To Polish or Not to Polish, That is the Question……….

We sell many used and vintage pieces that have from light to heavy patina and tarnish on them. We leave the choice of whether to polish or not to the customer.

Patina is the overall uniform darkening that occurs from aging. Patina adds a richness to vintage pieces. How much patina you like is personal preference, there is no right or wrong.

Tarnish, on the other hand, is a thin dirty film that appears on silver as it oxidizes. Tarnish, in my opinion, should be remove regularly using a mild method, such as with a buffing cloth.  Each of these pieces took about one minute to fully polish with a cloth.

Here is one of my favorite contemporary Hopi Man in a Maze bracelets (by Cyrus Josytewa) before buffing. Basically a dirty bracelet !



30 seconds later - half done

30 seconds later – half done

DONE One minute of polishing

DONE One minute of polishing

Tarnish on polishing cloth

Tarnish on polishing cloth

Hubby’s favorite buckle (Stanley Gene, Navajo) has some nice patina and also has tarnish. I’m on the fence with this piece – I actually think I prefer the overall patina but he volunteered it for an example. A buckle makes contact with a lot of surfaces so even after the tarnish is removed, the buckles still has its character scratches.







Here are some more articles related to jewelry care:

Are you supposed to polish Navajo Pearls?

Cleaning Vintage Native American Jewelry

A reminder about jewelry polishing cloths


Squash Blossom Jewelry Questions

Hi Paula,
I am hoping you can help me out. I have two squash blossom necklaces. One is from my mother (late) and is a cool mother of pearl that I remember she told me that she purchased in the 70’s. The other, in blue turquoise, I acquired at a resale shop about ten years ago. I have decided to finally pull them out and start wearing them and would love to know more about them. I can’t find a stamp on either one of them. I don’t see an artist and I don’t see a silver marking either. I have taken a few pictures and would love to hear your opinion. Also, is it fashionable to polish or not polish these necklaces. Also, does it affect the value if I chose to have them lengthened or shortened? Thank so much in advance.
Squash blossom 001Squash blossom 005Hello Colleen,
Without a hallmark, about the only thing I can say about your two lovely squash blossom necklaces is that they are vintage Navajo.
As to their silver content, that is something you can test with an acid test kit or have them tested at a pawn shop.
As far as polishing, that is a matter of personal taste. You could leave as is, clean or polish with a cloth, or completely restore as you see fit. Here is more information about cleaning jewelry.
In terms of adjusting the length, yes it would likely affect the value. For a collector, leaving a squash blossom necklace the traditional length would be best. But for “using’, depending on who did the alteration and how they did it, a shortening might increase its “value” because then it would be wearable art!
Watch for my next post which will show a squash blossom necklace that I had shortened so that I could wear it more as a “choker” than a long necklace.
To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here you are selling your jewelry, read this our pawn shop for your research and shopping


Cleaning Vintage Native American Jewelry

We often get vintage pieces in that have a wonderful patina but also a dash of Alfredo sauce or leftover silver polish in the nooks and crannies.

So how do we clean while preserving the endearing patina?

When we sell vintage pieces, we usually just leave them as is so the new owner can clean them to their personal taste.

But if there is dirt and debris in the stamping or silver work, we remove that. Usually a dry toothbrush and a wooden toothpick is all that is needed.

Loosen debris with a wooden toothpick

Brush with a dry toothbrush

Brushed clean

With my personal more contemporary sterling silver pieces (no stones), if I want to restore a brilliant shine, I either buff with a polishing cloth or use the procedure outlined in “Richard’s Method”.

IMPORTANT NOTE !! Great care should be taken when cleaning any sterling silver piece with stones. The pieces should NEVER be soaked as this would swell the backing (which is often sawdust or leather) and pop the stones out of their settings or damage them.

For sterling silver jewelry with stones and for pieces that I want to retain much of the vintage patina, I usually use a simple wash, dry and light hand buff combo. I use ordinary liquid hand soap (not antibacterial – something more like liquid Ivory) on a cloth or soft toothbrush to loosen debris and clean both the front and back of bracelets and pendants.  Then I rinse it well but carefully, avoiding the stone settings.  I follow this with a thorough drying and then token hand buffing with a silver polishing cloth. I stop at the point where the item is clean but still has its character.

I use a polishing cloth to maintain the shine in my new beads but if the oxidation gets ahead of me, I spritz them with Windex, taking care not to use too much because I don’t want it to run into the holes. I lightly spritz one section and then wipe right away. Less is more.

Because Diane Radeke’s repair service was in the process of restringing an old squash blossom necklace for me (the subject of a future blog on repair), the topic of cleaning came up and here is what Diane had to say:

While your necklace is disassembled, we’d like to wash the naja and blossoms. As you are definitely in favor of original patina, I want to explain this and get your approval first. I meet many, many people who do not want the surface of their silver touched in any way, not even to be cleaned. To me, there is a big difference in being “cleaned”, being “polished”, and being “buffed”. It’s mostly semantics, but I think there is a lot of confusion about what might be the best way to treat a piece of jewelry.

To me, buffing is something done with a buffing machine, in the shop. Buffing actually smooths the surface of the silver, and removes all those tiny fine lines and scratches that create the soft, beautiful look of a well worn piece. With very few exceptions, I don’t like to see anything buffed. The exceptions would be for pieces that are very contemporary or have a very bad scratch that detracts from the piece. A very few people like their pieces buffed smooth, regardless of the age or history of the piece.

Tiny fine lines and scratches can be replicated by working the surface with steel wool, but a trained eye will spot it every time. It can look nice, but it’s not “patina”… If a piece must be hot soldered for a repair, it must go through the buffing process – no way around it. Our smiths are awesome, but that is one of their biggest challenges – hot soldering on a vintage piece and retaining the “look”.

Polishing is using a chemical agent to clean the blackened tarnish from a piece of silver. Polishing (in my phraseology) doesn’t remove the scratches at all, but it can remove the oxidation that may have been applied to enhance the design of a piece. Oxidation can be very successfully reapplied (chemically) BUT most polishes will leave nasty residues in all the lovely details of this beautiful handmade stuff. The residue turns white or green or pink.  One of the few chemical “polishers” that doesn’t leave a residue (Tarnax) will actually dissolve turquoise and coral, among other things. I can’t tell you how many Tarnax victims we’ve repaired here. Polishing with any of this chemical stuff is really intended only for flatter manufactured pieces, like silverware, and even then, just cleaning it will frequently work better.

So, my favorite and most suggested technique is cleaning. A good washing (done properly, of course) will remove all the gunk, label residue, polish residue, grime, dust, cookie dough (yes we’ve removed that) and any other surface stuff that “shouldn’t be there”. The result is a piece that still has all the fine scratches, oxidation, and beauty (the “patina”) of an old piece, but it will show with a beautiful true silver glow, instead of a flat yellow gray appearance. In my opinion, it really enhances the piece.

We generally wash using the Tide Detergent technique (listed in the comments following the Richard’s Method article) and a soft toothbrush. Then we dry very thoroughly with a cloth which creates just a little bit of a glow.

We don’t wash beads, because they’re too hard to dry out properly. We would wipe them with a cotton glove only.

Thank you to Diane for her contribution to this article – for your repair needs, contact her

Diane Radeke
P. O. Box 55935
Phoenix, AZ  85078