Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gem and Jewelry Care: Do’s and Don’ts

This is probably a long overdue blog entry.  I talk so much about gems, but never about what you should and should not do once you receive the jewelry I make for you.  This tip sheet has the basics.

1.      Adding Shine:  Use a polishing cloth.  But you need a good quality one, like Sunshine Polishing Cloths from Rio Grande.  They feel a little waxy, not just like cloth.  You can rub fairly hard for a good shine, BUT: if your piece has a sandblasted or matted finish, you will rub it off.  Those finishes are essentially surface abrasions and your cloth is an abrasive also.  Alternatively, you can use a buffing stick.  But again, not too hard.

2.      Cleaning Grime and Dirt: Soak in basic jewelry cleaner, then brush with a baby toothbrush which you’ve dipped into the cleaner.  BUT: if your gems are dyed, the dye may come off eventually.  By the way, a mild dish detergent diluted in water will do the same as jewelry cleaner.

My cleaners, which I got from Bed/Bath and Beyond

3.      Getting Rid of Oxidation:
a)      First, try to avoid it.  Store your jewelry away from air, i.e. in sealable plastic bags.
b)      Second, a polishing cloth will do the main job.
c)      For the crevices, use silver cleaner.  But again, don’t use this with stones that are dyed or have surface treatments.  Things can happen.

4.      Shining up a Gem:
a)      I use the cloths they give you for cleaning your classes.  They are excellent!
b)      Soapy water and jewelry cleaner are ok. 
c)      You can use alcohol.  But only if there’s no treatment on the stone!  And don’t leave the stone in overnight.  15-20 minutes are fine.  Also, alcohol dissolves the oil used to treat emeralds, so you may need to re-oil your gem afterwards.
d)      Acetone.  Sometimes a setter uses glue to hold down a stone as he sets it.  Acetone removes the glue.  But if your stone is glued in, the acetone will remove the entire stone.  Acetone also takes out dyes and other stuff.  So use that with caution.

When you take your jewelry to a jeweler, they might offer to clean it via ultrasonic or steaming.  Use these with caution.  Ultrasonic cleaners can harm emeralds, for instance (but it’s fine for rubies, sapphires, and diamonds).  And steaming is very harsh on stones also.  It’s ok for most stones, if it’s done briefly and not too close to the stone.  But make sure there’s a strainer underneath because the steam can push out a gem that’s not properly set or that has come loose over time.  Then it’s down the drain.  Literally.

What if your emerald needs oiling? Do it at home.  Use baby oil or linseed, warm it up slightly, and put in your jewelry.  Leave it in overnight, or days even.  Then clean the jewelry (that’s the fun part).  The oil should have seeped deeply into the stone, so cleaning it in a jewelry cleaner should not matter.

What if your brushed finish has come off from wear (this can happen with rings)? You can reapply it.  I use an attachment to my little rotary tool (it’s called a “fiber wheel”) but you can use the back of a Scotch Brite sponge (the green part) and rub it over your item.  Practice on a spoon or other piece of metal first so you can see how it looks.  That creates a slightly more scratchy look than my finer spongy material but it’s essentially the same.  Alternatively you can buy the stuff at Rio Grande, it’s also called “Scotch Brite”.

Fiber Pad for Brushed Finish
What if your jewelry is plated (as in vermeil for instance, though not gold-filled, which doesn't have silver underneath)?  Most electro-plating (with rhodium or gold) applies only an extremely thin layer of metal to your jewelry.  Over polishing can remove it, and applying a matte finish with the sponge will remove it for sure!  So be careful.  Re-plating jewelry is not expensive, but it can come off again.  I can have it done for you if you need me to.  I pay $5 per piece of jewelry, I would charge you $10, for the trouble.  A jeweler will charge more.  But remember, this is the cheaper plating.  There are expensive plating methods too that are very permanent, but they cost me over $80, I presume in part because there’s more gold involved.  I haven’t investigated this but I can if you want me to.