Jewelry Care and Maintenance: Part One

Wear is Normal

One thing that defines jewelry is that it is worn as personal adornment.  On the body, or close to the body on clothing, it encounters nearly everything in your environment and like you, sometimes takes a beating. Both the metals and the gems in your jewelry are effected by wear.  All jewelry contacts clothing and/or skin. Rings and bracelets contact, and are effected by, many more things. Also, the precious metals that make up most jewelry are malleable. So, jewelry that’s worn every day will go though some change over time. It is to be expected. Often, the wear on a loved piece of jewelry simply adds to its appeal…sometime not. This is the first part of a series designed to help you understand Jewelry Care and Maintenance.

Jewelry Care and Maintenance: Metals

The malleability of most jewelry alloys is a two-sided issue. Because the material is softer than some of the things it contacts, it will become scratched, or dull, or even gouged or dented. But its malleability also means that the surface will tend to become burnished or polished (to a degree) by other things it contacts. Over time, your precious metal jewelry will find its own natural state for the environment in which you wear it. As your environment changes, so will the surface of your precious metal jewelry.
While Your jewelry can always be professionally re-polished, polishing removes material, taking the tops off the tiny hills and valleys created by normal wear. If you get obsessive about re-polishing your jewelry, you are reducing its useful life-span. My friend, Klaus Wiesner presented a great paper in 2008 about polishing and if you are interested in the science of the process, you will find it here.
A trend in current aesthetics finds many new pieces of jewelry textured rather than polished. These pieces too will wear, and given enough time will find their own state-of-being within their environment.

Jewelry Care: Cleaning Metals

The metal itself in your jewelry may rarely, if ever, really require cleaning. The nooks and crannies in some designs may collect gunk though. It’s best to remove it before it dries, and hardens into a mass that can be more difficult to remove. My recommendation is to keep an old, soft-bristle toothbrush in your bath or shower and every few weeks or so, take your jewelry off and gently scrub it. If you get oil or paint or other stubborn dirt, solvents will not likely hurt your precious metals. Gemstones are another matter though and I’ll cover that in the next installment in this series.

Jewelry Care and Maintenance

Worn jewelry before cleaning.

Jewelry Care and Maintenance Cleaning

Same jewelry after a simple cleaning

Dispelling a Myth

I’ve heard many times the suggestion to use tooth-paste to clean jewelry. This is not recommended because most all tooth paste contains an abrasive. If nothing else, the abrasive will deteriorate the finish of your polished jewelry.


About your gemstones, cleaning and maintenance tips…

4 thoughts on “Jewelry Care and Maintenance: Part One”

  1. I agree with everything you wrote. Although I always loupe my stones before I clean mostly prong set stones. Most don’t realize that they have a cracked or missing prong with dirt holding it in place. But I must admit, I am a bit obsessive about checking the integrity of my jewelry settings.

    1. Hi Julie,
      Given your extensive experience, I especially appreciate your comments! I’m really glad we’ve become acquainted and am looking forward to seeing you again.

  2. Gary,
    With our hard water, I have been recommending toothpaste to help get the soap scum and mineral deposits off before they have a chance to fossilize on the jewelry. You are right about the scratching that can take place.
    For simple cleaning I thought a soak in 8 parts distilled water and two part Mr. Clean with non-sensitive gemstones.
    For non sensitive gemstones with gunk I was recommending the toothpaste if they didn’t want to have it professionally cleaned by me.
    So too hard core? I’d be interested in your feedback.

    1. Hey Calla, very nice of you to drop by, thank you for the comments! I think that in this case yes, since most commercial tooth paste does contain an abrasive it’s a little too hard core for most jewelry cleaning. Tooth enamel, mostly hydroxyapatite, is about 5 on the MOS scale of hardness, harder than steel. So while I haven’t done any real research into tooth cleaning products, I suspect that they are composed with abrasives tuned to that hardness. I’m not aware of precious metal alloys as hard as steel and as you know some gemstones are less than 5 on the MOS scale. Pearls are the classic example but there are others. I’m currently writing a follow-up to the first article that will discuss this in more depth. I hope you will check it out and of course I welcome your feedback! You are a respected contributor to any discussion of jewelry so I always look forward to your comments.

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