will eventually wear out exposing a silver core. 

Ruthenium Plating

One more precious metal of the platinum group used to electroplate silver is ruthenium. Unlike rhodium that comes in dark and light variations, ruthenium provides only dark hues that vary from light gray to gun-metal and even jet-black. When sitting on the surface of silver, it provides a dark high-tech appeal.

Ruthenium is a very hard metal (actually, it is the hardest out of the platinum counterparts), hence it resistant to scratches. Similar to rhodium, it ensures a distinct smooth and shiny finish that retains its luster for many years. Because ruthenium is chemically inactive, it doesn’t react with water, air, sulfur, or other chemicals. Therefore, you can count on it to preserve the same intense gray or black color it had on the day you bought it.

Ruthenium plating is very similar to black nickel when it comes to the look. However, nickel plating is softer and it feels coarser. Plus, it is not as durable as plating of precious metals.

Blackened Silver

Blackening is obtained by applying a mixture of silver sulfides, copper, and sulfur on the surface of silver rings. After spreading Silver Black, an item goes into an oven when the powder melts at high temperature (but not extremely high because it may damage silver itself). Melted compound fills cavities, grooves, and other sunken elements. When a ring cools down, a jeweler polishes off raised surfaces leaving a distinct matte gunmetal black coating in recessed parts.

Blackening is applied only to the surface of silver rings, earrings, pendants, etc. If you scrape it off, you will see silver underneath in its regular white color. Blackening is an ideal treatment to emphasize relief and add more depth to carved patterns housed on silver jewelry. It is one of the oldest silver treatment techniques and it is extremely popular in contemporary jewelry productions. Thanks to adding dark contrasts, it provides eye-pleasing accents and makes gemstones really pop.

Oxidized Silver

Another way to introduce that appealing dark aspect to silver jewelry is oxidizing. Simply put, it is a process of controlled and sped-up tarnishing. When tarnishing occurs in a natural way, it makes the surface of silver uneven, dull, and unattractive. But when oxidizing is introduced, a thin layer of potassium sulfide covers silver uniformly. As a result, silver acquires a matte finish that protects it from further corrosion.

From the chemical point of view, the term oxidized silver is incorrect. Silver doesn’t react with oxygen hence it doesn’t oxidize. Tarnishing occurs as a result of a chemical reaction with sulfides. However, the term oxidized silver has taken root in the jewelry industry and it refers to the treatment technique we described above.

While silver mesmerizes with its impeccable white finish, many fashionistas take fancy in the smoky matte oxidized finish. The degree of artificial tarnishing varies from light gray to gunmetal black. On top of that, by introducing dyes (usually, these are chemical compounds of heavy metals) we can obtain a full spectrum of color – red, yellow, green, blue, and whatever color you like.

The beauty of silver oxidation is that it leaves a dark ‘residue’ on the concave elements of the design white convex parts get polished and hence they showcase a shiny white finish. Thanks to the juxtaposition of black and white, even the finest lines stand out.

Colorless oxidation, otherwise called passivation, provides silver jewelry with a clear film that prevents tarnishing. Passivation of silver ensures that your rings retain their natural snow-white color for a long time.

Although oxidation and passivation prevent silver from going into chemical reactions and losing its natural appearance, they don’t prevent mechanical damage. These films are very thin and you may scrape them off with a hard brush. Apart from that, you need to keep jewelry with oxidized elements away from tarnish removers since they are able to dissolve the decorative layer, too.

Enamel

One of the most elegant and striking silver surface treatment techniques is enamel. Enamel is a thin layer of glass alloy. It is applied to silver products and gets baked in an oven. Under the influence of high temperatures, it melts and fuses with the top layer of the metal. Normally, enamel provides a deep vibrant color courtesy of oxidized metals. For example, cobalt oxide ensures a blue finish, green is lent by copper oxide, and yellow is a result of reactions with uranium oxide. At the same time, you can come across clear enamels that play a role of a protective layer for silver. They don’t let it tarnish on the one hand and bolster its luster on the other hand.

