Following are instructions for the “care and feeding” of your jewelry. Please bear in mind that while one of jewelry’s great assets is its relative durability, often spanning several generations; that it is far from indestructible. Even the most finely-made piece of jewelry requires respectful, proper treatment. While jewelry can survive a great deal, that survival is dependent upon the inherent durability of the materials from which it is made, and the negative or positive contributions of the wearer.
In general, jewelry should not be worn while:
sleeping; because fingers can swell during the night, making rings impossible to remove for bathing or other activities in the morning; because prongs on rings can snag on blankets, thus loosening their grip on stones; because necklaces and bracelets become strained, stressed, kinked and broken when subjected to tossing, turning, and body weight.
swimming; because chlorine is one of very few chemicals which actually reacts with gold, and eats it away—swimming pools, hot tubs, and jacuzzis have very high chlorine contents, which actually wears away your precious metal (that’s why jewelry looks so clean when you get out of the pool—you really wore away some of the metal, thus hiding scratches!); and because water makes rings fit looser, leading to a possible loss.
bathing; because long-term exposure to low levels of chlorine is as bad as short-term exposure to high levels; and because soap, shampoo, and conditioner do nothing nice for the appearance of gemstones or textured metal.
doing housework or yard work; because you can expose your pieces to every possible negative force: chlorine (from household cleaners), abrasives which can scratch metals and gems (from other household cleaners), violent vibrations which can gradually loosen stones (from vacuum cleaner or lawnmower), heavy lifting which can bend rings and loosen stones, and complete destruction (a tumble through a garbage disposal or vacuum cleaner).
working out; because lifting weights (either free or on machines) can lead to bending rings, possible stone loss, the kinking of neckchains, and the breaking of bracelets; because other athletic activities can cause swelling of the fingers, thus making rings dangerous to wear; and because sports can make necklaces, bracelets, and rings instruments of pain for yourself or others.
using hand-held tools; because of damage to your rings (either through denting, poking, or scratching) or to your fingers or hands.
lifting heavy items; because of damage to your rings by denting or distorting, and possibly loosening stones; and because of possible damage to your fingers or hands.
Make your jewelry the last thing you put on before you leave your home (assuming you aren’t about to go out and do any of the “restricted” activites listed above!). That will keep your pieces from getting dingy from exposure to soaps and cosmetics.
Establish a “safe place” to keep jewelry when you are not wearing it. When at home, your “safe place” should be a suitable jar of jewelry cleaner (or in the case of items which have porous gems, in a special pouch). That way, not only is your jewelry in a location you remember, it’s cleaning at the same time! When away from home, think carefully first: “Rather than remove my ring to wash my hands, and risk forgetting it or knocking it down the drain, should I just leave it on, and be sure to clean it later, when I get home?” If you are good at establishing and keeping habits, you can have a “safe place” in your suit pocket, purse, or briefcase. A simple bag or pouch will do.
It is unwise to take your jewelry on vacation. To begin, hotels will not take responsibility for items left in rooms, even if kept in a wall safe. You will also sign a waiver of responsibility if you use a hotel safe deposit box. When you are away from home, you are less likely to maintain a “safe place,” so it is simply best to leave your jewelry at home. Many people have difficulty with this, but consider which is worse: having strangers not know you are married versus having other strangers walk away with your jewelry.
Insure, insure, insure! Jewelry pieces are small items with high value. . .for those reasons, they are coveted by thieves and robbers, and more likely to be lost or damaged than most valuable items you own. The biggest favor you can do yourself, unless you are prepared to replace items out of your own pocket, is to insure your jewelry against all perils. Be prepared for the unexpected—loss, hotel theft, mysterious disappearance, freak accident, clasp failure, prong breakage—by submitting your retail replacement value jewelry appraisal to your insurance agent, so that a jewelry rider may be attached to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
Do not ignore loose gemstones or diamonds. While most small jiggles, wobbles, or spinning is not imminently dangerous, why risk it? Remove the piece, and keep it in its “safe place” until it can be brought to a jewelry professional for inspection and repair. Playing with a loose stone is not to your advantage, and never attempt to repair a piece of jewelry yourself.
