Health hazzards from Customer Jewelry?

Are Bench Jewelers Subject to Disease from Customer Jewelry?

Dear Fellow Orchid Members,

Perhaps this is a “watch with discretion” post because the subject
is not very attractive. Do any of you know of or have heard of a
jeweler contracting a disease from the jewelry of customers?

I ask this after cutting a ring off the swollen finger of a person
and raw, infected flesh was exposed beneath the ring. And there are
the earposts with blood on the post, filthly rings and other jewelry
items, etc. to contend with.

Do any of you use surgical gloves or does "considering the cutomer"
preclude this precaution? Is such precation needed in the first

Ok, I ask a lot of questions. Frankly, I cannot always depend on
reports of “how a disease is transmitted” only to find rebuttal a
few years later in medical literature. So, what do we do? I have not
personally known of a jeweler catching a disease from the customer’s
jewelry, colds perhaps from a customer met face to face but not from
the jewelry. Still, I err on the side of caution whenever I can. I
feel more inclined to protect myself now than in years past when so
much was taken for granted and less publicity was given to disease,
hepatitis, HIV, other things possible. Any opinions?

Thanks for any input. Thomas.

Any blood borne pathogen (ie. hepatitis, AIDs,others) may be
transmitted by bodily fluids.

You have 2 options:

  1. Wear sterile surgical gloves, latex, or

  2. if true bodily fluids involved, treat the situation as a surgical
    medical procedure, and refer to closest ER (mergency room) or family

You can contract disease through the situation you have described!

Mark Zirinsky
Denver, Colorado

To a point you have to consider this, but you can also worry
yourself to death about it. For instance, the virus that causes cold
sores can remain viable out of the mouth for up to 5 hours. So a
customer with a cold sore may hand you practically anything, or touch
something in your store after touching their mouth and infect all
manner of items. You can’t practically consider all aspects of
infection control, particularly when you’re not in the business to.

To get right to what matters though, the only way to kill or
denature an infectious organism with any suriety is by autoclaving
it. That’s a steam/pressure sterilizing system. I imagine there are
some fragile items like opals and the like that wouldn’t weather that
treatment very well. Therefore, without the proper means to sterilize
an item that is potentially infectious, where are you left? The
following rules help…

Hand the item with care. If there is obvious blood or other bodily
fluid on the item (saliva from a tongue ring, etc.), use gloves.

Clean the item well. Keep in mind the nature of your item in
selecting your cleanser, and follow it’s directions. For surface
disinfecting, nearly all cleansers say to leave the item for at least
10 minutes after application.

Never, EVER assume anything about the customer’s health status.
What you don’t know could kill you. "Considering the customer"
should not be done. Period.

One last thing…if you are injured/stuck/cut while working on a
piece that has not been properly cleaned, or had visible blood/bodily
fluids on it to begin with, seek medical attention. A medical doctor
will be adept at handling the situation and through them would be a
better way to contact your customer should blood testing be required.
MDs also report these incidents (anonymously) to certain government
agencies so they can see where better to protect the working public
from such risks (mainly OSHA).

David A. Cowling, DDS

Hi Thomas, An old bench jeweler friend of mine contends he got a
serious infection requiring hospitalization from a piece of jewelry
he was working on, and so now, as much as is practical, sterilizes
and thoroughly cleans all the items he does repairs on. Given all of
the considerations you list it would certainly seem prudent to
thoroughly clean jewelry you will be working on. Not only would it
make it more sanitary health wise, it also makes working on the items
easier (no dirt to discolor stones or metal when soldering, no
unpleasant smokey surprises, etc). Good luck!

Best regards,

Thomas, When I worked in a retail store I always had the customer
remove thier own jewelry and place it on a pad that I then took to
the back and cleaned. It sent a message that I felt thier jewelry
was important without me having to handle it.

I never had a person bring me jewelry that was so gross that I
refused to touch it, but if someone came to me with a raw, swollen,
infected finger, I would, with as much urgency in my voice as
possible, recommend they go to a physician or emergency room and
refuse to remove the ring on grounds that I am a goldsmith not a
medical professional.