There a few types of enamels depending on the application technique. For instance, cloisonne enamel fills compartments made of wire or thin metal strips. Champlevé enamel fills recesses on the surface of precious metals obtained by engraving, embossing, or etching. Filigree enamel is a combination of cloisonné and champlevé techniques.

Enameling is one of the most ancient techniques used to adorn jewelry, accessories, as well as household items. Despite its centuries-old history, it is still popular among jewelers and consumers. Saturated glossy finishes offer tremendous possibilities for creating casual and festive looks.

Uncoated Silver

Silver doesn’t have to wear any chemical or galvanic coating to look stunning. More often than not, it appears before our eyes as it is. Uncoated silver has a pale color and moderate sheen. This sheen can be enhanced by polishing or, conversely, reduced via introducing a matte finish.

Silver is a hypoallergenic metal with pronounces antibacterial properties. As we have already pinpointed, only alloy components might cause a negative reaction. Therefore, you need to pick silver alloys with the highest content of the precious metal.

Silver is recommended to people who suffer from bacterial-induced skin inflammations and other conditions. In addition, traditions of many world cultures bestow silver with magical powers. In order to transfer these properties to a person, silver must have direct contact with the body. If you, too, believe that silver is capable of healing and protecting against negative impacts, then your choice is uncoated silver jewelry.

The only drawback of these silver pieces is that they tarnish over time. That being said, you can easily clean tarnished silver at home using water, soap, and household chemicals.

You shouldn’t think that regular un-plated silver is boring and uninspiring. There are plenty of ways to add an interesting flair and refine its look.

Polished Silver

The most obvious way to make silver shine is to polish it. When jewelry is made by hand, a silversmith utilizes a polishing wheel to remove any imperfections on the surface of silver. The end product gets a smooth, almost mirror-like finish. Of course, nothing lasts forever and this finish will dull over time due to fine scratches and chemical reactions. But if every once in a while you bring your precious ring to a jeweler for re-polishing, you can easily maintain its radiance.

Matte Silver Finish

This silver surface treatment technique is the complete opposite of polishing. You won’t be able to see your reflection in matte silver. Instead, you can benefit from a stylish texturized look. To achieve this matte finish, jewelers use rotary tools, polishing wheels, and polishing papers that feature aluminum oxide. This abrasive material leaves tiny marks that don’t let the light reflect off silver.

Depending on a particular technique used and the obtained appearance, a matte silver finish can be divided into three categories:

A satin finish is the smoothest. It is made up of such tiny marks that you won’t be able to see them with a naked eye. Its surface doesn’t feel rough at all. Rather, it resembles a fogged mirror. Satin finish looks noble and sleek and it ensures better protection against scratches than polishing.

Brushed silver proposes a texture of subtle yet visible strokes. If you look closer, you will be able to see small long marks on its surface. You can even feel these tiny grooves if you run your finger over them. Brushed silver rings are ideal for everyday wear because already existing marks effectively mask new scratches.

A sandblasted finish is somewhat similar to satin. The only difference is that you can actually see and feel these teensy grains. The surface gets rougher and offers an eye-pleasing texture. 

Hammered Finish

With a hammered (otherwise known as tooled) finish, you can benefit from a diverting dimpled look. The hammering method is especially widespread in men’s silver rings to give them a raw and rugged look.

To create this distinct finish, a jeweler uses a tiny hammer and goes all over a ring leaving small yet visible dimples on its surface. After hammering is done, a ring is either matted to smooth out transitions or, vice versa, polished to enhance a multi reflective effect.

Stipple Finish

This type of finish also involves a tiny hammer. However, unlike round-ish dents, it leaves pockmarks. This dotted texture looks stunning when being combined with polished detailing or sparkling gemstones.

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