The purpose of buffing silver is to make a rough surface into a smooth one. Generally the process is a mechanical one involving lots of RPMs and a buffing pad of an appropriate texture. Use sandpaper as an analogy, you start with the coarse grit and work your way to the smooth.
Buffing silver is an absolutely necessary step in the actual production of a piece of silverware. Buffing is generally the penultimate step before polishing. When antique and vintage silver gets buffed the issue become less straightforward.
Grinding….erm, buffing silver
Through skillful buffing a piece of silver can be returned to virtually mint condition with all visible signs of patina and wear removed.
I say ‘virtually mint’ because buffing really does hold up to the sandpaper analogy. It literally grinds away a portion of the metal. In order for buffing to be carried out skillfully this removal must occur over the entire surface area of the piece – so potentially you can lose a lot of silver during this process.
Even worse, unskillful buffing can result in lumps and ridges, similar to those left behind by poor monogram removal, only over a larger surface area.
I doubt I’m going to shock any regular readers when I say that Silver magpies never machine buffs any pieces. I may employ a soft cloth and some elbow grease to work on a particularly stubborn patch of tarnish, but no machine buffing.
Antique and vintage silver is old! It’s not meant to look mirror bright…silver should be a living finish, changing over time.
You know on the Antiques Roadshow where the experts solemnly gather round a piece of furniture and say, “well a piece like this would be worth $XXXXX amount…if only you hadn’t refinished it”. Ooops. The antique value of silver (as opposed to its commodity price as scrap) works similarly. Patina is valuable.
Maybe its a comment on our societal fixation with cosmetically mint and bright shiny new…but I’ll stop before I head out to deep waters.