TorchFire Studio

Fine Handmade Jewelry Crafted in Huntsville, Alabama

How to: Getting a gorgeous patina on silver

How-To, Inspiration, Jewelry MakingCara Moss6 Comments

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Guys, let's talk about patina!

You've been scouring the net, looking for jewelry inspiration, and you see some silver jewelry with a gorgeous dark patina. It  may be used to highlight detail or to add pizzazz to the entire piece.  It looks great, but how to achieve this look? I've got the scoop right here!

All that dark loveliness is achieved with a horribly stinky chemical called liver of sulfur (LOS).  It is a rotten-egg-scented compound that is used to darken metals such as silver and copper. LOS is available in several forms, most commonly in lump and gel forms. The lump or rock form is fairly unstable - it is light sensitive, and has a short shelf life, and the dust poses an inhalation hazard.

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The most popular version is LOS gel. In my opinion, it is easier to use and you don't stir up a bunch of hazardous dust when you're measuring it out.   Note that it still has some pretty funky fumes, so definitely use this in a well-ventilated area!

When used on silver, LOS can have several results. When used alone (diluted in water, of course) it can turn silver a deep dark brownish gray.  Add a small splash of ammonia, and the metal takes on a deep, dark gray color.  Almost black, really.  This is my favorite method, and the one we shall be covering today!

Materials:

  • liver of sulfur (I use the gel form from Rio Grande)
  • ammonia - available in pretty much any grocery store's cleaning aisle.
  • hot water - not boiling!
  • two glass or ceramic containers ( I have some ramekins that I use for jewelry only)
  • Plastic spoon, tweezers, or other implement to fish pieces out of the solution
  • brass bristle brush
  • baking soda

Remember your safety gear ! Protect your eyes with goggles, and use LOS in a well-ventilated area. The gel LOS I use is not hazardous to your skin, but it stinks. And stains.

Use a brush and tweezers that are dedicated specifically to LOS so your tools don't transfer LOS to your other jewelry.  Be sure and remove your personal jewelry, too! Even the fumes can cause unwanted darkening of your precious pieces.

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Let's get down to it!  Gather all the jewelry items you want to patina. This mixture is super stinky, and I've found that doing all your items in the same session really minimizes the funk.

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  •  To achieve an even colored patina, your metal needs to be clean. Clean your items well with soap and water, trying not to touch too much with your fingers.  Dry everything off and set it aside.
  • Heat up some water. Get your water nice and hot but not boiling. This is really important because the heat helps bond the patina to the metal. If your solution is cold, your patina will take forever to develop, and the dark finish can flake right off!
  • Prepare baking soda solution - in one container, mix about a cup of water and a tablespoon of baking soda. This solution will neutralize the LOS and stop the oxidizing process when you have reached the level of patina you want.
  • Prepare your LOS - use your plastic spoon to add a small amount of LOS gel to your second container. (A good ratio is about 1 tsp : 12 ounces of hot water.) Gently add the hot water and stir until the gel dissolves.
  • Add the ammonia - add about 1 tsp of ammonia to the LOS mixture.

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Are you ready? Drop your pieces into the LOS mixture. You should see them start to darken almost immediately! Leave them in for about 30 seconds - 1 minute. Take the pieces out,  rinse in plain water, and examine them. Repeat the process to get them as dark as you like.

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If the finish looks uneven, try brushing a little with your brass bristle brush and re- dipping in the LOS. Repeating this process will help ensure an even patina.  When you are satisfied with your patina, rinse your pieces well and put them into the baking soda solution. This will stop any further darkening of your metal.

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You are now free to finish your jewelry as you please - use a polishing pad or really fine grit sandpaper to gently buff off the patina on the raised portions of your work to highlight only the recessed areas, or leave it wholly dark for a dramatic look.

As long as you used the baking soda solution, your jewelry pieces are safe to tumble. I use stainless steel shot with 2 drops of blue Dawn and they come out with a super shiny dark finish that looks amazing!   Just to be safe, I typically don't tumble LOS pieces and non- LOS pieces together, and I rinse the tumbler and shot well after a batch of LOS pieces.

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Now you've got the scoop on using liver of sulfur to achieve that dark patina on your silver pieces. Go join the dark side and share what you create!