Tiara Tips

Caring for and cleaning fine jewelry

Every lady knows that well-made, classic jewelry is

a better purchase than clothing. It lasts years longer, can appreciate in value, can be passed down through the generations, and can make any little black dress spectacular. Always plan your jewelry ensemble, and you will enjoy wearing it even more. Buy and collect pieces that enhance one another and fit your style. Big jewelry is always a statement, so wear it confidently.

When talking about caring for jewels, Nica Sweeny, a local artist who designs jewelry made in California, compares wearing dirty jewelry with dirty clothes — she says that you should keep the same standards of cleaning jewelry as you do laundering favorite outfits. Also, just as you would not wear your nice clothes to paint, garden, or play sports, jewelry should be protected even more. Nica shares that different gems require different solutions and methods of cleaning, so consult your jeweler and do some research first. She adds that it is essential to know if stones are treated or contain binders in them, as they may require special care and could be ruined if cleaned improperly.

David Wilcox, with Sylvan’s Jewelers, explains that emeralds are softer stones and typically contain inclusions and fissures. Inclusions are small crystals of other minerals or small pockets of fluid that are “captured” within an emerald as it grows. Fractures or fissures in emeralds can result from natural causes or from damage to the crystals during the mining process. The visibility of these fissures can be decreased through emerald clarity enhancement. Therefore, extra care needs to be taken when cleaning them. He does not recommend ultrasonic or steam cleaners since that could alter these fillings. Instead, emeralds should be cleaned only with a soft bristled brush, mild soap, and water. With proper care, emeralds should be fine to wear every day.

Jon Landon, with Carolina Fine Jewelry, adds that diamonds, being the hardest of all stones, can be cleaned at home with a few drops of ammonia and even a liquid detergent or shampoo mixed with water and a soft toothbrush. Cleaning a pave-set diamond ring, made up of many small stones, should be done with more care as the prongs holding the diamonds are tiny and may bend if not handled carefully. He suggests leaving the piece in a small container overnight filled with a few drops of liquid detergent and water.

Nica explains that only an examination under a microscope can reveal a stone’s damage, worn-down prongs on the setting, and cracks in the metal from wear and tear. She points out that paint will dry just as hard and durable under or on a diamond as well as it does on a wall.

Also, chlorine eats away at metal, so it is important to keep jewelry away from the pool and while doing laundry. Plus, avoid “cooking” jewelry by leaving it in a hot car for an extended period of time; some gems can be damaged from the heat.

And, be aware of the security of the setting. The style of a setting plus the weight and thickness of the metal have much to do with how long the jewelry will last. The skill of the setter is crucial as well. Generally, a bezel setting (an elevated collar that wraps the rim of the diamond in a complete metal edging) is more secure than prong settings, six prongs are sturdier than four, and short prongs are better than tall ones.

Every lady should have at least one strand of pearls. To differentiate, the most valuable pearls, referred to as natural pearls, are extremely rare, but the majority of those currently sold are cultured, or farm-raised, pearls. Pearls require care to keep their lustrous shine and warm glow. Jon suggests that they be stored in a silk or chamois bag or even a folded cloth. Never keep them in an air-tight bag or hang them. They should not touch other jewelry, as they are soft and will scratch easily; be careful that even the clasp does not touch the pearls to avoid the risk of them scratching.

David adds that pearls should not be stored in plastic bags as plastic may potentially have chemicals that could damage pearls. In addition, do not store pearls in a safe deposit box for a long period of time because pearls need some moisture and may dry out if completely enclosed for an extended length of time.

Nica expounds that pearls also need light and air to remain bright and avoid darkening. Pearls can become discolored if they are not stored and worn properly. Damaging to pearls are chemicals and acids, including hairspray, perfume, and cosmetics.

David says jewelers at Sylvan’s teach clients that pearls can be cleaned by an occasional wiping with a cotton ball or soft cloth. If pearls are exposed to perfume or something else, it is safe to use warm, white (no dyes), soapy water for an occasional, thorough cleaning if they are not damaged to begin with. If pearls are strung as a necklace, make sure the silk thread is dry before wearing. The saying goes: “Pearls should be the last thing you put on and the first thing you take off.”

In conclusion, it important to find a personal jeweler who can help you care for your jewelry by keeping your settings strong, your stones secure, and cleaning your precious pieces. Not wearing a particular piece with a gemstone? Consider having a jeweler remove the stone and design something personal that can become a family heirloom. And ladies, absolutely do not keep your tiara in the safe deposit box. Wear special jewelry often, and enjoy the compliments!