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Working with cinnabar

Hi All! I have a question about the material Cinnabar. A customer of
mine gave me two earrings and a ring with carved “cinnabar”. Customer
told me what it was and where she got it. I was doing a repair, but
first wanted to clean the piece. I will remove the stones from the
piece before working on it. The problem comes when I used normal
ultrasonic solution, soaked the piece for about 5 minutes without
turning the ultrasonic on, and then scrubbed with a toothbrush. The
"cinnabar" softened and seemed like rubber, indented with my
fingernail and is essentially ruined. I looked up cinnabar, and it is
a mineral is it not? Should this have happened? I spoke with the
customer and she was very unhappy, like I should have known it would
do this.

Any help?
Mary Elizabeth

True cinnabar is a mineral-mercury sulphide and is highly toxic.
Cinnabar jewellery is chinese laquer that is carved but of the same
red colour hence the use of the name. A very short blast in distilled
water in the ultrasonic will clean any piece but I would avoid any
solvent and prolonged soaking in anything as it will soften the
laquer as you have seen. The plus side is the modern cinnabar laquer
jewellery is quite cheap but you may come across an antique piece now
and again.


actual cinnabar is rare usually it is plastic but should it be truly

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry

Cinnabar is the ore for mercury. It is very soft. Mercury is
recovered by heating the ore qnd condensing the vapors. It is not the
safest thing to play with.


Mary Elizabeth-

Cinnabar is a mineral, but that is probably not what you have, Some
oriental artwork uses the term “cinnabar” for a red lacquer used in
frames, boxes, etc. From your experience, it sounds like the
lacquer. The term “Chinese red” also refers to this red color.

The mineral cinnabar is very soft, brittle, rather uncommon, and not
useful in jewelry. I do have some quartz I collected near a mercury
mining area in California in which numerous small red specks are
scattered on a blue-gray background, but that is very different from
the pieces you are dealing with.

Your experience sounds like some unfortunate miscommunication. I
wish I could help more.

-Dick Davies

Your OOPS! it is a a mineral but the items made from it are not solid
in the normal sense. Since it is layered on a brass,copper,base. Like
paint and let dry, true old time Cinnabar items vases ect had 135 or
more layers to build up the thickness. Then they were craved. the
cinnabar which is an ore of mercury is mixed with Chinese
lacquer.(true style) The cheaper stuff was mixed with a binder and
molded with the impression or cravings on it. The last pieces I
purchased were in Hong Kong in the early 70’s two real style vases
and some molded snuff bottles with jade toppers to show the
difference. You can generally tell because the molded stuff doesn’t
have the clear, sharp,lines of the real deal. Since there is no way
of knowing what is the binder, Other than if it softens in a water
base it is a water base, and if it softens in solvent base it is a
solvent binder.

been there done that !

Dear Mary Elizabeth,

Let me give you some helpful hints as I create a number of jewelry
designs with cinnabar. Unfortunately, it’s after the mishap. Most
cinnabar on the market today is lacquer layered about 40 layers
thick, then carved or pressed w/ a design. You were correct to remove
the “stone” before repairing the piece. Next time, use the ultrasonic
to clean off buffing compounds, THEN reset the cinnabar. I generally
use an OLD toothbrush, a capful of jewelry cleaner ( I prefer Elenar
Ammoniated made by L & R Manufacturing- sold by Rio Grande, by the
way) mixed in a dish w/ warm water. Rinse well in clean water and
blot face down on an old towel. If you get a white, soapy residue
left in the carving, take a q-tip & clean w/Goo Gone, then rinse well
and blot again on that old ratty towel. If you have to touch up
around a bezel- VERY CAREFULLY and SLOWLY use a pink polishing wheel
on your flex shaft. If necessary, stick your fingernail over the
cinnabar to protect it. I’d rather polish my fingernail than destroy
the cinnabar.

I’ve been making bezel set cinnabar jewelry for over 15 years. Hope
this helps.

Ruthie Cohen