Tarnish-proof vs tarnish-free vs tarnish-resistant jewellery

Tarnish-proof vs tarnish-free vs tarnish-resistant jewellery

You might have noticed these words popping up more and more, I know I have!

If you follow Luster on Instagram, you might have seen a recent poll I posted in my stories where I asked if people knew the difference between tarnish-proof, tarnish-free and tarnish-resistant.

The answer surprised me! Only 14% who voted said that they knew the difference, the other 86% thought that they all meant the same (oh dear!)

I’m here to cut through the confusion for you and demystify the jargon so you can buy with confidence and avoid disappointment.

 

What does tarnish-proof jewellery mean?

Tarnish-proof and tarnish-free have the same meaning.

They both imply that the jewellery will NOT tarnish. While most metals will tarnish eventually, that process can take a lifetime or longer and the metal can be repaired.

The definition of tarnish-proof by Merriam-Webster, May 2024.

 

Tarnish proof jewellery

 

What does tarnish resistant jewellery mean?

Tarnish-resistant means that the jewellery CAN tarnish, but not easily or quickly – it is resistant to tarnishing.

 

What causes jewellery to tarnish?

There are many causes, but here are the most common factors that contribute to or cause tarnishing. Some metals can handle exposure to some of these but always check with the jewellery brand before exposing your jewellery to:

  • Exposure to Air: Oxygen and moisture in the air can cause metals like sterling silver to oxidise, resulting in tarnishing. This natural reaction darkens the metal's surface over time.
  • Chemicals: Chemicals present in cleaning products, perfumes, lotions, and cosmetics can accelerate tarnishing. We recommend putting your jewels on after applying hairspray, moisturising and applying perfume..
  • Chlorine and Saltwater: Chlorine can tarnish jewellery by causing chemical reactions with metal surfaces. Similarly, saltwater can accelerate tarnishing, especially for metals like silver and brass.
  • Acidity: High acidity levels in sweat and body oils can contribute to jewellery tarnishing, particularly for pieces worn frequently against the skin. The acidity can react with metal alloys, causing discoloration and dullness.
  • Storage Conditions: Improper storage, such as leaving jewellery exposed to air or storing it in humid environments, can hasten tarnishing. Proper storage, such as using anti-tarnish bags or containers, can help minimise oxidation and preserve your jewels appearance.

 Gold Filled Rose Quartz Wrapped Studs

Is plated jewellery tarnish-proof, tarnish-free or tarnish-resistant?

Things start to get murky here because there are a LOT of jewellery brands claiming that their plated jewellery is tarnish-free or tarnish proof, as well as other claims like sweat-proof and waterproof. Sadly, these claims aren’t accurate (boo!).

 

What jewellery is tarnish free / tarnish proof?

Technically some of these do tarnish, but it takes a really looooong time and doesn’t happen easily, plus it can usually be repaired. Jewellery made from these can easily last a lifetime:

  • Solid gold - The higher the karat, the less likely to tarnish. 
  • Titanium
  • Platinum
  • Pure stainless steel - This doesn’t include gold plated stainless steel since the gold layer will wear off.

 

What jewellery is tarnish-resistant?

  • Gold filled - Sometimes called rolled gold, it has a thick gold layer that is heat and pressure bonded to the base metal which must total to 5% of the overall weight.
  • Gold vermeil - This seems contradictory because it’s plated but because of the process it is resistant to tarnishing. To be classed as vermeil, the jewellery must have a sterling silver base and have at least a 2.5 micron thick gold layer.
  • Sterling silver - Yes, it does tarnish and oxidise but because it can be easily cleaned to look new again, we consider it tarnish-resistant. 

 

What jewellery isn’t tarnish-proof or resistant?

All plated jewellery, except for gold vermeil.

What jewellery isn’t tarnish-proof or resistant

What is plated jewellery?

When we say plated jewellery, we are referring to electroplated jewellery.

Electroplating is a process commonly used in jewelry making where a thin layer of metal is deposited onto a base metal using an electric current. Here's a summary of the process:

  1. Preparation: The base metal, usually made of copper or brass, is thoroughly cleaned to remove any dirt, oils, or contaminants.
  1. Electroplating Bath: The clean base metal is immersed in an electrolyte solution containing dissolved metal ions of the desired plating material, such as gold or silver.
  1. Electric Current: An electric current is passed through the solution, causing the metal ions to migrate and deposit onto the surface of the base metal.
  1. Plating Thickness: The thickness of the plated layer is controlled by the duration of the electroplating process and the intensity of the electric current.
  1. Finishing: Once the desired thickness is achieved, the plated metal is removed from the electroplating bath, rinsed, and often polished to enhance its appearance.

The average gold or silver layer on plated jewellery varies depending on the quality and manufacturing process. However, typical micron thickness for gold-plated jewellery ranges from 0.5 to 3 microns.

Generally, higher-quality gold-plated jewellery will have a thicker layer of gold, typically around 2.5 to 3 microns, while lower-quality pieces may have thinner layers, sometimes as low as 0.5 microns.

 

What the heck are microns?

Microns, also known as micrometers, are a unit of measurement used to express the thickness of the plated metal layer in electroplated jewellery.

One micron is equal to one-thousandth of a millimeter - 0.001mm.

So even a 2 micron plated layer is just 0.001mm thick.

A thicker plated layer, or higher microns, generally provides a longer lifespan to a piece, as it offers more protection from the base metal being exposed. This is why it tarnished and chips so easily.

 

How does gold vermeil compare to gold filled?

Let’s use 22g wire as our example.

22g gold filled wire which we use for lots of our earrings has approximately 0.0322mm thick gold layer.

22g gold vermeil wire with a 2.5 micron thick gold layer would have a gold layer that’s 0.0005mm thick.

That means that the gold filled wire has a gold layer that is around 544% thicker!

 

Gold filled vs Gold vermeil

How to know if jewellery is plated?

Generally,

  • Product Description: Read the product description carefully for details about the metal used. Genuine jewellery should have clear information about the metal composition.
  • Price Comparison: While price alone is not always a reliable indicator, significantly low prices may signal plated jewellery. Conversely, high prices do not guarantee authenticity, as a lot of plated jewellery is sold at inflated prices.

 

Not all plated jewellery is created equally

For gold coloured jewellery, some brands use stainless steel or sterling silver for the base metal underneath the gold-plated layer. This is a good type of plated jewellery since stainless steel and sterling silver are hypoallergenic. Plus, the gold plating adheres well to these metals which gives it a better chance of tarnishing slower than other types of plated.

Gold plated stainless steel or sterling silver will last much longer than jewellery that is silver or gold plating over brass, nickel copper or other low-cost metals. Keep in mind that the gold layer WILL tarnish though, unless the gold layer is very thick it shouldn’t be considered tarnish-proof, tarnish-free or tarnish-resistant.

We want your jewellery to last you as long as possible without costing an arm or a leg, which is why we use 14k gold filled and sterling silver in our crystal jewellery.

 

Summary

Understanding the differences between tarnish-proof / tarnish-free, and tarnish-resistant jewellery is essential for making informed purchasing decisions. While these terms may sound similar, they have distinct meanings that can impact the longevity and maintenance of your jewellery pieces.

Tarnish-proof or tarnish-free jewellery implies that the piece will not tarnish under normal conditions, offering long-lasting shine and beauty. However, it's essential to verify the quality and materials used in these pieces to ensure durability and authenticity.

On the other hand, tarnish-resistant jewellery will still tarnish over time but at a much slower rate. While not completely immune to tarnishing, tarnish-resistant jewellery offers a balance between longevity and affordability.

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