Jewellery is one of our most intimate and cherished accessories. Understanding how to care for and protect your treasured jewelry can make a world of difference in maintaining its beauty and keeping it sparkling for generations to come.
Just as the sun’s harmful rays can damage our skin, light and heat can affect a colored gemstone’s durability and color. Over time, and in excess, they can also fade or damage some gemstones, such as amethyst, kunzite, topaz and shell cameos. Pearls and other delicate materials, such as ivory, will bleach under extreme exposure to light. Other gems, especially amber, can darken over time when exposed to too much light. Excessive heat and sudden temperature changes may also fracture some gems. Heat can easily remove the natural moisture these gems need to keep their beauty. Pearls, for instance, can dry out, crack and discolor. Opals can turn white or brown, develop tiny cracks, and might lose their play-of-color.
Exposure to chemicals can damage or discolor precious metals – gold, silver and platinum – and may harm some colored gems. Even everyday substances like hairspray, lotion, perfume or other cosmetics can contain chemicals that will permanently damage the surface of your pearls and other delicate or porous gems (like turquoise). Fine jewelry should be removed before diving into a chlorinated swimming pool or before using household cleaners. Many of these cleaners contain ammonia, which can be too harsh for delicate gems or vintage jewelry. Chlorine bleach, another common household solvent, can pit or damage gold alloys.
Proper jewelry storage is often overlooked. Jewelry should never be tossed into a drawer or on top of a dresser − that’s asking for scratches and damaged gems.
Most jewelry pieces come in a box or pouch from the store, which is a perfect place to keep them. Jewelry boxes that feature individually padded slots for rings and posts for hanging necklaces and bracelets are also ideal. Pearls and opals draw moisture from the air, so storing your opal or pearl jewelry in a dry area, such as a safe deposit box, can sometimes do more harm than good. When traveling, protect your jewelry pieces from scratches or other impact damage by padding it in a separate box or case.
Most colored gems can be cleaned with warm water, mild dish soap (no detergents) and a soft brush. A pulsed-water dental cleaning appliance and a soft, lint-free cloth can also be used. Be sure to rinse your jewelry in a glass of water to remove cleaning solutions since you risk losing loose stones – or even an entire piece of jewelry – if you rinse directly in the sink.
Soft gems, such as pearls, on the other hand, can easily scratch. Use a new, clean makeup brush and warm, soapy water to softly clean them. Lay a strand of pearls on a towel to dry. The wet silk thread can stretch − and attract dirt − so don’t touch your strand until it is completely dry. Pearls worn often should be restrung once a year.
- Keep your Laboratory Reports in a safe location, separate from jewelry pieces, for security.
- Have your jewelry cleaned and checked by a professional for worn mountings, loose prongs and general condition at least once per year.
- Have white gold re-plated, platinum re-polished and prongs re-tipped as necessary to maintain original condition (generally every 24 months or so).
- Have frequently-worn pearls restrung as necessary, with a knot between each pearl to prevent loss if the string breaks.
- Some colored gemstones should not be exposed to sudden temperature changes; know your pieces and their needs.
- Select daily-wear jewelry that is in harmony with your lifestyle and schedule of activities.
- Treat each piece as if it were a family heirloom, for someday it may be.
Pearls are very soft and need special care and attention. You should never store your pearls in a jewelry box next to other jewelry as the box and other pieces of jewelry can damage the pearls by scratching and nicking. Instead keep your pearl in a fabric lined box or fabric pouch.
Skin produces acids that can harm your pearls, so if worn regularly pearls should be wiped down with a soft cloth after every wearing. A pearl necklace will gradually absorb acid from the skin that will eat into the pearl causing it to lose its luster. Wiping pearls off with either a wet or dry soft cloth will prevent dirt from accumulating and keep perspiration, which is slightly acidic, from eating away at the nacre. You can also use a drop of olive oil on your cleansing cloth to help maintain your pearls’ luster.
Along with being soft and easily scratched, pearls can be damaged by chemicals and heat. Only use jewelry cleaners that are clearly marked safe for pearls. Never use ultrasonic cleansers, dish or wash detergents, bleaches, baking soda or ammonia based cleansers. Never use toothbrushes, or any other abrasive materials to clean your pearls. Always take off your pearls before using any cosmetics, hair spray, or perfume and avoid heat and dry air because both can cause pearls to turn brown, dry out, and crack.
Gemstones are quite literally hard as rock, buy they can be damaged from careless handling and negligence. Here are some tips for keeping your gems and jewelry looking fabulous for years to come.
Remember, even the hardest gemstone variety can be vulnerable to breakage if it has inclusions that weaken the crystal structure. Exercise common sense: if you have a ring set with a softer gem variety or an included stone, take it off before strenuous exercise. Even the hardest gem of them all, the diamond, can shatter in two with a single well-placed blow.
Never remove rings by pulling on the stone: that habit may result in a loose, then lost, gem. Most importantly, store each piece of gemstone jewelry separately so that harder stones don’t scratch softer ones. Almost every gemstone is much harder than the metal it is set in. Gems can scratch the finish on your gold, silver or platinum if you throw your jewelry in a heap in a drawer or jewelry box.
Rings in particular tend to collect dust and soap behind the gem, especially if worn often. You need to clean them regularly to let the light in so your gems can shine. To clean transparent crystalline gemstones, simply soak them in water with a touch of gentle dish soap. Use a bowl of water rather than the sink to eliminate the risk of anything going down the drain. If necessary, use a soft toothbrush to scrub behind the stone. Rinse the soap off and pat dry with a lint-free cloth (you want to make sure threads won’t catch on the prongs).
Think twice before putting gems in an ultrasonic cleaner. Diamonds, rubies and sapphires will be fine but many other gems many not be, in particular emerald, opal, pearls, peridot: when in doubt, leave it out.
Organic gems like pearls, coral, and amber should only be wiped clean with moist cloth. Due to their organic nature, these gems are both soft and porous. Be careful about chemicals in hairspray, cosmetics, or perfume: they can, over time, damage pearls in particular. Opals also require special care. Never use an ultrasonic, never use ammonia, and avoid heat and strong light. Opaque gemstones like lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite, require special care because they are rocks, not crystals of a single mineral like transparent gems. These gem materials should just be wiped clean gently with a moist cloth. These gemstones can be porous and may absorb chemicals, even soap, and they may build up inside the stone and discolor it. Never use and ultrasonic cleaner and never use ammonia or any chemical solution.
- Apply lotion, cosmetics, hairspray and perfume before dressing in jewelry.
- When undressing, wipe each piece with a clean soft cloth to remove oils and perspiration.
- Store in a fabric-lined box, separately or individually-wrapped in tissue to prevent scratches.
- Never wear jewelry when doing physical work such as housekeeping, gardening or exercise.
- Never expose jewelry to household cleaning products.
- Never expose jewelry to chlorine swimming pools or hot tubs.
Follow the instructions appearing on the label or box.
- Clean in a secure location, not the rim of a sink where a piece may slip down the drain.
- Use only a soft brush, never sharp or hard objects, to remove dirt or particles.
- Seriously soiled jewelry should be cleaned professionally.
- Don’t expose colored gemstones to chemicals, solvents or ultrasonic without knowing their specific cleaning requirements.
- Clean diamond jewelry with a soft brush dipped in warm water and mild detergent; rinse under running water. Never expose pearl jewelry to chemicals or solvents and store each piece in a soft bag.