As seen on BBC TV's 'Great Antiques Hunt'
Winner, 1996

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GLITZQUEEN HOLDS COURT ON JEWELRY CARE (Part I)

 

After consulting a number of expert sources, I've compiled a fairly comprehensive guide to caring for your antique and vintage jewelry.  It's arranged substance-by-substance.  Of course you'll want to bear in mind that most jewelry combines a variety of materials.  To avoid contact with injurious cleaning materials (a category which in some cases includes water), please take care to treat each part separately, by masking with tape and using the tiniest brushes and scraps of rag and chamois.   When in doubt, use the most conservative method described for any substance that appears on the piece.  Better yet, see a professional; most jewelers are delighted to clean things as a customer service.  They also offer dips and cleaning creams of high quality, with detailed instructions for safe usage.  Steam and sonic cleaning of old jewelry is never advisable; these methods are far too harsh and can even destroy certain stones.

 
My single strongest recommendation to you is an investment in acid-free tissue for safe jewelry storage.  I've often used the little plastic bags, myself, but recently became aware they can trap dangerous moisture.  Fortunately we don't have very much of that here in the Southwest.
Cleaning Gemstones & Organics
AGATE - You can remove dirt and grease by dabbing with a cotton pad dampened with warm soapy water.  If the dirt's stubborn, gently rub in the soapy water with a soft toothbrush.  Dab off with clean cold water and dry immediately with a soft cloth.  Don't try to achieve a shine by vigorous rubbing; clean agate is supposed to have a slightly waxy luster.
 
AMBER - Same as agate, but revive the sheen with almond or olive oil on a cotton pad, then wipe off the excess and buff with chamois leather. NEVER soak amber in water or it will get a cloudy look that's almost impossible to remove.  Also avoid contact with alcohol, mineral spirits, perfume and hair spray, which will permanently dull the stones.
 
AQUAMARINE - NEVER use hot water, which can crack the stones.  Clean with lukewarm soapy water and a clean cotton rag, then rinse with clean water and use a soft cloth to dry and buff.
 
CAMEOS & INTAGLIOS - These can of course be made of all sorts of substances, so treat them conservatively or see a pro.  It's safe to dust them with soft make-up brushes and clean really dirty ones with warm soapy water on cotton pads.
 
CARNELIAN - Same as agate.
 
CORAL - Remove dirt with cotton pads or a small artist's brush dipped in warm soapy water.  Stubborn marks can be removed by brushing on a thin creamy paste of water and crocus powder.  Finish by using pads or brush to rinse with clean water, then dry with a cotton rag.  Some say never soak coral in water, but I've also heard the color of vintage coral beads can be revived by soaking in salt water, which makes sense to me.
BOTTOM LINE:  It's your call.  Clearly salt can be injurious to metals, so at least keep clasps out of brine.
 
DIAMOND, GENUINE  - If genuine diamonds are just slightly dirty, wash in warm soapy water and rinse with clean cold water, then dry thoroughly.  Remove grease and heavier dirt deposits with a small artist's brush dipped alternately into denatured alcohol and ammonia, then dab dry with a soft cloth. 
 
DIAMOND, ARTIFICIAL - NEVER wash artificial diamonds, as these are often glued in and can be dislodged from their settings when wet.  When cleaning artificial diamonds with alcohol, blow to evaporate excess liquid as rapidly as possible. 
 
EMERALD - Use a small artist's brush to apply warm soapy water with two drops of ammonia.  If dirt is stubborn, dip the same brush in denatured alcohol.  Gently buff with chamois leather.
 
JADE - Put two drops of ammonia into warm soapy water and wipe with absorbent cotton, then rinse with a cloth moistened with clean water, dry with a soft cloth and buff with a chamois.  To clean crevices, use a stiff-bristled artist's brush.  For very stubborn dirt, dampen brush with denatured alcohol or mineral spirits. 
 
JET - Gently rub with soft bread to clean.
 
MOTHER-OF-PEARL - Milk is the cleaning liquid of choice for mother-of-pearl.  Dab it on with a soft cloth, then dry and buff with another.
 