Blood, puss or blisters would be my cut off point. Anything that
made me stop and question whether I should put on gloves would be a
warning and I would think open me up to liability should the
customer become hurt or further injured. I can hear it now, “he
put on doctor’s gloves, so he must have known…”


hey Thomas a few years ago I was working for an old timer,whose dad
was big in the 20’s and 30’s in Philadelphia. well these guys always
had a boiling pot of Okite which is powerful soap,from the BCR ultra
sonic company, point being all customer jewelry would first go in
that boiling water in a sieve in case any stones fell out,and they
would come out sparkling clean,with no perfume or facial cream left
overs or other actual bodily bits… I use it myself now ,a stainless
pot ,not aluminium,Okite is primarily alkali. enjoy Hratch

thomas, I don’t know a jeweler who hasn’t gagged while picking "stuff
"out of an old mounting or watch band…after the customer has gone
of course. My all time favorite is trying to keep a straight face
when an above average, educated person, sticks their finger in their
mouth and slips a ring off and hands it to me…as far as catching
any disease i have never heard of anything being traced back to
anyone’s jlry…for the most part i think we’re healthier because of
all the extra hand washing we do… lisa mcconnell

    Are Bench Jewelers Subject to Disease from Customer Jewelry? 

Thomas, I agree that this is an issue. I have had to dig imbedded
screw backs from customers that screwed the clutch deep into flesh.
And Hep C is easily transmitable by blood, if for instance you get
it in a cut of your own. I frequently have a cut on my hands from a
sawblade etc. I think I will be discouraged from doing this in the
future, as times now CAN be threatening. But if one must get close to
a customers ‘bodily fluids’, Surgical gloves are probably in most of
our studios, and I would think customers would understand it was for
their saftey too. Thomas Blair

All, My wife and I have been handling customer goods for over thirty
years and believe me, some of it ought to be destroyed or condemned.
Changing watch batteries is a particularly offensive job. Some
people seem to have absolutely no sense of personal hygiene. We
approach the problem from the standpoint of using our own personal
hygiene; i.e. we always wash our hands throughly after each task
involving contact with dirty goods. Indeed, there have been a few
times when we have handed back the customer goods and told the
customer that their items were too filthy to work on. On the other
hand, one of the latest reports from the schizophrenic medical
research world suggests that some studies have found that children
raised in an antiseptic environment are somewhat more prone to
infection in later years inasmuch as they had reduced exposure to
those microbes that would have stimulated their defense mechanisms.
I guess it is something like lack of exercise causing muscular
atrophy…whatever…Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, Ca. P.S. My
wife and I are not exactly young and we are remarkably free of
we almost never get sick !

    Do any of you use surgical gloves or does "considering the
cutomer" preclude this precaution? Is such precation needed in the
first place? 

I don’t think that wearing surgical gloves in any way precludes
considering the customer. If my finger were infected, I wouldn’t
want the germs from your hands contaminating it … I’d want to see
you wearing surgical gloves. If anything, it’s a way of
demonstrating “good practices” to the customer, which should reassure
them that you are handling their personal pieces appropriately. As a
customer, I’d feel like the pieces I got back were clean and had been
treated in a sanitary manner.

“Trying on” pierced earrings isn’t allowed (at least here the
States) because of sanitation issues … that would be an indicator
to me that gloves should probably be worn when taking in for repair
“personal” body jewelry (piercings, most notably), as well as
anything brought in that the customer communicates was in contact
with an injured or infected body part (for example, someone bringing
in a wedding band that was cut off due to injury or infection).

In the case cited where the finger was swollen and infected, I would
probably suggest to the customer that they go to their doctor or
emergency room to have it removed, telling them that to do so in an
unsanitized environment like a jewelry store could lead to infection
(theirs as well as yours) … but offer to take a look at the ring
afterward and let them know what it would take to repair it.

