Antique Jewelry Cleaning post 165
Antique jewelry requires some common sense care and occasionally, you might want to clean it.
Last week we discussed the care and today, we will clean.
#6621 Snake pendant - part of a set
Jewelry is art worn on our bodies and our bodies produce natural oils and perspiration and these can get into the jewelry along with pollution and other dirt out there in the world. The brightness of the gems and metal is a function of light travelling through and reflecting from the stones. Once oil and shmutz cover them, they will look dull and dreary.
Gradually, your ring is not shining like it used to; your bracelet is not as glowing or brilliant as it seemed to be before. Time to think about cleaning.
Can all jewelry be cleaned? When in doubt, the answer is 'no'. Ask a professional and go from there. Rather do not take a chance unless you are sure of what you are doing.
#6808. Foiled sapphire.
Before we go any further, there are some Do Nots. Some items cannot be placed in chemicals or water or they will be damaged, perhaps beyond repair. Not every item is safe in water.
Many organic materials like cotton, used to string pearls and beads will stretch in water. Pearls are sensitive to almost all chemicals. Many jewels from very early periods were foiled. If water penetrates the setting, you will land up with a very dirty-looking gem where the foil was dampened. Similarly, many old jewels had hair or other organic materials inserted at the back or inside the jewelry and they could be ruined as would a watercolor miniature portrait set into a locket.
Is the stone a doublet or triplet or some other combination of more than one part? In that case, it could be compromised by immersion in water and chemicals. So before you start, start, think about what jewelry not to wash or have go near water, what should go near water with care, and what is safe in water.
A somewhat pushy jeweller once insisted on cleaning my ring in his Sonic cleaner. Zoom - out came the little stone, never to be found. The damage was done and even a replaced stone was not the same as the original one from long ago. I'm not happy about shortcuts when it comes to cleaning jewelry. Maybe they do a great job in most cases, maybe they remove all patina. At least, be careful about what you put into a modern, mechanical means of replacing a little work.
We tend to think of gems like sapphires, rubies and emeralds as fairly tough and well able to resist a good cleaning. This is not always the case.
The most obvious is the emerald. Most emeralds are oiled and the oil could leach out if placed in water. You will be left with a very dull remnant of your gem. Some sapphires and rubies are also treated and cleaning them could have a similar effect. Do be careful. Fortunately, most antique jewelry was not treated and since it has already survived hundreds of years and still looks good, chances are it will survive a gentle cleaning today as well.
For all of those items that absolutely cannot go near water, such as foiled gems, the best you can or should do is gently and carefully rub them with a soft cloth and maybe, an old toothbrush for removing actual bits of dirt. A little effort and you can do a great job of bringing back the shine to your jewelry without endangering it in any way.
While we don't deal much in silver, we know that it can be cleaned using a special cloth treated with silver-cleaning chemicals. This will remove the tarnish, but not the patina and you don't have to expose the jewelry to water.
#5975. Byzantine silver cross and chain.
Do not use the below method on your pearls. Do not let soap or tons of water go near your pearls. Do not submerge your pearls in water. The string will rot and you could ruin them. Some people recommend a little mild soap, but is it really necessary? Pearls should be gently wiped down with a slightly damp cloth and then set out on a dish cloth or towel to dry. You can rub them dry individually, but be careful not to stretch the string. Remember they are strung on cotton thread and that will rot if it gets wet and does not dry properly. It will stretch and deform if you pull too hard. This is also why, periodically, pearls need to be restrung.
Common gems that will probably be ok if you wash them: diamonds, sapphires, rubies, garnets, amethysts, topaz. Enamel can go into water, but be careful not to scratch it.
#6248 Renaissance Revival necklace with enamel.
Do not be over-vigorous with your washing technique. You want to clean away excess dirt and oil, not ruin the patina (the soft warmth that results from hundreds of years of wear and use).
So, for most tough gems, here is your cleaning recipe:
soft brush like an old toothbrush
Prepare a bowl/basin of hot water. Not boiling - there is no reason to burn yourself. Make sure that you put down a towel underneath it to catch anything you might inadvertantly drop. Make sure there are no open drains in the vicinity. Murphy's law: if the ring can go down the drain, it just might.
Add a little dish washing up liquid. Do not use something really strong and abrasive.
Let the jewelry soak for a few minutes in the warm, soapy water.
Use a soft brush to gently poke around for imbedded dust/dirt and get them out.
Rinse the jewel in clean water. Again, place a towel under the jewelry and avoid open drains.
Lay it out on a towel to dry. You could towel dry it, but that seems unnecessary.
Enjoy your sparkly, bright and clean jewelry.