ONYX - Same as agate and carnelian.
 
OPAL- When opal jewelry needs cleaning, place it along with a handful of powdered magnesia or potato flour in a glass jar and gently shake for three minutes, then leave for 24 hours.  Repeat the process, then shake again, remove the jewelry and dust off excess powder with a soft dusting brush. 
 
PEARL, NATURAL OR CULTURED - Same as opal.   Carefully avoid contact with perfume, hair spray, alcohol, mineral spirits and abrasive substances.  If you wear your real pearls seldom, sleep in them occasionally; I'm told they need skin contact and warmth to keen the sheen alive.  (I also enjoy wearing mine when I swim in the sea, though I suppose the clasp hates it.)
 
PEARL, ARTIFICIAL - Moisten chamois leather with water and wipe. 
 
RUBY - Dip cotton pads in warm soapy water to clean, then rinse with clean water and dry with a soft cloth.  Rub gently with chamois leather moistened with alcohol.
 
SAPPHIRE - Same as ruby
 
TURQUOISE - Same as agate, carnelian and onyx.
 
 
Cleaning Crystals (Glass & Rhinestones)
If open at back:  It's generally safe to wipe with a small amount of glass cleaner on a cotton swab.
 
If closed and/or foiled at back:  Avoid moisture of any type, with can result in "dead" stones and/or dislodge stones from settings.
 
If unset (like beads) :  Gently wipe surface with a minimal amount of glass cleaner on a soft cloth or cotton pad.
 
BOTTOM LINE:  Never wash rhinestones with water!
 
 
Cleaning Metals
ALUMINUM - Stubborn stains can be removed with oxalic acid, which is poisonous.  To produce this at home, boil rhubarb leaves and stalk tops in water (wearing your face mask, rubber gloves and goggles).  Dab a cotton pad in the liquid and apply it to the stains, leaving the pad in place for 5-10 minutes.  Naturally keep children and pets away from the scene of such activity.
BOTTOM LINE:  It's much safer to see a professional. 
 
BRASS - You can remove minimal tarnish with a commercial brass cleaner and polish with a soft-lint-free rag.  If obstinate marks remain, mix a little kerosene with jeweler's rouge and a few drops of ammonia to form a thick creamy paste and apply gently with a rag until marks disappear.  For heavier tarnish, mix a tablespoon each of salt and vinegar with a cup of hot water and gently apply with the finest grade steel wool before washing with warm soapy water, rinsing with cold and drying immediately with a soft towel.  For severe tarnish, the electrochemical dip described for silver can be used (but never mix metals in the same dip).
 
BRONZE - Because much of the value of old bronze lies in its patina, treat this with great care.  NEVER use abrasive powders.  You can safely dust bronze with a soft-bristled brush and moisten it with mineral spirits to remove dirt and grease from recessed areas.    If they must be washed, dry them immediately with soft toweling.   Green patina can safely be deepened with a touch of neutral shoe polish, according to my antiquities dealer.  A fine white microcrystalline wax such as is used to finish leather may be applied if the metal was originally polished. 
 
CHROMIUM - If the plating is just dirty, wash with lukewarm soapy water and a soft cloth, rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly with a soft towel.  Add a few drops of ammonia to the soapy water if the chromium is discolored.  Stubborn reddish-brown rust spots (from oxide) can be removed by gently applying a commercial chrome polish with a soft cloth in accordance with the maker's directions, then finish by buffing with a small quantity of chrome polish on a soft cloth.
 
COPPER - Either follow the instructions for brass cleaning or use the chemical dip described for cleaning silver (never mixing metals in the same dip).  If there's verdigris and you're sure you don't want the blue-green patina, small areas can be removed with a paste of white vinegar and salt, gently applied with a cotton pad and washed away with water.  More extensive patches of verdigris can be treated by sponging on a solution comprised of one tablespoon of lemon juice in a cup of warm distilled water and then rinsing -- first with warm soapy water and then with clean warm water.   Always dry copper thoroughly after cleaning.  You can protect the surface with a thin coating of microcrystalline wax such as is used to finish leather.
 
