Sterling silver is beautiful with a bright finish, but when there are textures, patterns or even lettering pressed into the silver, accenting these markings by darkening the silver and then removing the darkness from the high points creates a beautiful effect. I know two methods to darken silver. The first involves the use of a chemical and the second does not.
Method 1 – Liver of Sulphur
When I first started working with metal, I bought some liver of sulphur in liquid form. I did not know how perishable it was and after a while the bottle lost its mojo and most of it had to be discarded. Currently I am using it in chunk form. I use a small crock pot with maybe an inch or two of water in it. When I am ready to darken metal, I turn on the crock pot, add a few chunks of liver of sulphur and wait 10-15 minutes for it to heat up. When I use the current batch up, I want to try the liver of sulphur gel sold by Cool Tools. They swear that it does not expire. We’ll see.
A couple of things you need to know:
- Liver of sulphur stinks. Bad. Like rotten egg bad. Use it in a well ventilated area, outside if you can.
- Either the metal needs to be hot or the liver of sulphur needs to be hot. I’ve tried it both ways. If you choose to heat the metal, when you put it in the liver of sulphur it may spatter. So make sure you are working in an area where it doesn’t matter or you’ve covered the area with newspaper or something.
- I use some 24 gauge copper wire kind to hold pieces that have holes in them. That way I keep my hands out of the liver of sulphur. For pieces like headpins where there is no hole, I hold one end in my hand and dunk the other end in. Then I switch it around and dunk the other end.
- I also wear gloves. Did I mention that liver of sulphur stinks? If it gets on your hands, the stink stays for a while. Like hours while, not days while.
After the pieces come out, I brass brush them with soap and rinse them off. The top photo shows pieces before going into the liver of sulphur and the next picture shows how they look when they come out and have been brass brushed.
Method 2 – Boiled Egg
You can also darken silver using a boiled egg. Cut the boiled egg in half (you don’t even need to peel it), place it in a ziploc bag, place the silver pieces in the bag, zip it up and wait until it is the color you want. From trial and error I have learned that the egg has to be freshly boiled or it does not work. So have a lot of pieces ready to go and do them all at once. The egg loses its strength after darkening one batch. So, no chemicals are involved, but you’ll need to boil an egg whenever you want to darken silver.
Buffing the Piece
Once your silver pieces have been darkened, you’ll probably want to buff the high spots to create contrast with the recessed areas that will stay dark. You can do this with some 000 or 0000 steel wool and then use a polishing rag to bring out the final shine. Here’s one of my silver loops that has been through the process and is ready to become part of a finished jewelry design.