Posted on Sep. 02, 2022
If you've never had nice jewelry before, caring for the nicer pieces you might acquire as you get older, like engagement rings, fancier necklaces or bracelets, or silver pieces (jewelry or not) you may inherit from family members, can be kind of a mystery.
Maybe you've never really needed to go out of your way to take care of your jewelry before, because it was mostly cheaper, trendier jewelry. If that's the case for you (as it is for many young adults), it can be easy to inadvertently misstep when you're trying to take care of your more grown-up pieces, even though you have the very best of intentions.
INSIDER consulted the experts for all the information you need to know about the right way to care for your jewelry so that you can avoid anything with potentially devastating consequences.
1. Simpler is best.
Though you might think that you need fancy or expensive solvents and cleaners in order to clean your jewelry, that might not be the case. In fact, you might be better off not using those sorts of things and going with warm soapy water and a soft-bristled toothbrush instead.
"The issue with that blue solvent that a lot of jewelry places will give you when you buy a diamond ring or something is that that's heavily alcohol-based, so while it cuts out grease, if you're unintentionally putting something in there like, say, an emerald, emeralds are 99.9% of the time fracture-filled, even antique stones, with an oil-based solution or newer emeralds, because that oil eventually leaks out in all cases, are filled with a polymer, which also can become [unstable], depending on how you clean a thing," Katherine Van Dell, the director of jewelry at Rago Arts & Auction Center, told INSIDER.
Van Dell said that diamonds are attracted to oils, which means that while you do want to use a liquid dish soap with a grease-cutter in it, you still have to be careful about cleaning it.
"But always, always good with colored gems to keep in mind that [they've] likely been stabilized or enhanced in some way that could leave them in sort of a bad—you could put yourself into a bad situation by putting them into an alcohol-based solution, so I just tell people to not use that at all and ultimately with a soft toothbrush you're not going to hurt anything," she added.
Not only that but if you have any antique pieces that you're trying to clean, you need to keep in mind that having them professionally cleaned using an ultrasonic cleaner probably isn't a great idea. Van Dell said that this method "literally shakes the dirt off of it," which can damage older pieces — definitely not what you wanted to do.
2. Don't sleep in jewelry.
Even though you may have slept in jewelry before without any issues, sleeping in your nice pieces is a definite no-no.
"Sleeping in jewelry can harm the jewelry or you," Jill Maurer, a fine jewelry designer and YouTube creator, told INSIDER. "Not only can you break a chain or bend a prong causing you to lose a stone, but earrings have even been known to end up in a person's ear. It's generally safer for you and your jewelry if you spend the night apart."
You can put it on again in the morning.
3. Store it separately.
Storing your jewelry is important too because it can either help or harm your pieces, depending on how you do it.
"Always store your jewelry in a jewelry case or box and keep each piece separated from one another," Donna Distefano, an artist, master goldsmith, and owner of Donna Distefano Ltd., told INSIDER. She added that harder stones can scratch softer ones, which you definitely don't want to happen.
You'd be upset if something scratched something else, plus, if you have designated storage for each piece, you always know where to find it — and you don't have to worry about necklace chains or bracelets breaking.
4. Know what you're working with.
If you're not exactly certain what kinds of materials you're working with, it's important to know what your jewelry is made out of before you try to clean it, so that you can make sure that you're accidentally damaging things.
"Nine times out of 10, leave it alone," Van Dell said. "You're better to not agitate a thing. Let it kind of live in the state that it's in, you know, outside of getting Thanksgiving dinner caked on the inside of it, which we see all the time, but I think that's, of course, really important to take into consideration: the metal, the intended patina, but then also on antique pieces, again, there's often times something called blooming."
Blooming, she explained, is a technique in which the piece has been dipped in what basically amounts to an acid, which is designed to make the piece look more gold (and make you think it's a higher carat) by wearing down or removing the alloy on the surface of the item. If you attempt to polish this kind of material, you can wreck the finish.
5. Put it on last, take it off first.
A simple guideline to help you take care of your jewelry is to put it on last, to finish your overall look, and take it off first when you're changing your clothes or before you go to bed. "Your jewelry should always be the last thing you put on and the first thing you take off," Maurer said.
"Perfume, hair sprays, and lotions can potentially harm and will certainly dirty your pieces. Pulling a sweater off first can yank a chain in half or send an earring flying. If you are going shopping and know that you will be trying clothes on it's best to leave your jewelry at home. If you forget carefully take clothing on and off and check to be sure you have all your pieces, including all earring backs, before leaving each dressing room."
6. Avoid the sun.
It's best not to keep your jewelry in a place that the sun can get to it because sunlight can have an effect on some kinds of pieces. The color of some gems can be altered if it's constantly left out in the sun, Distefano said.
She also advised keeping jewelry away from heating vents and other heating sources.
7. Think about design intentions.
If your silver piece was designed to patina over time, you don't want to polish that away. Van Dell said that it's important to consider that the piece probably was meant to patina in certain spots to make the design elements pop and add visual texture. Polishing it will destroy that part of it.
8. Lay pearls flat.
If you have pearls, there are a few specific things that you need to know about caring for them. For instance, you might hang your pearls or stick them in a jewelry box when you're done wearing them, that might not be the best way to handle them.
"When you finish wearing a pearl necklace or any other piece that is composed of individual stones or beads strung together, lay it flat to prevent the silk thread from stretching," as Distefano wrote on her website.
Not only that, but pearls need to be restrung periodically in order to ensure that the thread on which they're strung won't wear out and snap. Distefano said that restringing every five years (or less if you wear them more often) will help prevent this from happening.
9. Watch out for drains.
"This might sound like common sense, but mishaps such as this happen all the time," Distefano said. "I cannot stress enough, do not remove your jewelry over a sink or any open drain." It's not hard for pieces to slip right down the drain.
If you end up losing something you love or that means a lot to you, you'll feel sick. It's better to not take any chances.