GOLD - Chains and areas that collect dirt can be cleaned with a stiff-bristled artist's brush. Warm soapy water can also be used when gold gets dirty or greasy. Follow with a rinse in clean cold water, dry thoroughly and buff with dry chamois leather.  Naturally watch out for the hot tub and swimming pool to avoid damage and loss.
 
IRON/STEEL - Both these metals are prone to rusting, so try to catch rust's development before pitting sets in.  At the first sign of a reddish-brown tinge, treat the metal with rust remover or wipe it with a brush soaked in kerosene, then rinse with mineral spirits and dry thoroughly with a towel. Use microcrystalline wax to protect against further corrosion. If the metal is pitted already, don't try to grind it down; all you can safely do is brush off the rust and treat it as described.
 
IVORY & HORN - Wipe with absorbent cotton dipped in warm soapy water, rinse with cotton and clean water and dry with a soft towel.  Almond oil can be gently rubbed in with a soft cloth to revive surface sheen.
 
LEAD - The blue-gray-green patina of valuable old lead is easily destroyed.    You can safely clean the surface with a stiff-bristled artist's brush, but don't risk doing more.
 
MARCASITE (Cut Steel) - To remove surface discoloration, dampen a clean cloth with water and use it to pat baking soda on.  Rub gently over the marcasites.  Be sure to dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
 
PEWTER - To preserve the patina of old pewter, limit cleaning to dusting with a soft-bristled brush and then gently rubbing with clean chamois leather.  If salts have formed spots on old pewter, see a professional; cleaning will require the use of dangerous chemicals.
 
PLATINUM - To remove discoloration, add a little olive oil or denatured alcohol to jeweler's rouge to make a creamy paste and rub it on with a clean soft rag, then wipe off and buff with another rag.
 
SILVER - First wash in hot soapy water, using a soft-bristled brush on dirty recessed areas, then rinse and dry with a soft towel (unless silver is set with stones that hate water).  Next, assess the degree of tarnish (brown or purplish silver sulfide deposits) on the surface.  Light tarnish can be removed with a silver cloth, but more serious tarnish will require a paste or liquid.  If tarnish is advanced (and especially if base metal is showing), an electrochemical dip will be required.  When pieces are plated, do realize you lose a minute layer of silver every time you use an abrasive substance.  It's far better to use the cloth often or resort to the chemical dip (a rather complex process I'll detail in the next newsletter).
 
TORTOISESHELL - Same procedures apply as for ivory and horn, but add a little microcrystalline wax to the almond oil and buff with another cloth.
REPAIR TIPS:  Scratches can be removed by applying a creamy paste of denatured alcohol and crocus powder with a dry chamois.  Melt matching wax crayons to mend and fill cracks.
 
TEXTURED SURFACES
CHASING: Any metal decorated with chasing (small grooves produced by punches, chisels and other small tools) will occasionally need to be cleaned to remove grime from the hollows.  Use a soft-bristled brush such as a baby's toothbrush, moistened with mineral spirits.

ETCHING & ENGRAVING:  First examine etched metal with a magnifying glass.  If the edges are breaking down, take the piece to a professional for cleaning; otherwise, clean both etched and engraved metals with a small artist's brush dipped in the cleaning-polishing agent specified for the metal in question.  Buff thoroughly to remove all polish, or it will quickly attract more dirt.   
VERMEIL - If gold-washed silver pieces require more than dusting with a soft-bristled brush, be sure use a silver cloth marked "safe for gold" or the gilding will rub off.
 
Cleaning Enamel
Soft enamels wash out of settings easily, so dampness must be avoided at all cost.  Moisture can activate acid and salts that can corrode copper settings and displace enamel. Hard enamels may withstand gentle hand cleaning, but why risk it?
BOTTOM LINE:  Don't try this at home, Kids; enamel is too easily damaged.  The same goes for collectible coins and medals, as well as damascened and niello pieces.
 

 

 

 

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