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


What does “Vintage” mean in relation to Native American Jewelry?

Hi Paula,

I’m a regular shopper in your Pawn Shop and wonder what vintage means?


Hi Sue,

Webster defines the word vintage as a general term that is associated with a particular year such as a wine being of vintage 2009, for example. So in reality, it does not, in a global sense, designate any particular age, just “of an age”.

Here at Horsekeeping LLC, we have developed our own definition of vintage to describe items in our pawn shop. Here is that definition along with some other terms related to age.

Vintage – 30 years old or older, so something made in the 1980s or earlier. (However, with clothing, vintage means items made 20 years before the present day.)

NOS – New Old Stock. Made at least 20 years ago but never used.

Pre-Owned – An item of any age but that has been used.

First Phase – From 1860-1900. Read more about First Phase and Transition Period in  First Phase in Native American Jewelry

Patina – A dark or colored film of oxidation that forms naturally on metal by exposure to air and other elements. It is often valued for its aesthetically pleasing appearance. All items in our Pawn Shop, even NOS, have some patina. We leave it that way as some people like the natural patina. Otherwise sterling silver can be buffed back to a brilliant shine.

Here is another related article on the subject

Is this a rare style of Squash Blossom Necklace? Is it vintage?

Visit our pawn shop to learn more.  Paula

pawn shopBST465-625-cobblestone-spencer-1

To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here

If you are selling your jewelry, read this


Native American Jewelry – Antiquing


While shopping your Bargain Barn, I have a question.

The descriptions of the following 2 bracelets say:

“This bracelet came in an estate group along with other pieces that were verifiable Native American made pieces. But this one has an artificial patina on the sterling silver from an acid wash.”


Sterling Silver and Turquoise Bargain Barn Bracelet

Sterling Silver and Turquoise Bargain Barn Bracelet



Vintage Sterling Silver and Turquoise Bargain Barn Bracelet

Vintage Sterling Silver and Turquoise Bargain Barn Bracelet


My question is – How could you tell that it had an artificial patina?  I didn’t know acid was used to produce patina (although I guess that’s what it does in the test for silver).  I thought chemicals like liver of sulfur were used to patinate silver – like to darken the lower level in shadowbox and overlay jewelry.

Regards, Joan

Hi Joan,

That was a typo – it was meant to say “alkaline wash” or “has been antiqued” and I have made that correction on the description of those two bracelets – thank you very much for calling that to my attention.

Yes liver of sulfur is often used by Native American artists for shadowbox, storyteller, and overlay techniques to create a darkened background for contrast with the bright shiny sterling silver elements of a piece.
Antiquing is also used on sterling silver Navajo beads, such as these by Virginia Tso.
Antiqued Sterling Silver Navajo Beads by Virginia Tso

Antiqued Sterling Silver Navajo Beads by Virginia Tso

We know it is an artificial patina on those bracelets from the experience of seeing the patina on very old pieces (which is somewhat spotty) vs. patina which appears to have been applied (and seems more uniform like a wash).

You can read more about Patina and Tarnish in this article.

The bracelets are sterling silver and have very nice stones. When we can’t authenticate the maker of a bracelet as Native American, we put the items in our Bargain Barn at half the price.
Thanks again for the good eyes and come back and visit !

Tips on Caring for Native American Sterling Silver Jewelry

To keep Sterling Silver jewelry shiny, follow the tips in this article.

100% solid silver won’t tarnish but it is too soft to use for making jewelry – it could easily be scratched, dented and bent.
Sterling silver has a small amount of one or more other metals usually copper, added to the silver. To be called sterling silver, the alloy must contain at least 92.5% pure silver. Sterling silver alloy is harder than pure silver but the added metals also can cause discoloration or tarnish.

Tarnish or Rust?

Both tarnish and rust are due to exposure to air. Rust occurs when items such as those containing iron, combine with oxygen to form iron oxide. Rust eats into and deforms the iron, degrading its strength.
Tarnish, on the other hand, is a layer that forms on the surface of a silver alloy, for example, when the item is exposed to sulfur or hydrogen sulfide in the air. The chemical reaction that takes place produces silver sulfate, the smoky, gray or black residue that some people dislike. Others love it – it is called patina. Interestingly, a layer of tarnish actually protects an item from further tarnishing.

PatinaPatina is the film on the surface of an item produced by chemical changes over a long period of time. The green patina on the Statue of Liberty is verdigris, a normal darkening of copper when it is exposed to the atmosphere.
Patina is what gives older silver pawn jewelry its character. That’s why in our pawnshop, we never remove patina – we let the new owner decide if they want the item to show its age or to be shiny. Authentic patina increases the value of old Native American pieces.

Sulfur content in the air varies depending on location. Air near volcanic activity, some industries and heavy traffic can be high in sulfur. Homes built within the last 10 years or so that used drywall from China have been found to have very high concentrations of sulfur.

If you want to keep your sterling silver jewelry bright and shiny, here are some tips.

  • When you remove your jewelry, look for a build up on the inside of a bracelet or the back of a pendant, this is usually caused by sweat, make up, sloughed skin cells and the like. Carefully wipe the jewelry with a damp cloth or sponge to remove the buildup. Although silver doesn’t rust like iron, the salt in sweat can be corrosive to silver-copper alloys such as sterling silver so you want to remove any caked-on sweat or residue before storage. If your jewelry piece has stones, take care not to get the stones wet as it could loosen their settings.

  • Minimize contact of your jewelry with moisturizers, perfume, and makeup.
  • Remove your silver jewelry before you go swimming or if you can’t part with it, rinse it off promptly after swimming.
  • Store your silver jewelry in a dark, low humidity area. Sunshine, high humidity, body sweat and oils all hasten tarnishing. (see complete list below)
  • Wrap large valuable pieces in anti-tarnish cloth (ATC), store in ATC pouches or line your jewelry boxes or a jewelry drawer with ATC. You can purchase the cloth by the yard – it is the same type that lines your silverware box. (Watch for a future edition of PP for photos of jewelry storage drawer ideas. Go here to see anti-tarnish pouches.

    Anti Tarnish Pouches

  • Buff jewelry pieces with special silver polishing clothsto remove fingerprints and tarnish before wearing.

    Sterling Silver Polishing Cloth

  • Do not use polishing cloths on the stone portion of your jewelry.

For more serious cases of silver tarnish, there are many products and methods you can try but I am reluctant to recommend any until I have time to test the methods myself.

Things that cause tarnish on your sterling silver jewelry:
  • Humidity
  • Sweat
  • Skin Oil
  • Makeup
  • Perfume
  • Hair products
  • Anything with sulfur in it
  • Chemicals in clothing and detergents
  • Air pollution
  • Wool
  • Rubber
  • Latex
  • Some types of plastic bags

Vintage Items may have a Patina that you do not want to remove !