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Why does gold discolor?
Mrs. Gottrocks
Fine Jewelry and Gifts

copyright 2000, Sheryl Suko

You may think that faulty manufacturing or underkarating might be the problem when a gold ring "turns," blackening or discoloring either the skin, clothing or the jewelry itself. However, this is not the case.

There are several reasons for discoloration of gold jewelry, such as metallic abrasion and corrosion, and they can sometimes be prevented with some general care.

Metallic Abrasion
The most common reason for jewelry "turning" is metallic abrasion, caused by makeup on your skin or clothing. Cosmetics often contain compounds harder than the jewelry itself. These compounds wear or rub off very tiny particles of the precious metals. Very finely divided metal always appears black, rather than metallic, so it looks like a jet-black dust. When this dust comes into contact with absorbent surfaces such as skin or clothing, it sticks, forming a black smudge. To prevent this, you should try switching cosmetics. If this is not possible, we recommend that you remove your rings and other jewelry while applying your makeup, and then clean the skin areas which will be in contact with the jewelry with soap and water before putting the jewelry on.

Corrosion
Hairspray, perfume, perspiration, smog and other chemicals can also cause discoloration. In this case, the discoloration is the actual corrosion of the metals which are mixed, or alloyed, with the gold. Different gold manufacturers may use different alloy percentages. Gold itself does not corrode, or oxidize, but its primary alloy materials, silver and copper, will do so. When they oxidize they form very dark chemical compounds under moist or wet conditions.

When you perspire, fats and fatty acids released in the perspiration can cause corrosion of 14 karat gold, especially when exposed to warmth. This problem can be worse in seacoast areas, where chlorides combine with the perspiration to form a corrosive element that discolors skin. Even smog fumes will gradually attack jewelry and its effect is evident as tarnish that rubs off on the skin.

Under these conditions, we suggest that you remove your jewelry often, and use an absorbent powder which is free of abrasive compounds on the skin which comes in contact with the jewelry. Sometimes, the actual design of the jewelry can be an influencing factor. Wide shanks (the underside portion of the ring) have more surface area to contact abrasives or corrosives. Concave surfaces inside a shank form natural collection points that trap moisture and contaminants, and can also cause a type of dermatitis.

General Care
We suggest removing all rings before using soaps, cleaning compounds or detergents, and that you clean and rinse your rings frequently. (Ask Mrs. Gottrocks or your local jeweler about the proper way to clean colored and organic stones so you won't ruin them by mistake.) As well as solving the problem, you'll be amazed at how much better your rings look! Of course, any time you stop in, most any jeweler would be glad to clean your rings in your presence for you at no charge while you browse.

In addition to these corrective measures, if your problem persists, we recommend that you switch to 18 karat gold or platinum jewelry. The lower alloy metal content of 18 karat gold, 25 percent versus almost 42 percent, significantly reduces the problem, and the use of platinum should eliminate it completely. You may also have 10 karat and 14 karat jewelry plated with a layer of 18 karat gold, but keep in mind that depending on how often you wear the jewelry, you may have to re-plate the jewelry again at a later date, and sometimes plating does not entirely solve the problem.

We hope this information has been of assistance to you. Please feel free to email us with your questions or suggestions for future topics.

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