The metals most commonly used to craft jewelry are listed below, in order of approximate durability. Please note that durability is referencing ability to withstand hard wear, not resistance to scratching, which is a minor concern. Reference the metal of which your piece is made. If your piece is made of several metals, always reference the metal which is least durable (furthest down the list), and treat that piece accordingly.
5% or 10% iridio-platinum or ruthenio-platinum: any of the platinum mixtures are as close to “forever” as fine jewelry can provide. Contrary to popular belief, platinum can be marred and scratched, although it generally occurs in the form of only small, shallow scratches which over time give a platinum piece its signature patina. While platinum does scratch more easily than palladium white gold, it does have the distinct quality among the precious jewelry metals of wearing away very slowly. So, while a comparable white gold piece might show fewer scratches, and maintain a mirror-like finish longer, the platinum piece will not “wear away” when it is scratched or bumped. When the white gold piece has become thin and weak with wear, the platinum piece is still suitable to pass down to the next generation. Platinum can be bent if it is knocked hard enough, so always be aware of bent prongs if the piece has received a blow. Since platinum does not tarnish or oxidize, a simple polishing with a polishing cloth will remove any surface dirt. Have your piece professionally polished only when you want it to “look like new,” no more than once a year.
5% cobalt-platinum: a newer alloy of platinum, with the cobalt providing a slight bluish tinge, but also is more easily dented than iridio- or ruthenio-platinum. Care for as above.
18K gold: in yellow, rose, or green, 18K gold is often considered the “crowning glory” of a fine piece of jewelry. Ideal for a rough wearer, due to its long-term durability; this metal’s forgiveness makes it ideal for setting colored gemstones, especially more fragile ones, or for invisibly-set gems of any kind. A very unwise choice of metal for prong-setting a diamond, however. 18K gold items need to be checked for wear once a year. 18K gold scratches more easily than 14K gold, so a piece with large expanses of uninterrupted metal may develop a “worn” look readily.A polishing cloth will keep them looking their best.
14K gold: while not lasting as long as 18K gold, or as durable against major blows, but not brittle like 10K gold, 14K gold is often the wisest choice for many jewelry projects, especially when balanced against expense. More resistant to scratches than 18K gold. Have 14K prong-, channel-, and bezel-work checked twice annually. While resistant to tarnishing, it can be kept looking its best by polishing daily with a polishing cloth.
palladium: a member of the platinum family, palladium has the durability of 14K white gold, but without the need to rhodium plate for a non-yellowish undertone. Palladium is usually 95% pure when used in jewelry, but there are tension-set styles made with 500 palladium (50% pure). Palladium is a light gray color—not as white as platinum or silver. It is not ideal for all types of pieces or setting styles. Have palladium settings checked three times a year.
sterling silver: while considered a precious metal, silver can be problematic. Often, silver items are inferior in craftsmanship; due to the difficulty of justifying a higher price for better labor, since it’s “only made of silver.” Sterling silver pieces crafted in Europe are more expensive and generally much more finely made than items manufactured in Central or South America or the Far East. The second difficulty is that silver is more difficult to repair, due to the nature of the metal itself, which is resistant to soldering. Silver is a soft metal, which means thin or delicate items are easy to break. Consequently, any moving parts should be treated with care, and anything which bends of its own accord (such as a post on an earring) should not be bent back, as the repeated bending back and forth will cause it to break. The best way to fight tarnishing (which, if left unchecked, will eventually cause pits to form) is to prevent it. Consider purchasing tarnish-resistant bags and/or anti-tarnish strips, such as those used for sterling flatware. Otherwise, try to polish your sterling jewelry as often as possible with a polishing cloth. Use polishing creams or dips only as a last resort, as they can cause slinky styles to lose their suppleness.
tungsten: commonly referred to as “tungsten steel” or “tungsten carbide,” tungsten is actually a separate element on the periodic table. Tungsten jewelry does not readily scratch. In fact, scratching a piece of tungsten jewelry requires either a sapphire or diamond (or the grit of either). That said, it is not indestructible. Tungsten, like ceramic, is a “breakaway” material. Its great surface hardness is accompanied by a brittle internal structure. Applying enough pressure/force to opposite sides of a tungsten ring, for instance, causes it to shatter. While this might be a desirable feature for some folks, it could be downright inconvenient for others. Also, tungsten is susceptible to chemical attack. A variety of common household chemicals (or ones found in natural hot springs and swimming pools) and industrial solvents can cause a tungsten ring to go dull. Permanently. As in, there’s no fix for that.
