Where can I learn more about copper beads & findings
We constantly receive questions about Copper Beads and Jewelry care. We've tried to summarize what we've learned about this wonderful material.
We constantly receive questions about Copper Bead and Jewelry care. On this page
we've tried to summarize what we've learned about this wonderful material. If you have information to
contribute to this page, please let us know by sending an email to
What is Copper?
Copper is a metal, commonly used for jewelry construction. It also an "element" on the periodic
table (CU). Webster's dictionary describes it as "a reddish-brown, malleable, ductile, metallic element
that is an excellent conductor of electricity and heat". Copper, when polished, takes on a bright, even
luster. When copper is used in the bead market, it is sold as "bright" or "antique", based on the surface
color when sold.
"Bright" copper is simply well polished copper. It often is given a thin, virtually invisible coating of
clear lacquer to preserve the bright appearance. This lacquer slowly wears off (not a visible process)
and the copper starts to 'age'.
"Antique" copper usually is newly manufactured copper that has been treated during the manufacturing
process to "pre-darken" the copper surface. At this time, we do not know what that process is (knowledge
When copper comes in contact with the environment, it begins the natural process of oxidation.
Chemists would tell you that the surface copper is combining with oxygen. What it means for your jewelry
is that it gets darker. Copper does reach a point when it is "fully oxidized" - it gets to certain
dark color and does not get any darker. Sometimes, you'll also hear the term "patina" used - that's
the bluish green color that copper gets when it is exposed to oxygen and other elements, such as
sea water. Patinas can also intentionally be applied through chemical means.
As copper jewelry comes in contact with your skin, the chemistry (acids, oils, cosmetics used, etc) is
such that most people experience some degree of the copper interacting with the skin. Some people experience
a green residue on their skin (harmless, and it washes off). Acids in your skin secretions react with the
copper, making copper 'salts' that are green in color. Some people only turn green for a while -
then the jewelry forms a kind of micro layer of oxidation that prevents the wearer from getting green
any more unless they perspire heavily. Some people never experience the green skin, even as the copper
oxidizes completely. On the other end of the spectrum, some people have severe allergic reactions to the
copper contact. It all seems to be related to body chemistry.
People interested in "natural medicine" tend to love copper for the very reason that it interacts
with the skin. The tiny amounts of copper that are absorbed by your body through contact are credited
with arthritis relief and other health benefits. In recent years, many athletes, in particular, have
promoted the benefits they feel that they receive from always wearing copper jewelry, such as bracelets.
Solid Copper vs. Plated Copper
Obviously, "Solid Copper" refers to an item that is copper all the way through. Plated copper is a layer
of copper on the surface of the item. The plating is usually applied via electroplating and the base material
underneath can vary. Solid copper items usually cost more than the same item that is plated. At Beaded
Impressions, we do our best to carry Solid Copper items when they are available. For items that are not
available in solid copper, we carry plated items. The layer thickness of the copper can vary dramatically
between suppliers, so when we know if the plating is thin ("coated copper") or thick (all of our Pewter
items with a Copper Finish), we try to let you know.
Plated copper items will oxidize, just like Solid copper will. After all, it is copper on the surface!
Testing for Copper Content
There are several tests that you can try to determine whether copper items are solid copper. None are conclusive, in
and of themselves, but using all of them can give you more information about the item.
Testing with a magnet: If your piece sticks to a magnet, it is not copper. It may be copper plated, but underneath
it contains some type of ferrous material (steel, certain basemetal alloys, etc).
Testing by cutting: Obviously, this is destructive, so it can only be used on a sample. It is useful for bulk chain,
and inexpensive beads and findings. Cut the piece open with wirecutters (you may want to cover with a cloth or tissue to avoid
sending the piece flying!) If the part shows a different color underneath (usually white colored metal), the piece is probably
plated. Note that many brass-based items will not look much different than the copper when cut, so this is not a good test for
those types of items.
Chemical Testing: This test is also destructive. A material called "Liver of Sulfur" is available at good hardware
stores and some paint stores. When it comes in contact with a bright copper surface, it will turn the copper very black.
This test will tell you that you have copper on the surface of your item. Bright copper that has been lacquered will not
turn black, so you need to cut through the piece first, then expose the cut ends to the liver of sulfur solution. Items
with a good coat of copper plating will turn black (it is copper on the surface), so once again, you need to cut to the
interior of the piece and evaluate what happens on the cut edge. Liver of sulfur will not affect the color of solid brass.
For those of you that like your copper shiny, you can alway polish it. Solid copper items polish up
easily and you can achieve a nice shine without a lot of work. Plated items can also be polished, but you
have to be careful not to wear through the plating. Items that we carry with a pewter base with the heavy
copper plated finish polish nicely. I have polished my own items repeatedly and have not seen any sign
of polish through the plated surface. Items with a thin coating of copper, like the "Copper Coated Lobster
clasps" should not be polished.
