What is oxidised silver jewellery? A popular NAJO technique explained

We talk a lot about oxidised silver at NAJO. It’s intrinsic to so many of our most striking and memorable creations.

But what exactly is oxidised silver? And what is its place in jewellery design?

We’re always hearing about ‘natural anti-oxidants’ in foods, and that’s usually deemed a good thing. Such as the lemon juice that keeps an avocado from turning brown. Or the snack of fresh blueberries that can help to curb disease-causing oxidation in our bodies.

Sterling silver, even of the most superb quality, will always be subject to natural oxidisation. (Unless of course it’s been treated with an anti-tarnish coating.) All uncoated sterling silver jewellery will eventually tarnish with wear – it’s certainly not a sign of poor quality. A little polish is all that’s usually required to bring it back to its perfectly bright white sheen.

What causes silver to tarnish/oxidise?

Despite how it sounds, ‘oxidisation’ in sterling silver terms has nothing to do with oxygen – sulphide is the culprit here. The small amount of it present in the air reacts with the 7.5% non-silver metal (usually copper) that’s found in 925 sterling silver (i.e. 92.5% pure silver). This reaction is what creates the surface effect called oxidisation. (Pure 100% silver, meanwhile, may not tarnish, but it is far too soft to use for jewellery or cutlery or pin dishes. 

Embracing nature’s way

Sometimes, for aesthetic reasons, a little oxidisation is welcome. There are plenty of DIY suggestions online for oxidising your own silver jewellery, such as by throwing it in a sealed bag of chopped hardboiled egg (really!) and letting the natural sulphides work their charm.

At NAJO, our blackening or oxidising method may forgo the eggy residue (thankfully!), but the sentiment is much the same.

Our designers use oxidised silver like a shadow that throws the polished silver beadwork into sharp relief, accentuating the intricacy of the pattern, as seen in the new Nightfall Ring.

Oxidising silver can also add dimension and character. It can help to echo antique or vintage jewellery, such as the early-20th-century Mexican sterling silver designs drawn from folk traditions and nature which are such a rich source of inspiration for us at NAJO.

On a deeper level, embracing the natural tendency of sterling silver to oxidise reflects the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. Roughly translated, the ‘wabi’ refers to the simplicity of natural beauty, and ‘sabi’, the perfectly imperfect patina that comes with age.

Interior decors addicts have devoted countless Pinterest pages to the beauty of tarnished silverware displayed en masse, the different colours and matte textures of the oxidised silver collections bringing a one-of-a-kind pattern and texture to a room.

Similarly, NAJO’s oxidised sterling silver jewellery evokes both the exclusivity of a vintage or antique find and the moody drama of a modern masterpiece.

By playing with the natural colour and sheen of sterling silver through oxidisation, NAJO has introduced a fresh, modern approach to ‘two-tone jewellery’. Instead of sterling silver paired with yellow or rose gold plate, this is highly polished, bright white silver paired with the dark, matte black of oxidised silver, a yin-and-yang contrast beautifully realised in our new Founder Earring, Necklace and Ring.