38 Stones & Gems | Jewelry Care

Multi-colored gemstones
Image via Flickr user jaYmE del Rosario, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

While I often feel like I’m the reason we can’t have nice things (klutziness does not a jewel protect–good thing diamonds and sapphires are tough!), I do try to take care of my jewelry and keep it clean and shiny so I can wear it any time I get the notion. I mean, even the Hope Diamond wouldn’t look like much covered in dust and grime, right?

But different types of jewelry require different types of care, so let’s take a look at caring for our shiny bits. You never know, you might have an heirloom in the making!

Precious Stones

image via Amazon.com
image via Amazon.com

Since precious stones tend to be up there on the hardness (Mohs) scale, these types of jewelry are the easiest to care for: warm water, a soft toothbrush or paintbrush, and some gentle detergent and you’re pretty much good to go. If you prefer to clean a lot of jewelry all in one go, a table-top ultrasonic cleaner can certainly be used for this type of jewelry with no problem, and there are also affordable steam cleaners for jewelry on the market, too.

When we were shopping for engagement rings the halo ring was (and still is, I think) very popular, and there was a rumor going around that those sorts of rings were harder to clean. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re harder to clean, all those little stones do give additional surfaces (facets!) for dust and grime to collect, making them dull faster than their larger solitaire counterparts. It was about that time that I learned about the Dazzle Stick. Between professional cleanings at the jewelers, I like giving my rings a gentle cleaning with this handy tool to keep them nice and shiny.

Found in the jewelry section of my local Wal-Mart, the Dazzle Stick has cleaning solution that you release into the bristles with a few clicks. Once the bristles are showing blue, you gently swish them into the nooks and crannies in your setting and then rinse it all clean. Since my jewelry is at the mall, this saves me a lot of schlepping out there and, really, isn’t much different than what they do.

Semi-Precious Stones

On the other hand (you see what I did there), semi-precious stones (like my personal favorite, Lapis Lazuli)  tend to be softer and very porous which means they will just soak up water and chemicals and pretty much anything they’re submersed in, often resulting in discolorations and dulling of the stones. Because of this, stay away from the cleaning solutions, even the mild ones, and just use a damp cloth to wipe away any grime or debris should they get messy. If you’re very careful you can still clean the settings or bands with a gentle detergent, but it almost seems more trouble than it’s worth.

Funny, though, as these pretties were once just hunks of rock carved out of mountainsides and caves you’d think they’d be able to stand up to just about anything, right? Still, the process of cutting and setting them into jewelry does tend to make them more fragile, so a little care isn’t too much to ask.

Pearls

Pearls
image via Flickr user Mauro Cateb, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Pearls are simply elegant and gorgeous with their natural shine and luster. This luster actually comes from a thin layer called the nacre and can be damaged easily, so absolutely never use any sorts of chemical or ultrasonic cleaners with them. Pearls, like the metals below, do best when worn–the natural oils from our skin actually help to condition them a bit–but that doesn’t mean that more is necessarily better. Lotions, perfumes, hair products can all damage the finish of pearls, so always put your pearls on last and wipe them down with a soft cloth before putting away.

Gold & Silver

Did you know that precious metal jewelry actually stays cleaner by being worn that by sitting in a box collecting dust and tarnish? It’s true! And while most jewelers will tell you to take off your rings before washing your hands, etc., I see that as a plumber’s bill waiting to happen as he rescues your ring from the pipes under your sink! It is true, however, that bleach can severely damage gold and silver, so removing them before doing housework or going into the pool is a good idea (just make sure you put them somewhere safe).

For regular cleaning a polishing cloth is best–not paper towels or tissue as the tiny wood fibers in there can scratch up a metals finish. White gold is actually regular gold coated with a fine layer of rhodium (in most cases) and some sterling silver gets plated as well to make it whiter and brighter. Over time this finish can wear down and start to look dull, so plan to have regularly worn rings re-plated every 1-2 years; if the shop you bought it in offers a lifetime protection plan, this service is often included for a very nominal fee.

When you do wash your metal jewelry, with or without stones, be careful not to let the water too hot. While the harder stones would be fine, sterling silver especially can tarnish in water that’s too hot, though a good buffing should be able to make the tarnish disappear.

Costume Jewelry

Yes, even this sort of sparkle can use some cautious care. Considering what we pay for our less-precious but just as fun pieces, it’s no surprise that they may not be built to last. When in doubt, follow the care instructions for the materials it’s trying to be, but toned down a bit. In other words, if you’ve got a crystal and gold-tone brooch, you can probably wash it in lukewarm water (too hot and you could damage the glue the stones are set with) but skip the detergents. The soft, lint-free cloth is never a bad idea.

And don’t think that just because you’ve got some brightly color plastic jewelry in your stash it can withstand anything! I have a few pieces left over from the 80s (yes, really) and they will fade if left in direct sunlight and become brittle with lots of temperature changes, just like the semi-precious stones in my collection.

It’s a good idea–and a pretty grown-up sort of thing–to forge a relationship with a jeweler, even if that jeweler works at or for a large chain. At some point you’ll need a repair done (especially if you’re like me, an aforementioned klutz) and unless you decide to take up metal-smithing as a hobby, it’s not going to be something even the most adept diy-er can handle. Look around your circle (maybe up one generation if need be) and see who wears nice jewelry on a regular basis and ask them who they trust.

How to you care for your jewelry?

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