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Cleaning Antique and Vintage Jewelry

There is something magical about the innovation and uniqueness of antique, estate and vintage jewelry;  they are captivating, romantic, and each object tells a story about the era in which it was made. Some pieces come with provenance or current ownership which tells a personal story. Collectors love antique and estate pieces for their beauty but you will need to know a few basic maintenance tips as well as when to seek professional help.

Vintage Taxco Mexico 3 pc Parure - Silver and Amethyst Cabochon


Modern Fine & Estate Jewelry

Modern fine and some estate jewelry can be gently hand-cleaned at home. For post-20th century jewelry pieces that are mounted in platinum, gold or silver and have modern, open-back settings, use a soft toothbrush and very light solution of dish detergent and warm water may do the trick. But, if there is any question as to the age of an estate, or second-hand item, take it to a trusted professional to find out if DIY cleaning is advisable.


1) Never clean an item if it has any damage or irregularity in the settings or loose gemstones. All repairs must be made prior to cleaning.

2) When cleaning jewelry with a soft toothbrush and a light dish detergent mixture, use light strokes in and around the gemstones and on the metal. Never scrub.

3) Tarnish can be removed from sterling pieces by using a small amount of MAAS silver polish and a soft cloth. Once the tarnish is removed, wash off the polish by hand with the light detergent mix.  IF there are natural stones in the silver, a polishing solution can affect the finish and color, so tread carefully or have it professionally cleaned.


1950's Gold, Diamond and Pearl Brooch


Cleaning Antique Jewelry Requires a Professional

“Antique” technically means the piece is more than one hundred years old. If antique jewelry is over-cleaned, the piece could get damaged or ruined and its value could drop significantly. Both antique and some estate jewelry are very delicate and require the professional skills of a reputable jeweler to maintain it.  Its a good idea to invest in a jewelers loop to inspect the item yourself to make  determination as to the stone setting and if any appear loose. 


1) If the gemstones are mounted in closed-back settings that are lined in foil, immersing them in water will damage the foiling and the gems will appear dark and dull and over time yellow.

2) Another delicate jewelry technique found in antique pieces is enamel. Its glass-like surface can be scratched or damaged by too much scrubbing, even with a soft toothbrush.

3) If gemstones are loose in their settings, DIY cleaning can result in loss.

4) The mechanical elements of these pieces, for example clasps, pin stems, and bails, can be bent or broken if held or pinched improperly during a cleaning.   


Antique Garnet and Seed Pearl Brooch 


Organic & Soft Materials Need Special Care

Certain organic materials like amber, coral, and pearl are used in place of gemstones in jewelry. Much of this material is soft and requires hand cleaning. To keep these pieces looking their best, follow some simple rules.


1) Keep perfume, make-up, and facial creams away from pearls, turquoise, and coral. These porous materials will darken or discolor when exposed to chemicals, perfumes, and oils.

2) Clean pearls separately with a light detergent mix and allow them to dry on a clean towel. Leave pearl strands on a towel until completely dry.  Important note - the silk thread used to string them will stretch when wet.

3) Never immerse wood jewelry in water. Clean it with bees wax instead—the scent is organic and amazing.

Mid Century Modern Amber Necklace 


Keeping Costume Jewelry Sparkling

For costume jewelry, first determine if the crystals in the piece are set in open- or closed-back mountings. Flip the piece over to see if you can see the bottom of the gemstone as it sits in its setting. If you can, it’s an open-back setting.


1) If the crystals are set in open-back mounting without foiling, you can gently clean them with a soft toothbrush and light detergent mix.

2) A lot of crystal jewelry is foiled and set in a closed-back mounting: they can’t be immersed in water, ever. Just wipe with a soft cloth after each wearing to remove make-up, oils, or perfume.

Un-Signed Julianna Demi-Parure 


When Condition is Everything, Storage is Key

Proper jewelry storage is the easiest and most effective way to maintain your jewelry in prime condition. There are a wide variety of storage ideas available, from expensive cases and armoires to creative drawer arrangements that not only delight the eye but also give cast-off containers a clever re-purposing.


1) Necklaces and bracelets are probably the most difficult jewel to store properly because they can be cumbersome or get knotted.

2) If you have the original box, use it. Can’t see inside the box? Try taking a picture of the necklace, print it out and tape it to the box.

3) Love seeing an array of options when getting dressed? DIY: go to an art supply store that carries top-loading floating frames (they have hinges). Open the frame, and line it with cotton batting. If you prefer a more finished look, cover the cotton batting with a piece of decorative fabric.

Lay your necklace on top of the batting and secure to the batting with a safety pin, stick pin or U-pin. The frame can then be hung on the wall, or stored in a drawer of your closet; all you have to do is take it out without rummaging through boxes.

4) If you’re on a budget, plastic baggies will do nicely. Professional jewelers keep much of their pieces in small, thick, re-sealable plastic bags that come in a variety of sizes and you can purchase these online or at a crafts store. Zip-lock snack baggies from the supermarket are fine, too.

How I Hang My Necklaces - Making an Artistic Statement

Cinnabar Jewelry Box 


Notice:   This is a rough guide on how to take care of your special jewelry. We are NOT responsible for any lose or damage should you attempt any of the DIY methods above.  If in doubt, always take your precious pieces to a jeweler for assessment before doing any cleaning yourself. 

<span style=">  Source:  Invaluable