Many gemstone owners enjoy wearing their treasures. Few things can
ruin that enjoyment faster than the discovery of damage such as
scratches, chips, or discoloration. Unfortunately, some damage is
permanent. The good news is that proper cleaning and care prevents
most gemstone damage.
The biggest favor you can do for your gemstone jewelry is to keep it
clean. Dust, body oils, and chemicals are villains waiting for an
opportunity to destroy the beauty of your gems. You can eliminate
most problems by simply wiping all your jewelry with a soft cloth
after wearing it. Be careful with dust, however, as it contains
little particles that can scratch most jewelry. Dust must be gently
whisked off using a soft-bristled brush. Small camel’s-hair brushes,
like those used by artists are good dust removers.
There is no one safe way in which to clean all gems. You must
consider both what the jewelry is made from and how it is made.
While a gentle soap and water solution is safe for many pieces, it
can harm other jewelry.
Soft, porous gems, such as pearls, turquoise, and opals will absorb
water–and anything that is in it. The water will evaporate, but the
chemicals and minerals it contained will remain in the gem, often
ruining it. Opals need moisture, and an occasional overnight soak in
pure water will revive them. If the opals are rarely worn,
periodically dip them in water to which a few drops of glycerine or
mineral oil have been added. Wiping with a soft cloth after each
wearing is usually all that the other soft stones need.
Most of the hard and nonporous such as rubies, sapphires,
and diamonds, may be dipped in alcohol to dissolve fingerprints and
body oils. They can also be washed in a weak solution of ammonia.
Strung gems should never be immersed in water. Moisture often will
not evaporate from the stringing material, which causes it to swell
or deteriorate. That often leads to breakage and potential loss of
the beads. If the stringing material doesn’t break, the trapped
moisture can damage the inside of the bead. Ivory beads, especially,
are quickly ruined by dampness on their inside surfaces.
You can find a variety of commercial jewelry cleaners on the market.
Use these with caution. Follow the manufacturer’s directions very
carefully and never use them on any stone or metal not specifically
listed as safe on the label. The same advice applies also for
ultrasonic cleaners. If you are sure your metal jewelry is gold or
silver, it can be safely soaked in a water and detergent solution to
which a few drops of ammonia have been added. If the metal is brass
or gold-filled, the ammonia will ruin it. Ammonia also corrodes
copper. There are many commercial cleaners that are safe for
sterling, silver-filled, and silver plate jewelry. Those cleaners,
however, are generally not safe for any gemstones mounted in silver
jewelry. In that case, apply the cleaner with a cotton swab, taking
care to avoid getting it on any part of the piece that is not
The guidelines for silver cleaners apply also to copper
cleaners–never use them on non-metal surfaces and follow the
manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
One easy way to keep your jewelry clean is to put it on after you’ve
applied makeup, perfume, or hair spray. Hair spray in particular is
destructive to many kinds of gems. For example, it permanently dulls
amber. Take rings off before using hand creams or lotions, to
prevent a buildup of oil and the dirt it attracts. Removing jewelry
before cooking, housework, gardening, and similar tasks is also
highly recommended. Dishwashing detergents and most cleaners will
remove the finish on even good electroplated jewelry. The acids
found in many types of cleaners will discolor, if not destroy, most
Many gemstones are sensitive to sudden temperature changes or
extreme temperatures. For example, wearing an opal ring while
handling frozen foods can cause the opal to crack. Prolonged periods
of heat or cold can destroy other gems. Leaving a piece of jewelry
on the dashboard of a car on a hot, sunny day can ruin the color in
many stones. Topaz is especially sensitive to both heat and light
and fades quickly when overexposed to either. Amber melts when it
Many of us store our gemstone jewelry in a tangled mass in a jewelry
box. That’s a sure way to ruin most of it. Any time a gemstone comes
into contact with another, the softer piece suffers damage. If you
can’t keep each piece in a separate compartment or box, then wrap
them before storing. Plastic bags are convenient, but materials like
flannel or chamois offer better protection for your treasures.
All the organic gems, such as amber, pearls, ivory, and coral, need
to breathe. They should never be stored in plastic. Pearls love
satin-lined boxes. The porous stones, like turquoise and opals, also
need exposure to fresh air and humidity. They will deteriorate if
stored in dark, dry places. Wrapping the “breathing” gems in a soft
cloth is recommended.
Sterling silver may be wrapped in cloth impregnated with an
anti-tarnish agent only if it isn’t set with gems. The anti-tarnish
agent can be destructive to many gems. Treated cloths should not be
used on gold electroplate.
Rescue your treasures now from the bottom of your jewelry box and
treat them to a gentle cleaning, then wrap and store them
individually. Your gems will reward your TLC with many years of
beauty and pleasure in return.
****Sandra I. Smith, Writer ****