Caring for Gold
Gold is an incredible and durable material, but some care should be taken to lengthen the life of your jewelry. Chemicals such as chlorine, cleaners and bleach can adversely affect gold. These chemicals can leach into the pores of the metal and corrode it from the inside out. Very often, when stones are lost from prong settings, it is due to repeated exposure to chemicals, which weaken the prong, causing it to break from a minor impact. Remove your jewelry before cleaning, gardening, swimming or going to the gym. Be especially careful if you’re going to go swimming in natural hot springs - the sulfur content in the water will turn your gold brown.
Activities such as gardening or weight lifting will scratch, dent and mar rings. The damage can usually be sanded and polished out, but over time, this will thin the metal and a more major repair may be required.
When you store or travel with your jewelry, try to keep your pieces as separate as possible. Metal will mar itself and most gemstones are fragile and susceptible to scratching and chipping. You can use cloth bags, tissue paper or small Ziploc bags.
To keep chains from knotting, connect the clasp before putting them into a jewelry box. If they do get tangled, they will be much simpler to sort out!
Caring for Jewelry with Stones
Knowing what your jewelry is and its condition is the first step in caring for it properly. If you are unsure of what you have and how to care for it, take it to a jeweler. Your piece will be inspected for stone security and general condition. Most jewelers will clean and polish your piece for free and restore it to its original luster. A jeweler can also tell you how to safely clean your jewelry at home and what to keep an eye on in terms of potential damage.
Gemstones can be incredibly durable like diamonds or sapphires, or fragile like opals and emeralds. Even diamonds can chip and crack, so care must be taken to protect stones from impact whenever possible. Knowing which stones are suited to everyday wear and which are not will save you heartbreak and expense in the future. If you own a ring with a fragile stone or setting, save it for special occasions instead of ruining it with everyday wear.
If you are buying a ring intended for everyday wear, be sure to make informed choices about what kind of stone and setting you’re getting. For example, an emerald set high in a delicate prong setting will be far more prone to damage than a low bezel set sapphire. Think about how much metal is holding the stone in place and try to strike a balance between showing off the stone and protecting it from loss or damage. Rings and bracelets take more abuse than any other type of jewelry because they exist in the “strike zone” of the hands, so I like to take special care in designing them. Fragile stones are better suited to earrings or pendants where they are out of harm’s way.
There are a few proactive steps you can take to keep your gems sparkling. Take your rings off before applying hand lotion. Take earrings out before washing your hair to avoid soap scum and conditioner build up. Lotion, dirt and dead skin can build up under stones and deaden their look but also hold damaging chemicals, which could etch some delicate stones and damage prongs. Even a quick monthly cleaning will make a huge difference in the way your jewelry looks and feels.
If you want to clean a piece of jewelry with stones at home, an old soft toothbrush, a drop of dish soap and a bowl of warm water are the safest bet. Home-use ultrasonic cleaners can be an excellent option for cleaning most gemstone pieces - especially engagement rings or diamond studs, but can damage fragile or included stones. (Ask a jeweler if you’re unsure what is or isn’t safe in the ultrasonic!) If you want to use a tarnish dip or paste polish, read the label carefully to make sure the chemicals won’t damage your stone. Always rinse your piece thoroughly after using any cleaning products on your jewelry and do not hold your piece over an open drain when you’re rinsing it. Pat dry with a soft cotton cloth to avoid water spots. Allow your stones to sparkle as they’re meant to!
Caring for Silver
Sterling Silver is an alloy of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. Adding copper to silver gives it durability (pure silver is very soft), but copper is very susceptible to oxidation (tarnishing). Fighting tarnish is part of owning silver, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Some basic things to do are to avoid chlorine, natural hot springs, perfume, hairspray and lotion. Also be aware that acidic or sulfur-rich foods like eggs, orange juice, onions and garlic can tarnish and damage silver if the exposure is lengthy. (Always be sure silver flatware is clean and dry before storing it.)
If you do have to deal with tarnish, polishing cloths are an excellent option. Polishing cloths will turn black quickly but they will work for a long time in spite of discoloration. They are rendered ineffective by the washing machine, so use them until they no longer work and replace them. Another easy and effective remedy is a clear tarnish dip like Tarnex or Goddard’s. Be sure to read the label carefully to make sure the chemicals won’t damage your stone. Traditional paste polish is another easy option, although it can be messy and can leave residue in recessed areas. It is also a mild abrasive, so it can wear through silver-plating pretty quickly and reveal base metal beneath the plating.
The very best way to care for your silver is to prevent tarnishing. You can do this be storing your silver in a Ziploc bag (good for jewelry) or you can wax your piece using Renaissance Wax (good for silver objects that aren’t used for serving food). For added security, add an anti-tarnish paper strip to your Ziploc bag or display case where you keep your silver. In case of really stubborn tarnish, consult a jeweler - sometimes a polishing machine can do in a minute what would take hours to do by hand. If you want to clean a piece that is just dirty, but not tarnished, the best bet is an old soft toothbrush a drop of liquid dish soap and a bowl of warm water. Always rinse your piece thoroughly after using any cleaning products on your jewelry and do not hold your piece over an open drain when you’re rinsing it. Be sure to dry immediately with a soft cotton cloth to avoid water spots. If you maintain your silver it will look clean and bright for many years. If you feel unsure about cleaning your silver jewelry, bring it to a jeweler for some professional attention.
Caring for Jewelry with Patina
Patina is a thin layer of coloration on the surface of metal. Patina can be intentionally applied by chemical means, or can be caused by age and natural oxidation. (Technically, tarnish is a patina, although usually an unwelcome one.) Patina can be green, blue, brown, black or red. In my work, patina is usually black. Patina is very fragile by nature and can wear off due to repeated rubbing of the surface on skin or clothing. It can also be removed by repeated cleanings. In owning a piece with patina, be gentle in cleaning it and don’t be surprised if the high spots on a piece become shiny and show the color of the metal underneath. This is natural and is not a big problem. (Think of the toes of bronze statues that are shiny from people touching them over a course of years.) If the patina is wearing off in a way that is bothersome to you, it can usually be restored to its original condition, but you should not be surprised if the high spots become shiny again with wear. I wax pieces that have patina, which will help protect the patina and discourage tarnish from polished areas, but it is still fragile. Personally, I enjoy the natural process of wear - it reminds me of sea glass and river pebbles worn smooth after years of abrasion. Be gentle with your patinated pieces and enjoy them as they take on a natural life of their own.
Caring for Pearls
Pearls are extremely delicate and should be handled with special care. The saying goes “pearls should be the last thing you put on and the first thing you take off”; that is to say, put on hairspray and perfume before putting on pearls and take them off before showering or sleeping. Perfume and chemicals will destroy the luster of your pearls by damaging the nacre (the outermost layer of material produced by oysters that gives pearls their shimmery surface.) When you take your pearls off, wipe them clean with a soft cloth to remove any oils from your skin and store them in a cloth bag. Do not let pearls rub against metal (other pieces of jewelry, for example) - this will also mar the surface, leaving dents and scratches. Fine pearls should be strung on silk cord and knotted. Knots keep the pearls from abrading each other and secure pearls in the event of a broken cord. Many jewelers recommend restringing your pearls once a year, but a judicious inspection will tell you are ready to restring. This partially depends on how frequently the pearls are worn and what condition the cord is in. (Look for stretching, dirt and fraying of the cord.) A fresh silk cord with new knots will breathe life back into older pearls and give the piece a fresh new look. If you follow this simple approach your pearls will last for generations.