Antique jewelry can often be delicate and requires special care when cleaning and storing. To prevent pieces from wearing on each other and scratching, store in a cotton-lined box at a moderate temperature. While fluctuations in temperature are not good for any piece of jewelry, some materials are sensitive to heat and cold. Perfume, hairspray, makeup and skin oils are also extremely damaging to jewelry; always apply products prior to putting on your jewelry. A little precaution with your special pieces can go a long way! Avoid bathing, house-cleaning, gardening and exercising in your jewelry as those are perfect opportunities to lose or damage your special pieces.
Keep an eye on your jewelry. Pay special attention to the settings around your stones. The moment you notice that a stone is loose, take it to your jeweler for repair. Nothing is worse than looking down and noticing that your beautiful stone has been replaced by a large hole. When choosing a jeweler, take care to find one that is familiar with the intricacies of antiques. Few jewelers are skilled at taking care of old pieces, and your beautiful antique may come home with a chunky repair that de-values or destroys it.
When cleaning your antique pieces, bear in mind that it is always better to under-clean something than to over-clean it. An item can always be cleaned a second time, but it is difficult to replace broken enamel or a destroyed paste stone. Never allow a jeweler to clean your antique pieces in an ultrasonic cleaner! The vibrations easily loosen stones and break delicate filigree. You should also be wary of store-bought dip solutions: they contain harsh chemicals that can strip away the beauty of an old piece. To avoid losing a piece down the drain, we recommend using a small jar for your cleaning solution and fresh water. It is not uncommon to have dirt and grime be the only thing holding the stone into an old setting, so keep your eyes open while cleaning. It is better to have a stone come loose in a controlled environment than when you are walking down the street!
Please bear in mind that each piece of antique jewelry is different, requiring various ways of cleaning. The guidelines below are just that and are not guarantees. If you are in doubt about how to clean your jewelry, you may contact us or visit our shop.
Pieces made of high-karat gold are more prone to denting than those of lower-karat gold and should be stored separately. Any piece that is hollow should be stored likewise.
Some alloys in gold cause tarnishing over time and may darken a little. To clean gold jewelry, immerse in a jar containing a solution of 1/3 ammonia and 2/3 water. You may quickly dip it, or you may leave harder-to-clean pieces in overnight. Brush with a soft toothbrush, rinse in clean water and pat dry.
To clean silver items, make a paste of baking soda and water and apply with a soft cloth or sponge. Rub thoroughly, rinse clean and pat dry. Baking soda is non-abrasive, inexpensive and readily available, making it a perfect cleaning agent.
Platinum is a hard and durable metal and may be cleaned in the same manner as gold.
Diamonds, sapphires and rubies are the only gemstones that can take heat and may be cleaned in an ammonia solution. All other gemstones have varying degrees of heat- and chemical-sensitivity and should be cleaned with care.
Emeralds are extremely soft and should be stored in a separate box or pouch. They should be cleaned with only a very soft brush and mild (non-detergent) soap diluted in water; rinse and pat dry.
Like emeralds, opals are especially soft and should be stored in their own box or pouch. They are also porous and prone to cracking, so no chemicals should be used when cleaning them. Clean only with a very soft brush and diluted Mild (non-detergent) soap; rinse and pat dry.
TURQUOISE, LAPIS, MALACHITE
Turquoise, lapis and malachite are porous and sensitive to dirt, grease and oils. They are also soft and easily scratched and should be stored in a separate box or pouch. To clean, use a soft toothbrush to brush on a solution of mild (non-detergent) soap diluted in water. Rinse and pat dry. Do not clean in an acidic or ammonia solution because it will remove the polish of the stone.
Jade is durable and scratch-resistant, but often has a waxy polished finish. To preserve this finish, clean only with a soft brush and solution of mild (non-detergent) soap diluted in water; rinse and pat dry.
OTHER SEMI-PRECIOUS STONES
Other colored stones may be dipped in an ammonia solution but should not be soaked. Brush with a soft toothbrush, rinse and pat dry
PASTE AND OTHER CLOSED-BACK PIECES
It is the foil backing that gives paste stones and closed-back pieces their unique beauty. This foil is prone to breakage and disintegration and is almost never replaceable.
