After your house (and possibly your car) jewellery forms one of the highest value categories of asset that most people own. Follow our guide for some simple steps that can help ensure your jewellery maintains its beauty forever, without tarnishing, fading or being damaged. Some simple TLC will ensure your heirlooms can be enjoyed by many future generations to come.
(A vintage set of coloured gemstone jewellery – careful TLC will keep them in peak condition)
Consider carefully where you keep your jewellery and avoid prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light which can affect a coloured gem’s colour and appearance, in much the same way as that too much sun damages human skin. Pearls and ivory for example will bleach under prolonged exposure to UV and some gemstones can also darken over time in direct sunlight. Consequently consider both light and heat when storing your jewellery. This effect is especially pronounced with vintage pieces, as they may have already received a large dose of solar radiation and their resistance to further exposure may be limited. The best technique for cleaning jewellery is to use a little water and a soft, lint-free cloth. Be careful to ensure any water residue is careful wiped off afterwards to prevent moisture damage.
(Polishing gems and precious metal is often best achieved with a clean, soft cloth)
Mild acids on the surface of your skin can also damage soft metals and gemstones over time so a frequent wipe with a soft cloth can make all the difference! Sudden changes in temperature can also have a very negative effect on coloured gemstones, often placing stress on any small internal fissures within the gem which may cause them to expand or contract and damage the stone. This is something to consider when travelling long distances around the world, especially between hot, humid climates (such as the tropics) and cooler, more temperature latitudes (such as Northern Europe and North America). Excessive heat can also remove the atmospheric moisture that many gems need to maintain their natural beauty. Again pearls often suffer badly from heat and can often dry out, crack or discolour as a result. Opal can also turn white or brown, crack and become rather brittle.
Avoid domestic chemicals
This is a common mistake and often accounts for many antique jewellery pieces’ hallmarks and fine patterns disappearing! The use of chemicals can also discolour or pit precious metals and some precious gems. Never use any of the chemical products found in most kitchen cupboards to clean fine jewellery or gemstones. The only cleaning carried out at home should be done with a soft cotton cloth. If in any doubt, take it to a professional and let them take care of it. It is important to note that chlorine and salt can have a highly detrimental effect on fine jewellery pieces so it is not advisable to wear them either in a swimming pool or in the sea. It is also worth removing any items of jewellery before conducting house work, D-I-Y or mechanical work, to avoid any inadvertent contamination with chemicals as well the risk of picking up scratches, chips or dents.
Caring for treated gemstones
Many coloured gemstones have undergone some form of treatment. For example, over 90% of sapphires and rubies are heat treated and the vast majority of emeralds are at least lightly treated with cedar oil. These treatments can have an especially negative reaction to the conditions of heat, humidity and use of chemicals and solvents outlined above so it is very important to know that your stone has been treated (this information should be available on the certificate).
(Treated stones are especially vulnerable to careless cleaning and poor maintenance)
As a general rule these are only safe in the hands of a trained professional, although they can be easily purchased online and in store for as little as £100. It is important not to use these on any stone with fissures that reach the surface that have been filled with oil or resin. This is most commonly the case with emeralds. They should never be used on any organic gems, such as pearls, coral, ivory or amber, nor should they be applied to stones that have been coated with non-permanent substances such as plastics or wax. They can also damage stones that have been heat-treated or those that are prone to damage caused by temperature changes, such as tanzanite, whether natural or not. The vibration and sonic waves caused by these cleaners can also loosen or chip gems with touching girdles or small ‘pointers.’
‘KISS’ (Keep It Simple ‘Stupid’)
The best method for cleaning most gems involves warm soapy water (no chemicals or bleaches) and soft clothes. Always remove any residual soap scum and moisture after the cleaning and it is advised to do this in a glass bowl or dish to avoid losing any precious gems or pieces of jewellery down the plughole! With very soft gems, such as pearls, consider using a makeup brush with warm, soapy water and lay the pearls gently on a soft towel to dry naturally afterwards. If the pearls are held by a silk thread be especially careful to ensure this does not stretch or attract dirt and it is worth considering restringing them once every year or two, if you wear them frequently. Never use a hair drier to dry gems or jewellery and never set them down on a radiator or hot appliance to dry, as this can distort, discolour, stretch or shrink some items.
(A simple cloth and soapy water are the safest ways to clean your gems and jewellery)
Always consider where you keep your jewellery carefully in order to avoid light or heat damage, scratches, chips or wear. The most logical starting point is to either buy a felt lined jewellery box or simply store the pieces in the original box they came in. Boxes with individually padded slots for each piece (rings, cuff links, necklaces etc) provide the added peace of mind that they will not come into contact with one another and also ensures you have an organised array of options available to you when you are selecting what to wear. Silver is the most prone to tarnish of all precious metals so it is especially important to keep it in a soft fabric bag or wrapped in a cloth. Consider the fact that some gems, such as pearls, require a little moisture from the air to look their best so they do not respond well to being looked away in the very dry environment such as a safe. When in doubt, always consult a professional jeweller for advice and guidance!
The London Diamond & Emerald Exchange are a gem dealer and fine jeweller based in London’s Hatton Garden. For further assistance with the purchase and maintenance of fine jewellery and stones, do not hesitate to get in touch: