Copper jewelry has been gaining traction in the jewelry world for a few years now. It’s affordable to work with, malleable, and readily available. A metal with a lovely reddish-brown hue, it’s a distinctive metal and makes for some absolutely beautiful artwork. Many wire wrappers start on copper because of it’s ease of use. I have personally started working with silver but the allure of copper has continued to draw me to it in my work. Some pieces just look more dynamic in certain metals, and copper offers a rich color perfect for simple pieces as well as layered and textured work.
You may have heard that copper can turn you green, or that it’s dangerous. While it’s true that copper can turn you green there are things we can do to prevent that and, in absence of an allergy issue, copper is perfectly safe for everyday wear. Some people may shy away from copper because they’re unsure of how to care for their pieces, or concerned about their skin. I’d like to dispel some myths about copper jewelry and help you find the best method to care for your new piece.
Copper is safe for skin contact. In fact, there’s at least one study from 2010 where copper’s use as a surface in health care settings is investigated due to it’s antimicrobial properties. You can be allergic to copper, though it’s not common. If you’re having reactions to jewelry, nickel is a much more common allergen. The copper we use is nickel-free. Be sure to ask your jeweler if they use nickel-free materials, or ask to see the MSDS for the metals they use. When in doubt, talk to your healthcare professional, if you’re having contact dermatitis they can refer you to an allergist who can help you pinpoint the specific metals causing issues for you.
It Ain’t Easy being Green, Sealing Your Piece
Our pieces are sold unsealed. Why? Some people are allergic to sealants, or have a preference. And some people prefer to keep their piece raw and let it patina over time, or use a polishing cloth to keep the highlights shiny and the crevices dark. Here’s some of the most common ways to seal your piece if you’re concerned about green skin or don’t want your piece to oxidize further.
Renaissance Wax or Car Wax- Requires re-application, but will keep your piece from oxidizing and create a barrier between the jewelry and your skin.
Sealants- Some are designed for this purpose like ProtectaClear, or Eternal Jewelry Coating. You can also use clear lacquer from the hardware store. Be careful of spraying stones, and always do a test patch if it’s your first time using a particular type.
Copper Cleaning and Care
So if you’re not sealing your piece, how do you keep it looking new? Like sterling silver which oxidizes due to the copper content in it, copper needs to be maintained. The easiest thing to do is to keep your copper pieces away from water and humidity. This will slow down, but not completely stop, further oxidation. A sunshine cloth or pro-polish pad can be used to shine up the highlights and keep the recesses oxidized for lovely contrast. If used on the back of a piece, I’ve found that the polishing compounds these cloths leave on jewelry keep it from changing your skin green pretty effectively. If you want your piece to stay new-penny shiny, you can use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice and a little salt. If you’re concerned about damaging any stones in the piece, ketchup is a strange but surprisingly effective alternative!