Antiquing Jewelry: The Process
Written by Annabelle
March 13, 2019
With a resurgence of interest in antique jewelry, people are looking for ways to make their pieces look “vintage.” Whether it's by oxidation, black rhodium, or even engraving- the possibilities for antiquing jewelry are endless.
What Is The Vintage & Antique Jewelry Aesthetic?
Vintage jewelry is the term used to describe any jewelry that is at least 20-30 years old. Antique jewelry, on the other hand, must be at least a 100 years old to be considered antique. Over the years, these pieces of jewelry tarnish and develop patinas (a sheen or color from age.) Modern-day romantics adore this look, and artisans are now intentionally antiquing jewelry.
Oxidation is a natural phenomenon in which sterling silver darkens over time, after prolonged wear and exposure to various substances. While most cases of oxidation occur over time, like genuine antique jewelry, a jeweler can simulate the process with chemicals in order to give a new piece of jewelry an antiqued look.
The process works by exposing the jewelry to potassium sulfides, such as liver of sulfur. The jeweler first prepares the oxidation solution, and a neutralizer. Once the solutions are ready,the jewelry is submerged into the oxidation solution until it's the right color. Then the jewelry is transferred to the neutralizer in order to stop the oxidation process.
Rhodium is a strong and durable precious metal that is often used for plating in jewelry. In its natural color, it has a beautiful silver-white sheen that is used to enhance the look of white gold or platinum jewelry. Black rhodium is an artificially enhanced version that changes the coloration of the metal.
Similar to oxidation, black rhodium gives the piece an aged feel. However, unlike oxidation, black rhodium is better suited for fine detailing and textural work, rather than application to the whole piece of jewelry. This is because black rhodium can actually wear off over time, especially on smooth surfaces. Jewelers tend to use it to highlight other components in the piece, such as bright gems.
Engraving is the process of etching designs, images, or words onto jewelry. Delicate engraving work is common in antique jewelry, especially on pieces from the Victorian era.
Engraving can be performed by hand, rotary machine, or laser. Hand engraving is the most expensive, due to the amount of skill and craftsmanship needed; the jeweler must be a proficient artist with a steady hand to carve on the metal with a small bit. Rotary machine and laser engraving are less expensive, since they can carve patterns via computer programming.
Inspired by these vintage and antique looks yet? There's more: check out our jewelry conversion guide to see how you can update your old baubles.