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Jewelry First Aid

Tips to keep from spilling your pearls!

Time was, it was easy to care for your fine jewelry. Most jewelry (save for pearls, a few earrings and a wedding ring) was reserved for special occasions. And most women who could afford such finery were "ladies of leisure," with enough servants to ensure someone was frequently polishing and maintaining their gems. Today, busy schedules, a plethora of environmental impacts (from new cosmetics to population growth in a variety of extreme climes) and the fact that women (wisely and appropriately) wear their fine jewels all the time, means the potential for wear and tear is much greater.

We know you know to bring in your fine jewelry once a year to be inspected, cleaned, maintained, and as needed, repaired. But we also know you're busy and don't always get everything in to us when you should.With that in mind, we’ve whipped up a few helpful hints to help preserve and protect your jewelry.

HANDLE WITH CARE

In general, people keep their valuables in the wrong place: it's too hot, too wet, too bug-ridden, whatever, says Don Williams, senior conservator at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and co-author of Saving Stuff with Louisa Jagger (2005 Simon & Schuster). It's important to know that some materials are more susceptible to sources of deterioration than others. For example, diamonds are forever, yes, but the settings they're in, or the gemstones they're paired with, can be fragile. Jewelry is often tossed into a container, says Williams. Things get looped into each other. Almost all experts agree the number-one mistake most people make is cavalier handling of jewelry. If you have more than one piece of jewelry in each compartment of your keepsake box, it's time for more storage. Be very careful about storing pieces next to each other. Diamonds can scratch pearls and other soft gems and metals. Clasps made in steel or platinum can also scratch. Pearls are especially vulnerable (the coating, or nacre, can wear, crack and chip), and should always be stored in individual soft bags or compartments. To avoid environmental extremes, don't store heirloom jewelry in the basement (flooding, mildew) or attic (too hot and too dry). If you're storing pieces long-term, make sure all storage supplies are archival (bugs love cardboard). If you're storing pearls, emeralds or opals in a safe deposit box, author and gemologist Antoinette Matlins (Colored Gemstones Guidebook, GemStone Press 2005) suggests keeping a damp cloth in the box (and checking on it periodically) to avoid them getting too dry. "If, at the end of the day, you're too tired to put everything where it's supposed to be, at least have a clean piece of velvet or flannel, even sitting on a paper plate on which jewelry can be carefully placed until you have time to put them away properly," says Williams.

SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

Inspecting your jewelry on a regular basis will help prevent a lot of grief. Check your settings: if a stone seems loose, it probably is. Stop wearing it! Put it in a small pouch and bring it to us as soon as possible. Storing pieces in separate compartments and bags will help reduce wear on the settings. Chains and strings should also be checked and cleaned frequently. Dirt and abrasive materials found in cosmetics contaminate pearl strings and cause wear and tear at the drill holes. Also make sure pearl necklace and bracelet strings are knotted between each pearl to minimize loss (and have them restrung every year or two if worn frequently!)

KNOW YOUR STONES

The trend today for mixing diamonds and gemstones means extra care is required when cleaning, handling and storing your pieces. What works for platinum and diamonds may not for rose gold and tanzanite.Get to know what's in each piece, what's needed to care for it, and what risks each element is subject to. In general, soaking most gems and metals in warm, sudsy water (using detergent-free soap), then brushing gently with an eyebrow brush or soft toothbrush (while still submerged), will solve the majority of grime and dullness issues. Rinse thoroughly, and make sure the sink's drain is closed!

Matlins has created a series of guidebooks covering individual stones and their pecadillos. Among the things to look out for:

Diamonds:

Though they're hard, a good strong knock in the right place can shatter a diamond. After all, that's how those facets were created in the first place. Oil from your fingers and chemicals from soaps and cosmetics can leave a film that dulls and even scratches diamonds and other gemstones.

Pearls:

The most vulnerable gemstone, especially as they age. Avoid contact with vinegar (even in salads), ammonia (common in commercial jewelry cleaners), bleach (the dreaded chlorine), inks, hairspray, perfumes and cosmetics. It’s best to apply cosmetics and hairsprays before putting on your jewelry, and remember to wipe with a soft cloth or warm damp cloth before putting away. Body oils and perspiration can also affect a pearl's color.

Colored Gemstones:

Chlorine, ammonia, heat and prolonged light exposure all impact colored gemstones. As mentioned previously, opals and emeralds both suffer in extremely dry conditions. Opaque gemstones like lapis lazuli, turquoise and malachite (which are rocks, rather than minerals) are porous, and chemicals from cosmetics can build up inside (soap is not recommended for these stones). Ammonia, for example, causes malachite to lose its luster.

Though diamonds can handle hot water, ammonia cleaners and ultrasonic cleaning machines, many gems are more susceptible (and gold settings, 14K or less, are at risk of pitting or discoloration from chlorinated water). Matlins suggests investigating the new ionic cleaners for difficult jobs, as they are safer for most gems. However, check with us for recommendations on the safest home cleaning methods.

If something does come loose or break, wrap the pieces immediately in a soft cloth or pouch and store in a safe place until you can bring them to us to repair or replace.

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