The best product we have ever found for polishing copper is something called "Twinkle Copper Polish".
I bought a jar of this stuff at least 30 years ago, and I am still using the same jar. One used to be able
to buy this polish at grocery or hardware stores, but it has become hard to find. A recent 'net search
indicates that the product is still available, if hard to find. The only web site I could find that was
still in business and sold Twinkle was Vermont Country Store.
I have not tried ordering items from this site - it was just the only online source I could find. If
you have other places you've tried (online), send them and I will list them here, too. It appears that the
Twinkle polish is suitable for use on brass, as well.
If you cannot find the polish above, or just want a really inexpensive alternative, here is a recipe for
making your own polish. I have tried it - it does not work as well as Twinkle, but it does work to some
Mix together the following items in a plastic or glass cup: 2 parts flour, 2 parts salt, 2 parts powdered
detergent, 2 parts hot water, 3 parts white vinegar, 2 parts lemon juice. I used 1/2 teaspoon as a "part" and
the recipe made plenty of polish for several pieces of jewelry. Mix the ingredients together - they will
get foamy. Use an old toothbrush to apply to the jewelry - and really scrub it in. Rinse with water.
Polishing Copper - Suggestions from our Readers
We occasionally get copper polishing suggestions from our copper aficionados. We haven't necessarily tried all
of these at Beaded Impressions, but we like to pass on suggestions that sound valid.
Dorothy suggests - take equal parts (usually 1/4 cup or so) of lemon juice and salt and put in a small jar.
Place a piece of copper jewelry into the jar, screw on the lid and shake for about 20 shakes. Immediately remove the
jewelry and rinse in water. I then add a couple drops of dishwashing liquid to the hand holding the copper item and
rub my hands together for a few seconds, then rinse well in water. I then place a terrycloth towel over my hand,
place the copper item in it, cover with a piece of the towel and again rub my hands together, which both dries and polishes
the item. The copper, when first cleaned, will be pinkish looking but will turn a lovely copper shade after it has
been exposed to the air for a while. There is one very important thing you have to guard against, and that is
leaving the copper in the lemon juice solution for longer than the suggested time as it will cause the copper to
become dull and will be very hard to polish after that. If you do not have lemon juice, white vinegar will also
work (it just doesn't smell as nice!)
Johnnie Kay suggests - a product called "Barkeeper's Friend". This product works on copper, brass,
stainless steel and more. It can be found at Wal-Mart. Use a wet sponge and just wash it using the product.
Connie suggests - Use ketchup! Spread a thick layer of ketchup on the copper item and let it sit for several
minutes. Rinse with water and rub gently with your fingers. You may want to repeat once or twice, but you should get a
good shine very quickly. Connie also notes that this process is very gentle on your copper, since no abrasives or scrubbing
Margot suggests - using a "Sunshine Cloth". These polishing cloths are available on our
Bead Storage and Care page. The cloth works on all solid copper items, but has the best results on smooth surfaces
because you can apply even pressure all across the surface. Items such as corrugated beads will get polished on the
outer surface, but the indentations will remain oxidized.
In a word, you can't. It is best to love copper for being the living metal that it is. However, you
can do some things to slow it down.
After polishing up your copper, you can apply various clear sealants to the surface to slow
oxidation. Products that have been tried with varying success:
- Clear Nail Polish (note: this tends to leave more residue than some of the other items)
- Clear Lacquer (available in spray cans at the hardware store - use as directed!)
- "Future Acrylic Floor Polish" (after applying, some people bake this stuff on the jewelry by
putting it in the oven at a low temperature such as 250 degrees F for 10 minutes.
Some people apply these items only to the back / underside of their jewelry to slow down the effect
of getting green skin, but they leave the top alone to preserve the appearance.
Sometimes, you want to create oxidation. For instance, you may be creating a piece of jewelry with antique
finish copper, but can only get one of the components in a bright finish copper. The solution to this problem
is a material called "Liver of Sulfur". It is available at good hardware stores and some paint stores and is not too
expensive (my 4 ounce bottle cost about $4.00). When liver of sulfur comes in contact with a bright copper surface, it
will turn the copper very black. This process is very quick - if you want just a bit of darkening, dilute the liver of
sulfur with some water. You will need to experiment with how much water and how long you leave the piece in the solution.
Liver of sulfur will not work on copper items that have been lacquered - the lacquer has to be removed first.
Why Don't We Carry More Copper?
We try. Copper products are really hard to find with much variety. We are starting to see more
handmade beads offered from India - and even a few findings. Anytime we find something unusual, especially in
Solid Copper, we try to carry it. Many times, we can only get an item for a while, so we buy a big
supply and hope that it will last until we can find it again. We are trying to have more variety of
copper chain available, because we have a source that will custom manufacture certain styles.