Care of Copper, Brass, and Bronze Jewelry

If you’re interested in copper, brass and bronze on a jewelry website, you’re probably wanting to know about the care and feeding of a piece of jewelry.  No, your jewelry won’t turn “BLACK!” but it will tarnish.  How it will tarnish depends on its environment and its environment includes your body chemistry.  We all know how beautiful the tarnished copper roofs of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, Canada are.

When clean and freshly worked, copper is “copper” colored. It is extremely durable and ages beautifully.

Here is an armoire artisans made of recycled wood from an old Mexican Hacienda.  The copper on the doors was new when we bought it in 2004. Notice how the copper panels on the doors have aged with uneven color change. I think the unevenness gives it natural beauty. The Schulmerich handbells hanging from the latch key are bronze. 

Armoire with copper doors and Schulmeric brass handbells
Armoire made of old hacienda wood with copper panels on the doors and Bronze Schulmerich handbells

What about tarnish?

All three of these metals tarnish, and I have found two ways to deal with it.  First, many people prefer to just let it tarnish.  The tarnish coupled with wear gives the jewelry a soft, warm, worn look.  I like this look very much, but understand people who want their jewelry to look bright and shiny.  When I make a piece of copper, brass or bronze jewelry I polish it to give it a good jewelry surface finish.  That polished surface reappears when the tarnish is removed.

How to remove tarnish from copper, brass and bronze jewelry

If you soak copper, brass or bronze jewelry in a cup of lemon or lime juice it will loosen the tarnish in three or four minutes.  Do not soak it for a long time or overnight without checking it every few minutes.  The tarnish will loosen and wash off easily.  Then dry your jewelry with a cloth or paper towel. DO NOT AIR DRY IT.  If you do it’ll get spots.  The surface will be bright and shiny again looking quite new.

How are Copper, Brass and Bronze Related?

In case you want to get into it more deeply here is the technical side of copper and the copper alloys.


 Copper itself is a pure element not an alloy.  It is of interest here because it alloys with zinc or tin to produce brass or bronze.  Metallurgists also alloy copper with the precious metals, silver and gold, to produce sterling silver and gold for jewelry. Gold alloys are made of 24 parts. 14 Karat gold is 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals. 18 Karat gold is 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metals.

Wikipedia contains a gold mine of copper information and it makes sense to give you a link to it.  Just click here and I’ll take you to wikipedia.

Yes, sterling silver contains copper, but it is considered a silver alloy because silver is the main metal.  We’ve talked about sterling in our post about sterling and fine silver so if you want to know more about sterling I suggest you check that post. To read more about sterling and fine silver please click here.

What are the copper alloys?

Brass first…..

There is ambiguity in the way the way we use the word brass.  Ancient writers used the word brass to mean what we call bronze today. In ancient times the technology was less perfect so the metallurgists were alloying impure metals.

The gold colored brass I like to use for jewelry is an alloy of copper and zinc. I have no connection with the foundry in the following video, and do not know the people in the video. I find it interesting because they are making brass from recycled copper cables. Hopefully the video will give you a perspective of what the metal goes through before it gets to me so I can make it into jewelry for you.

Now Bronze

Though there is plenty of bronze jewelry around, I do not like to use bronze when I make jewelry It looks too much like copper and there are no advantages in using bronze. It is after all an alloy mostly copper, with tin.  There is a romance about bronze though.  A “bronzed person” has a great sun tan.  When I was a baby it was common to have your baby’s shoes “bronzed.” I wonder how many bronze sculptures there are in this world.

What it all melts down to…..

For jewelry what is important is appearance and how it makes YOU look. When I make jewelry I always have in mind that I will be selling to people all of whom have their own unique body type. So I imagine you, and design for you. I care how the jewelry will wear so I make it to last. AND, I hope you wear it a lot. I don’t want to make jewelry that lies unseen in a jewelry chest or dresser drawer. I love seeing people wear my jewelry. In fact, I’m hoping someday your great grand child will tell someone “This belonged to my great grandmother (or great grandfather). A guy named Dick Stromberg made it.”

A guy named Dick Stromberg made it.
Stromberg Art Jewelry