Caring for your Jewelry
Everything you need to know to keep your sparklers
You wouldn't dream of wearing your favorite suede jacket
in the rain, or laundering your "dry clean only" wool suit with your jeans. Why
wouldn't you give your gemstone jewelry as much consideration? Just because gems have
survived in the ground for millions of years doesn't make them invincible to the elements
of everyday wear on the Earth's surface.
Sure, you can't bear to remove that iridescent opal ring
your husband gave you for your second anniversary--you'd feel naked without it. But
consider the consequences if you were to accidentally knock your hand against a wall while
running for a train or spray it with bug killer while doing some gardening. Opals are
softer and more fragile than most gems and subject to damage if exposed to impacts or
chemicals. In fact, all gemstones have some care considerations you should know about.
You can safeguard your gems and jewelry by following
a few helpful hints:
- Remove all jewelry before engaging in such activities as
sports, housework or yard work where jewelry is prone to impacts and/or chemicals.
- Never remove jewelry by pulling on the gemstone. Pulling
the stone exposes it to perspiration, skin oil and dirt, as well as the possibility it
will become loose in its setting.
- Check for loose gems and clasps before each wear.
- Have a jeweler restring your pearl and bead necklaces at
least every two years, annually if you wear them frequently.
- Never store jewelry in piles to avoid gems and metals
abrading each other or chains entangling. Wrap each piece in velvet, paper or silk; or
separate in sections of a jewelry box or fabric pouch.
Hard as a Rock?
One of the biggest factors to consider in the care of
precious gems and metals is their hardness, which reflects their durability. To measure
hardness, the jewelry industry uses the Mohs Scale. This gem-trade standard, conceived by
Friedrich Mohs in the early 1800s, measures the ability of a gem or mineral to resist
abrasion damage. Diamond is placed as the hardest substance at 10, while talc is
considered the softest at 1. Rubies and sapphires rate at 9, topaz and spinel at 8 and
quartz material (such as amethyst and citrine) at 7.
Most of the objects you and your jewelry come in contact
with are either quartz-based or near quartz's hardness. If your gems are harder than Mohs
7, they will not be scratched; if they are softer, they could get damaged. And, believe it
or not, the precious metals your gems are set in (platinum, gold and silver) fall below
Rings and bracelets are most vulnerable to the realities
of daily wear. But earrings and necklaces, even brooches, are also subject to chemical
exposure, particularly if worn while cosmetics, perfume and hairspray are applied.
In addition to regarding how you wear and store your
gemstone jewelry, you should consider how you clean it. Choose chemicals, brushes and
techniques for the softest, most vulnerable gems in a piece. Although the precious metals
used in jewelry are softer than most gems, it does not mean that cleaners tailored to a
specific metal will not damage gems of a higher Mohs. For example, silver polish works
fine for sterling alone, but can ruin porous gems (like opal, pearl, coral, lapis,
turquoise, and amber) set in it. Ammonia is a particular threat to fragile gems. If you
must use strong commercial products, and you can't bear to remove that ring, make sure you
are wearing protective gloves (which you should do anyway, to protect your skin!).
The best way to clean most of your gem-set jewelry is to
use a mild soapy solution in warm water, a soft brush, and a soft cloth to pat dry.
Here are some popular gems and their cleaning
- Alexandrite (Mohs 8.5) Clean with
soapy water, alcohol or commercial cleaning solutions. An ultrasonic cleaner or steamer is
- Amber (Mohs 2-2.5) Use only warm soapy
water, no brush. Pat dry. Do not use mechanical cleaners; avoid abrasives, chemicals and
- Aquamarine (Mohs 7.5-8) Warm soapy
water and a soft brush is your best bet. Mechanical cleaners are safe, but not on heavily
included gems. Avoid most chemicals, heat and excessive cleaning.
- Coral (Mohs 3.5-4) Gently wipe clean
with a soft, cool, damp cloth. Do not use a brush or mechanical cleaners. Avoid abrasives,
chemicals and heat.
- Diamond (Mohs 10) Mechanical cleaners
are safe, unless a stone has fractures or is fracture-filled. If that is the case, avoid
heat and chemicals. Ammonia-based cleaners or mild solvents are fine. If using warm soapy
water, rinse well and pat dry to avoid residue. Vodka is said to produce sparkling
- Emerald (Mohs 7.5-8) Clean with a
soft, damp cloth, warm water and a soft brush. Do not use mechanical cleaners. Avoid
chemicals and heat that dissolve oils used during cutting and processing to conceal
inclusions. Although emerald is harder than quartz, its crystal structure makes it
brittle. Have a jeweler re-oil your emerald every few years. Avoid impacts.
- Garnet (Mohs 7-7.5) Warm soapy water
and a soft brush is perfect. An ultrasonic cleaner is safe for most garnets, except
andradite (the best known variety is demantoid). Do not use a steamer.
- Jade (Mohs 6.5-7) Warm soapy water
will do the trick. Mechanical cleaners are safe. Avoid contact with warm acids.
- Lapis Lazuli (Mohs 5-6) Use warm soapy
water. Do not scrub or soak. Wipe with a soft cloth. Do not use mechanical cleaners and
- Opal (Mohs 5-6.5) Use a soft dry or
damp cloth. Do not soak. Do not use mechanical cleaners. Avoid impacts, dry conditions,
heat and chemicals.
- Pearls (Mohs 2.5-4.5) Wipe clean after
each use with a soft, dry or damp cloth. Mild soapy water is fine. No mechanical cleaners,
heat or chemicals.
- Peridot (Mohs 6.5-7) Warm soapy water
and a soft brush is your best bet. Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner or steamer. Avoid
contact with acids.
- Quartz (amethyst, citrine & ametrine) (Mohs 7)
Warm soapy water is perfect. An ultrasonic cleaner is usually safe, but a steamer is
risky. Avoid acids, intense heat, and prolonged bright light.
- Ruby & Sapphire (Mohs 9) Clean
with soapy water or commercial solvent and brush. Mechanical cleaners are safe, except for
heavily included gems.
- Spinel (Mohs 8) Give it the kind of
care you would ruby and sapphire.
- Tanzanite (Mohs 6-7) Give it the same
kind of care you would a peridot.
- Topaz (Mohs 8) Give it the same care
you would an emerald. Although it is hard, it cleaves. A sudden temperature change or
impact can cause a break.
- Tourmaline (Mohs 7-7.5) Warm soapy
water and a soft brush is your best bet. Do not use mechanical cleaners.
- Turquoise (Mohs 5-6) Wipe with a soft
damp cloth and dry. Do not soak or use mechanical cleaners. Avoid chemicals. Silver
cleaners will cause discoloration.