The foil backing used on paste and other closed-back pieces is moisture-sensitive. To clean, use only a soft, dry brush and cloth. Never immerse in water or cleaning solution.
Take extreme care with pearls, as they are very sensitive to oils, perfume, makeup, hairspray and perspiration. Apply all products prior to wearing your pearls to minimize contact. Store them in a long box by themselves so they do not rub against themselves or other jewelry.
Gently wipe your pearls with a very soft, slightly damp cloth after each wearing. Be very, very cautious about getting your pearls wet. The stringing takes a long time to dry and is prone to mildew and disintegration.
IVORY, AMBER, CORAL, SHELL, TORTOISESHELL
Organic materials are especially sensitive to beauty products and should always be put on after their application. They are also sensitive to extreme heat and cold and should be stored at a moderate temperature and away from direct sunlight. Do not use acids or ammonia when cleaning, as they attack the surface of these materials and will remove their polish.
Ivory is also sensitive to dampness. To clean, gently brush your piece with clean water; immediately rinse and pat dry.
Amber and coral are both soft and easily scratched and should be stored in their own box or pouch. To clean, rinse in lukewarm water and pat dry.
Tortoiseshell is stored and cleaned like amber and coral. DO NOT GET PIQUÉ WET.
Shell is not sensitive to moisture, but you should still be mindful when caring for it. Store in a separate box or pouch to avoid damage, especially to cameos. To clean, use a soft brush and mild (non-detergent) soap diluted in water; rinse and pat dry.
Enamel needs to be stored with care! It is easily chipped and broken. Store enamel pieces in their own box or pouch to prevent damage and chipping.
To clean enamel, gently rub with a silver-cleaning cloth. Do not clean with an acidic solution because it can remove the glassy smoothness of enamel.
By its nature, cut steel is sensitive to moisture. Never let cut steel come in contact with moisture. Moisture causes it to rust and lose its appeal (as well as value).
To clean, brush with a soft, dry brush or cloth.
WOOD AND LAVA
Both wood and lava are exceptionally porous materials and should be cleaned with care. Do not use ammonia, acids or soap.
Wood shrinks and swells in relation to the moisture and temperature of its environment. Over time, this causes it to split, crack and warp. Store at a constant, moderate temperature, avoiding direct sunlight. To clean, lightly rub with a slightly damp cloth. Avoid any that contain waxes, perfumes or cleaning agents.
Lava carvings are delicate and easily chipped. Clean with water and a soft toothbrush.
There are many other materials used in antique jewelry, a few of which are outlined below. If in doubt about how to clean your piece, the best bet is always to just wipe clean with a very soft, dry brush or cloth.
PIETRA DURA AND MICROMOSAIC
Pietra dura and micromosaics are both delicate and should be stored in their own box or pouch. To clean, brush with a soft brush and take care not to get wet. Be very careful not to dislodge any inlaid pieces that may be loose.
The sulphur compound in niello is soft and should be treated with care. Store in a separate box or pouch to prevent damage. To clean, gently rub with a paste of baking soda and water; rinse and pat dry.
Butterfly wing jewelry is extremely vulnerable to moisture. Any contact with moisture will destroy the butterfly wing and cause it to lose its luster. You may wipe the setting clean with a silver-polishing cloth.
Hair jewelry is very delicate and prone to breakage and should be stored in a separate box or pouch. Do not attempt to clean the hairwork or allow it to come in contact with moisture.
Like hairwork, scarabs are delicate and should be stored away from other jewelry. Do not clean the scarabs with anything other than a very soft, damp brush or cloth.
Miniatures are very delicate and practically impossible to repair. They should be stored in a separate box or pouch, at a moderate temperature and away from direct sunlight. Portrait miniatures can be painted on many different bases, although the most common base is ivory. The type of paint also varies from piece to piece. As a result, it is very important to proceed with caution when cleaning a miniature. Gently wipe with a very soft cloth, being considerate of any area where the paint may be exposed. The mountings may be wiped with a silver-polishing cloth, depending on the material.