Polishing jewellery

Info and know-how aren’t the only things to get passed down through the generations.  Sometimes there’s jewellery too.

The last thing I want to do is discourage little girls from trying on their mother’s pearls, but what do you do if she’s forgotten to wash off the mud from digging for worms? Or maybe the gems have lost their sparkle from years of being shut away at the back of a drawer. Before you head off to the jewellers for an industrial clean which can be quite abrasive – or put them back in the drawer carefully mentally filed under ‘I’ll get round to taking them in some time’ – there are things you can do at home to restore your jewels to gleaming life.

There are some across-the-board tips which have stood the test of time and will help your jewellery do the same:

‘Last on, first off’ – meaning, make your jewellery the last thing you put on after your make-up, clothes, hairspray, perfume etc; and then the first things to take off before tucking in for the night and slathering yourself in nightcream. Lotions and potions are bad for all metals and stones. 

Snagging your jewellery in your clothes is bad for the jewellery and for the clothes.

Don’t go swimming. At least, not in your jewellery. The chlorine will basically attack everything.
Try to remove your jewellery for all sports – the perspiration can damage things and your jewellery is more likely to get knocked and scratched.  Similarly for any household jobs that involve strong cleaners.

Wearing your jewellery can be the best way to look after it.  There’s not much that responds well to be treated like Miss Haversham.

Gold – is the softest of the metals, and the higher the carat the softer it will be.  Which really means it’s more prone to scratching so you have to go easy with it.  The best thing to do is immerse it in a bowl of warm soapy water. Soapy with washing-up liquid or shampoo.  If the jewellery has stones in it, or tricky angles or ridges, use a toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies.  Either an old one whose bristles are all splayed, or a soft baby’s one.

You need to be sure to dry your gold thoroughly. A soft cotton cloth is perfect.  Absolutely not a paper towel or anything slightly harsh or else you do run the risk of scratching the surface.  Once cleaned and dried, leave your gold out for a short while to air.

Silver – tarnishes a heck of a lot more and quicker than gold does.  Try first of all just gently rubbing and buffing your silver with a soft cloth. If that doesn’t help then you’ll have a go at this.

bicarb-jewelleryPut a sheet of aluminium foil shiny side up into a heat-proof bowl. Sprinkle over little bicarbonate of soda. Pop the jewellery into the bowl and then pour over boiling water. You may want to swish it round in the water a bit with a wooden spoon to get the solution into the tricky bits. When it looks clean, take your jewellery out and rinse in cold water. Then dry it and buff it with a soft cloth. By which point it should be gleaming.

This is scientfic fact rather than just old wives’ tale. It works because of the chemical reaction that happens between the aluminium and the silver sulphide (which is the tarnish) when put with baking soda. All of which makes for a rather glamorous chemistry lesson.

Do bear in mind that some silver is intentionally oxidised (i.e. tarnished) to have an antiquey look to it.  You definitely must not do the bicarb thing with any pieces like that because all you do is take the oxidising off and ruin the look.

Platinum – doesn’t really tarnish, but it does scratch. It does go a bit grey and if you treat it as for silver minus the foil (more science) then you should be able to make it shiny.  But the only way to remove scratches is to get it professionally cleaned, and each time the jeweller does that they’re removing a very fine layer of the metal.  Worth knowing as it’s really not advisable to get it done too often.

Diamonds (and other hard gemstones like rubies or sapphires) – are each a girl’s best friend. And like any other friend, you have to give your stones some attention.  Don’t take them for granted. They’re going to need spoiling once in a while to be at their best.

Even if you’re pretty certain that your stone settings are secure, please please please don’t do anything with your stoned jewellery in a sink without the plug in. The one time you do that will be the one time a stone falls lose and disappears down the drain. Best to do it in a bowl, I think.

Check the settings first.  Gently touch each stone with a fingernail. If it feels at all lose or wobbles even a bit you’ll need to get the settings and claws checked professionally or else you’re at risk of losing a stone.  

Fill your bowl with warm soapy water. I use shampoo, on the basis that I think my diamonds deserve something that’s been created to make my hair gleam rather than to get the grease off a roasting tray. Use an old soft toothbrush or a baby’s toothbrush or a soft artist’s brush, and gently wheedle the bristles around the stones to get at any bits of dirt.

Once clean, dry your stoned jewellery with a lint-free cloth.  That means anything which won’t leave tiny threads behind in the claws and create a risk of the claws being damaged.

Now just use your fingernail to check again for any lose stones.

Pearls – have one simple rule for maintaining them: wear them.  The moisture in the air helps them keep their lustre. Having said that, pearls are very absorbent.  They’ll discolour or lose their lustre at any opportunity so whilst wearing them is good, wear them with care.  Pearls shouldn’t go anywhere near your skin until your make-up, perfume, body lotions or whatever have been thoroughly absorbed.  After each wear, try hard to remember to wipe your pearls with a soft cloth before putting them away.

You must not get them wet as that’ll damage the pearls themselves and also the silk on which they’re strung.  If you can see that your string of pearls has developed little gaps between the pearls and the silk knots, that means the silk has stretched and you must get them restrung as soon as possible.  The worst thing that can happen is for the string to break.  

If your pearls are looking a little lacklustre, there is something you can do but go easy.  Lay the pearls on a soft cloth. Then in a bowl mix some shampoo with warm water.  Dip a small clean make-up or artist’s brush into the bowl and very gently go over each pearl with the brush.  Then wipe with a (very) well wrung out damp cloth and leave to dry in the air.

Ivory, coral, turquoise, opal and amber – also need delicate attention as they’re soft and/or absorbent.  Use the notes on pearls as to how to wear these stones – they’ll similarly be damaged by perfumes and creams.  As for cleaning, your best bet is to very gently rub the stones with a well-wrung out damp cloth.  

These stones will scratch easily so take extra care not to wear them when doing anything strenuous where they might get knocked. Also, be sure to store them so that they’re not touching any other metals or stones.

One Comment

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  1. Lovely post, really interesting. I always leave jewellery too long without giving it a good clean but you’ve inspired me to go and give it a bit more of the TLC it deserves – and also to wear it more!

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