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Caring for Your Fine Jewellery

Fine jewellery is made to last so it is relatively low maintenance.

This doesn't mean that it will keep looking pristine if you don't look after it.

The more you maintain for your jewellery - the better it will look. These simple instructions for cleaning your jewellery will keep your precious pieces shining and sparkling.
Clockwise from top left - jewellery cleaning dip, washing up liquid, glass polishing cloth, tea strainer, old toothbrush, jewellery cleaning brush.

Cloths Suitable for Cleaning Jewellery

For best results, use a soft cleaning cloth that is lint free.  Glass polishing cloths are very effective, as is chamois leather or synthetic chamois.  Fluffy cloths or towels, are no nos, as the threads may catch in claws, and spoil the appearance, as well as weakening the setting. If you own a pair of glasses or sunglasses it is likely to have come with the right polishing cloth for your jewellery so use this to evaluate your options.

Soap and Water

In the first instance, you want to get the daily muck off. You'd be amazed at what your jewellery collects - from soap to moisturiser, dead skin, sweat, you name it (it really can be eeeew!), if your hands are coming into contact with something, so is your ring, and likewise for pendants and earrings. So best in the first instance to give them a good soaking. Either use a mild solution of soap and warm to hot water, or buy a jewellery cleaning solution.  Make sure you immerse your jewellery fully in the solution.  Most gemstones are fine with hot water, but for pearls and opals, stick to warm.

Then give your jewellery a scrub. An old toothbrush is very effective for this or you may have a cleaning brush with your solution. Make sure you scrub in all the crevices, and immerse the jewellery to rinse again. To remove all soap afterwards, rinse well with more hot or warm water and your stones will sparkle. If cleaning your jewellery over a sink, make sure you do it using a sieve or strainer and with the plug down, as the last thing you want is for your precious pieces to vanish down the plughole!

Jewellery Cleaner

A more intensive clean for polished jewellery is to dab cleaning liquid generously onto the jewellery.  Polish in a gentle, circular motion, making sure to cover the entire surface of the metal. Next, using a dry area of the cloth, polish the newly cleaned metal, again using a circular motion. This will remove any excess cleaning fluid, and give your jewellery a deep, clear shine.

Three brands to look out for in the UK, are Town Talk, Hagerty and Connoisseurs. My clients receive a Town Talk cleaning cloth for their jewellery purchases, and I've used Hagerty in the past as well. Connoisseurs I've yet to use, but this is down to my preferred method being soap and water!

Water Temperature

I like using hot water to clean my jewellery, because it is a bit like cleaning a wine glass, it leaves fewer streaks and marks. BUT keep in mind that with gemstones, they need to be at least room temperature to safely do this. Has anyone ever taken a hot glass out of the dishwasher and poured cold water into it?! It's quite exciting but maybe not if you wanted to use the glass again! It is the same in reverse, so if you aren't sure, quick technique would be to pop your jewellery in some warm soapy water first, and then add hotter water after a couple of minutes. Diamonds are very resilient, but as with any stone, if there are inclusions or an underlying condition, it may break in half. Not ideal. So if your jewellery is very cold for some reason, bring the temperature up gently.

Polishing Cloths

For day to day cleaning the cloths mentioned above are perfect for keeping jewellery bright and sparkling. You can purchase special polishing cloths that are impregnated with polishing compound, which will bring shine back to your metal. These are more economical than having your jewellery re-polished by a jeweller, but these shouldn't be used all the time. Your metal shouldn't dull down that fast (if it is genuine), and in addition, polishing is removing microscopic amounts of metal, which over the years will start to add up. When polishing, it is best to carry this out before the above steps, to ensure that no polishing compound is left on your jewellery.

A note on Ultrasonic Cleaners

Ultrasonic cleaners are very good for cleaning diamonds and precious stones and are found in most jewellery workshops. Pieces are submerged in a tank with liquid, which is then hit with high-frequency sound waves. The sound waves create a gentle yet powerful scrubbing brush action in the fluid that cleans all surfaces of the objects including deep pores and crevices.

Ultrasonics can be purchased for domestic use, but like everything else, you can't expect a £20 machine to be as effective as the industrial ones. You will get what you pay for, but it could still be good at helping loosen the dirt and grime, so that it comes off more effectively when cleaning with soap and water.

I have an ultrasonic cleaner, which was £125 new. It is very good, but I don't always use it just for single items of jewellery, because it is a bit of a faff to get it out and fill it up etc etc. So, soap and water again!

Materials NOT suitable for Ultrasonics

Some gemstones and organic substances do not respond well to ultrasonic cleaning, and you should steer clear. Opal and tourmaline should not be cleaned this way.  In addition, fine pearls should never be cleaned in an ultrasonic, if you have old coral this is also a no-go.

Because of the vibrations, tiny stones can come loose in an ultrasonic. Jewellery with pave set diamonds (especially in older settings or poorly made) can drop stones in the solution so check your jewellery carefully going in and coming out. If any stones do come out, seal them in a box or envelope (or little ziploc/gripseal bags which are perfect to keep them all together) so you don't lose them and can take them for repair.

Steam Cleaning

This technique is often carried out by professional jewellers. It really gets the jewellery gleaming. For those of you who have a coffee machine with steamer at home, this is a very good way to loosen dirt and debris (although note my comments on jewellery and water temperature previously)

BUT (and it's a big but)..

If you are using the coffee machine attachment to do this you need a long pair of tongs or something similar to hold the jewellery (a coat hanger could be good for rings, place them on the hanger, and hold one of the corners.

Do not try wearing rubber gloves or hold the jewellery (no No NO!!) unless you like the idea of spending some time in A&E or being in a lot of pain. You also have to be careful not to drop the jewellery on the floor.. So this is one to approach with a lot of caution. I don't recommend it for the uninitiated. Stick to the previous!

You can actually use a steam cooker, or have them in a sieve above a pan of boiling water for the same effect. Keep in mind you'll still want to wash and rinse afterwards.

Conclusion

Hot water and washing up liquid is amazingly effective.  I use a laundry booster (like Astonish, Vanish, Napisan etc) which is very effective. I still follow the instructions above, but actually with hot water, very little scrubbing is required. Important is to rinse, as leaving soap inside can create skin irritations and damage some gemstones.

Something this simple will keep your jewellery looking pristine for years to come. My recommendation is to clean at least once a month and if you've really been doing some messy work with your hands, consider washing your rings immediately afterwards. Do it while you are watching a show, that way you can give it a good soak, scrub and double rinse through! It really does keep your pieces looking like new.

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