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Cleaning Silver Jewelry

Most serious collectors of vintage silver prefer the natural darkening of old silver, rather than the bright shine usually seen on new pieces. This darkening is referred to as patina. Darker patina develops over time in the low or engraved areas and provides a beautiful contrast with the shine and luster on the high areas. This is very desirable, as it shows the detail of the workmanship.

Purists don't polish silver at all. They simply wear it, and that creates the look they like, especially with necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings. If silver is worn constantly and washed as a natural consequence of wearing (when washing hands or dishes, when worn in the shower or bath) it acquires a soft silver-gray shine. The recessed areas stay dark, but tarnish is worn away on the high areas, creating sensational relief. Brooches are sometimes a little trickier. It's not so easy to wear a brooch into the bathtub or shower, but it can be worn on a t-shirt under a sweater, and that rubbing will gently remove the tarnish from the high areas.

A very helpful product is the Sunshine Polishing Cloth. These yellow flannel cloths are impregnated with gentle chemicals which effectively remove surface dirt and tarnish. Simply rub the jewelry with the cloth until the desired result is achieved. The Sunshine Cloth will become darker as you use it. When it is completely soiled on both sides you discard that cloth and start with a new one. One Sunshine Cloth can be used for a long time.

If you choose to use a silver polish, do not use a harsh dipping solution, as it will cause pitting and other damage to the finish of your jewelry. Instead, use just a dab of a gentle paste polish. Try not to get the paste into grooves or crevices. You don't want to remove the darker color from the recessed portions, as then you will not see the beautiful contrast and relief. Plus, there is nothing uglier than paste polish left behind in the grooves of silver jewelry. If you happen to find a piece of silver which has been cleaned in this fashion, with caked old silver polish stuck in the crevices, you can soak the piece in Jewelry Joose to loosen the old polish for easy removal.

The best solution for cleaning silver is to wear it all the time - while exercising and gardening and working in your office, while bathing or showering or swimming. This will make your sterling pieces rich-looking and lustrous.

If, however, you are a person who likes bright shiny silver, just be careful with your polish and avoid dip solutions. You don't want to damage the surface of fine old pieces. And keep in mind that if you ever decide to sell your vintage silver, the buyers will usually want original-looking patina.

Cleaning Rhinestone Jewelry

There are two important considerations when cleaning rhinestone jewelry.

  1. Rhinestones can be damaged by water.
  2. Rhinestones are set in a variety of materials.

Rhinestones are pieces of faceted glass which have sheets of metal foil adhered to their backs. The metal foil acts as a mirror, reflecting light and making the rhinestone shiny. Rhinestones come in varying qualities. The best rhinestones are made of leaded glass. The glass itself has a great deal of brilliance, and the foil on the backs makes them shine even more. The number and placement of the facets also make a difference in the brilliance (or glitter) of the rhinestones.

The foil on the back of the rhinestones can be loosened by many factors. These factors include the passage of time, friction, and chemical exposure (certain glues, perfumes, make-up, solvents, etc.). If the foil is loosened from the back of the rhinestone, water can seep between the rhinestone and the foil. This will speed the process of deterioration. Rhinestones which have lost their shine because the foil has been damaged or loosened from their backs are referred to as "dead" or "dull." They typically appear gray or green in color and do not match the shine of the undamaged rhinestones in the same piece of jewelry. If the foil on the backs of your rhinestones is tightly adhered to the glass, water will not dull them. Unfortunately, you may not realize that the foil is loose until the stone becomes wet. The moisture will then speed the deterioration of the foil and dulling of the stone.

For this reason, it is best to avoid getting water on your rhinestone jewelry. If it is absolutely necessary to wet the jewelry during cleaning, the exposure to water should be as brief as possible and the water should be removed promptly. DO NOT SOAK RHINESTONE JEWELRY!

Because rhinestones are set in a variety of materials, you must use extreme care when applying chemicals in an attempt to clean the jewelry. Many chemicals (alcohol, ammonia, etc.) can damage the plating of the metal. Many substances that you don't think of as chemicals can also damage the plating. These damaging substances include skin oils or perspiration, perfume, make-up, and hairspray.

The best policy is to not clean your rhinestone jewelry unless it is truly dirty. Try to avoid soiling your jewelry if possible. Put it on last, after you apply your make-up and perfume. Don't apply make-up or perfume to parts of your skin which your jewelry will touch. If you know you will be going out dancing on a warm evening and believe you will be perspiring heavily, wear jewelry which is less likely to be affected by your skin's salts and oils.

Vintage jewelry usually comes to us after one or more generations of use. This jewelry has often seen a lot of action. It has been to nightclubs during an era when sophisticated people often smoked heavily. It has been worn by very fashionable ladies who would never have dreamed of going out unless fully made-up and heavily perfumed. It has done the jitterbug and the cha-cha and the waltz. This rich history is part of the beauty and romance of vintage jewelry, and collectors cherish the fact that others have loved their jewelry before them. Nonetheless, the jewelry will frequently need some cleaning.

You will see different advice from different authorities on the subject of how to best clean your jewelry. We recommend that you use the gentlest possible substance in the smallest possible amount in the most controlled fashion. We generally prefer Jewelry Joose for most rhinestone jewelry cleaning. It removes oils and most soiling very effectively and is gentle to plating. Apply the Jewelry Joose with a cotton swab or small cotton cloth (an old cotton napkin works well). Use a second clean cloth dipped in water to remove the Jewelry Joose and soil. Blow dry with cool (not hot!) air.

Even with this very gentle cleaning method, some moisture may penetrate behind the rhinestone. If the foil is intact this should be no problem. If, however, the foil was already deteriorating you may find that the cleaning will accelerate the process and you will need to replace that stone. If this happens you can console yourself with the knowledge that the stone would have become dull within a few years anyway.

The key principles are:

  1. Avoid the need for cleaning by keeping your jewelry clean!
  2. Use a light hand when cleaning rhinestone jewelry.
  3. Do not soak rhinestone jewelry in any liquid!
  4. Use the gentlest cleaning solutions you can find. (We recommend Jewelry Joose.)
  5. Blow jewelry dry, but do not use heat.
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