Having said that, wearing gloves is not something to make a big deal
out of. You have a box of gloves sitting at the repair counter, and
toss on a pair before taking their pieces to inspect them. Once you
accept them for repair, clean them well with soap and hot water (or
using one of the solutions recommended in earlier posts).

These days, I would expect that customers wouldn’t bat an eye.

Karen Goeller

Or how about the customers that spit on their ring to be able to get
it over their knucle and then hand it to you? I want to do the work
on it and then when I give it to them, spit on it before I hand it
to them! Richard in Denver

Please allow me to introduce another question whilst we consider the
subject of infection.

I am often asked for second hand earrings or for one earing to
replace one which has been lost. My instinct is don’t get involved,
so I don’t, although I have many times considered the implications if
I did. What are your thoughts on this matter - for example is there
a way of cleaning second hand earings so they can be re-sold without
causing health problems?

Some customers just don’t seem to give a dam when I point out my
concerns and say things like oh it will be ok if I boil them or just
put them in disinfectant for a while.

Alan Lewis

I have never had the dubious honor of having to deal with this
situation, so I asked my wife for her input. She’s an RN and an
health agent, and her immediate reaction to the question about
bloody jewelry was “wear at least latex gloves!” As we have them in
the studio that doesn’t represent any hardship. She asked me to
respond to the post, and encourage everyone to be most careful about
this, as it is a very serious health issue.

Jim Small
Small Wonders

In London some fine jewelers still wear white cotton gloves when
handling all jewelry. It stops skin oils from contaminating polished
surfaces - there’s a lot less cleaning to be done- and harks back to
the days when butlers never touched anything that belonged to their
employers (in their sight) but always took things on a tray or into

It still shows respect. A pair of surgical latex gloves can easily
be worn inside white cotton if you have to handle suspect items in
the presence of a client and should cause no offense - except perhaps
in the case of those customers who have a guilty conscience.

Tony Konrath

This is some thing I can’t get over , myself. I usually ask them if
they really think I want their spitty old ring? Then I pick it up
with a towel. I don’t get it, why would someone hand you a spit on
ANYTHING? It always shocks me, then I laugh…at them.
Sam Patania, Tucson


is there a way of cleaning second hand earings so they can be
re-sold without causing health problems? 

Frankly, if handling dirty jewelry or buying “estate jewelry” was a
real health hazard, there would be people suffering illnesses and we
would see epidemiological studies to support the concern. Jewelers
would be exhibiting maladies common to the trade such as frequent
infections on the hand. You would be warned about wearing someone
else’s ring as you were warned about not sharing combs. I simply
have not seen evidence of people becoming ill as a result of
handling or wearing someone else’s jewelry - in public health
parlance: “where are the dead bodies?”

NOTE:	Certainly those who handle or literally put on jewelry

covered with pus or skin flakes (scabies mite infection), are
exposing themselves. In such case, jewelry would definitely be a
fomite and could transfer pathogens. As a general rule though,
pathogenic bacteria and viruses simply do not live on clean, hard,
dry metal surfaces and only a few might survive if the surface was
moist and warm. (The only exception to this of which I am aware is
the prion of BSE & Creutzfeld-Jacob disease fame. It seems to
survive sterilization procedures! But then, we don’t ingest jewelry
or use it in brain surgery.)

 If the jewelry is cleaned immediately to remove the organics and

grime, pathogenic spores can’t form and pathogens are removed. A
good thorough cleaning (ultrasonic and steamer) is the smart thing to
do. Let common sense rule. Judy in Kansas

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Biological and Agricultural Engineering
237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936

Judy-- If I may, I’d like to take advantage of your biology

I’ve tried to find out the nature and extent of the dangers of
sea-life-based materials, such as pearls and shells, when they are
ground. I’ve heard “if it was alive, it can kill you”, and anecdotes
(“I knew a guy who knew pearls, and he said…”), but nothing I
could consider authoritative. I have a colleague who periodically
grinds pearl and MOP materials in our common studio. Also, I like to
do cuttlefish casting with my students. Can you tell me whether
we’re putting ourselves at risk? Or how to find out–really? Thanks!