Great care is taken to set gemstones and diamonds in jewelry. Often, such techniques are a mystery to the consumer. Knowing a little more about how stones are set can help you better care for your jewelry and gems. Look at your appraisal to determine which methods were used in your pieces. Again, these are arranged from most to least durable.
Bezel- , gypsy- or flush-setting: all variations of a similar technique, these are the oldest setting techniques, as well as the safest. This is the ideal choice for stones which have corners which need protecting, or for wearers who are rough. Here, a lip of metal surrounds the entire perimeter of the stone. To set a stone by this method, first a hole the same shape, but slightly smaller size, must be fashioned. This can either be done in wax (the preferred method for any fancy-shaped stone) or in solid metal. Into the edge of that metal opening is carved or engraved a groove. The stone is then gently pressed into the opening until it “clicks” into the groove. Then, the metal which is now above the girdle edge of the stone is hammered down onto the stone, thus locking the stone in place. Ideally, a bezel-set stone should be open underneath, for light exposure and ease of cleaning. To clean (assuming a non-porous stone), simply leave overnight in your jewelry cleaning solution, and rinse underneath and above under running tap water. Simply dab a facial tissue underneath the stone to sop up any remaining water without leaving lint. In normal wear and use, a bezel-set stone is protected from any blows from above, and rarely becomes loosened. However, care should be taken to avoid subjecting the underside of the stone (which is not subjected to abuse when worn) to blows, sharp objects which might poke or push on the stone, or anything which might subject the stone to pressure from the underside. A bezel-set stone is meant to take the most pressure from above, since that is how stones are abused during wear. While this setting style is probably fairly durable from the underside, it is not designed to be abused from that direction.
Channel-setting or invisible setting: here, stones are set in parallel bands of metal. Usually, stones are channel-set in a series, and so resemble many round or square stones set in ribbons of metal. The original channels are set closer together than the stones are wide, but grooves (called “seats”) are cut into the sides of the channels to exactly accommodate the stones being used. The top of the channels are opened slightly to set the stones in the grooves, and then are closed again, to lock in the stones. As a final step, the metal above the edges of the stones is hammered down onto the stones. It is important with channel-setting that the channels be of substantial size (beware of lightweight channel mountings!), so that as the channel metal wears, there is enough remaining metal to retighten the channels. Channels must remain in their parallel configuration to work. Consequently, the distortion or bending of a channel-set piece can result in the channels opening, and the respective stones being lost; or closing, and the stones being crushed. This also applies to sizing—if you are more than a half-size different from a ready-made channel-set ring, ask if another can be made for you in your size from the ground up. That way, the mounting is sized and the channels adjusted for distortion before the stones are set. Channel distortion cannot be addressed after the stones are set, however. To clean (assuming non-porous stones), simply leave overnight in your jewelry cleaning solution, and rinse underneath and above in running tap water. Simply dab a facial tissue underneath the stones to sop up any remaining water without leaving lint.
Pavé-setting: meaning “pave” in French, this technique involves filling a surface or line with gems, most typically diamonds. The holes can be drilled either in wax or in metal, and are slightly smaller than the sizes of the stones. Then, a pointy tool called a “graver” is used to scoop the surrounding metal into series of low-level prongs which hold the stones in place. Additional bumps are created, to make it difficult to distinguish where the stones end and the metal begins. Since the stones are fairly flush to the metal’s surface, they don’t receive much abuse. But, since they are held in by what are actually very tiny prongs, it is wise to have pavé work checked annually, so that retipping can be done as necessary. If the pavé area is rhodium plated (to make it a bright white), that may need to be redone in about ten years or so; sooner, if it is exposed to harsh chemicals. To clean, simply leave overnight in your jewelry cleaning solution, and rinse underneath and above in running tap water. Simply dab a facial tissue underneath the stones to sop up any remaining water without leaving lint.
Prong-setting: often the most beautiful way to set a stone, but also the least durable. Into each prong a groove is cut, into which the stone’s edge is seated. The remaining prong work above is pushed down onto the top of the stone. Most losses of prong-set stones are due to long-term neglect: as the metal wears off the top of the prongs, less and less tension secures the stone, finally resulting in a very minor blow loosening the stone. For this reason, platinum prongs are strongly suggested for all applications where possible, because wear occurs so slowly, that neglect does not matter. The remainder of losses are attributable to trauma: a prong is bent back, the whole head is knocked crooked or askew, or the whole head is knocked off the piece. The best one can do is avoid activities which might result in such abuse, and have prongs checked twice a year. To clean (assuming a non-porous stone), simply leave overnight in your jewelry cleaning solution. If any dirt is trapped, gently use a toothbrush or other small, soft brush (but no toothpaste!) to remove it. Finally, rinse in running tap water. To dry, try forcefully blowing at the side or underside of the stone, then finishing up by dabbing with a facial tissue to soak up any remaining water.
Tension-setting: while counter-intuitive, this setting style is safer than prong-setting, and offers the distinct advantage of exposing the diamond or sapphire to more light than any other setting technique. Losing a stone from a tension-setting is due to traumatic blows almost exclusively. Since the stone is very easy to access, this setting type is very easy to clean.
Shiny surfaces: can be restored by cleaning jewelry with a commercially purchased silver polish, or liquid or polishing with a polishing cloth. Be sure not to use the cleaners on any porous or organic gems, such as pearls, onyx, lapis lazuli, etc.
Matte surfaces: can be cleaned using a commercially purchased silver polish or liquid. It is possible to re-matte jewelry with a matte surface by rubbing a “Scotch Brite” pad back and forth over the surface of the jewelry.
Scratch-matte surfaces: can be cleaned using a commercially purchased silver polish or liquid. To re-matte scratch-matte surfaces gently rub #60 sandpaper over the surface of the jewelry.
Cultured Pearls & Colored Stones
Cultured pearls: these require the utmost of care to insure long life! Perhaps the easiest guideline to employ is to remember that cultured pearls are organic. They should be treated with as much care as any living thing: a plant, a pet. Your pearls should be the very last thing you put on, after all cosmetics, hairspray, and perfume have been applied. If anything lands on your pearls, whether food, lotion, or any other chemical, be sure to wipe it off immediately with a soft dry cloth. Pearl strands should be professionally cleaned and restrung whenever the silk has stretched to the point that there is “wiggle room” between the pearls, or when the silk has yellowed, which implies it has aged and become somewhat brittle, and therefore more likely to break unexpectedly.
Colored stones: 99% of all colored stones have been enhanced in some way, typically to deepen or change their colors from what they were when mined. Almost all enhancements are undetectable; and almost all enhancements cannot be reversed when the gems are treated normally. In other words, so long as you don’t subject your colored stone jewelry pieces to abuse that would damage the piece itself, the gems in the piece will remain safe and beautiful. A few notable exceptions follow:
emeralds: prized throughout time for a deep, vivid green color, emeralds are often treated in reversible ways, such as oiling and impregnation of colored substances. Because of that, it is advisable to never put an emerald in an ultrasonic (vibrating) cleaning device. And since some of the materials with which emeralds are treated can be dissolved away, it is also not advisable to ever leave emeralds in any kind of jewelry cleaning solution for more than 3 minutes.
opals: extraordinarily fragile, opal’s chemical formula actual includes H2O! As soon as an opal is mined, it starts losing that water, which is what makes it delicate. Store all opal jewelry in airtight containers filled with distilled (not tap) water.
cabochon-cut gems: with the exception of sapphire, ruby, and other gems that are commonly faceted, you should assume your cabochon-cut gems are porous. As such, they should not be left in a liquid jewelry cleaner, as such exposure might reverse an otherwise stable dyeing process.