How to Clean Antique Jewellery
It’s important to maintain your antique jewellery and keep it in the best condition possible. This will help it to retain its value, as well as preserving a piece of history for generations to come. When jewellery is properly looked after, its lifetime is extended and its value is maximised.
Whilst some cleaning procedures like ultrasonic jewellery cleaning shouldn’t be attempted at home, others are deemed perfectly safe and shouldn’t damage your precious item if done correctly and cautiously.
Before you get started though, consider the material, shape and age of the jewellery piece before getting started. How you will treat a silver diamond ring is different to how you would treat gold pearl earrings.
How to clean antique jewellery
Pieces of antique jewellery – from any era – should be cleaned often to keep them looking its best. Harder stones like sapphires, diamonds and rubies can be cleaned at home but softer stones like pearls should be cleaned professionally as they can easily be damaged by chemicals or even water.
If you’re not sure whether you should be cleaning your antique jewellery yourself, seek expert advice or just visit a professional. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
The chemical composition of different metal varies, so the effect of certain solutions on gold, versus silver or platinum, for instance, will be different too. Every cleaning solution should be carefully considered and researched. Do not try out a new cleaning solution idea on a whim – if you do, you risk destroying your antique jewellery. If you choose to go with a professional cleaning solution, check the instructions and research reviews of the brand.
In most cases, if there are no gemstones on the piece, gentle dishwashing soap and water can be used to clean it. Diamonds, sapphires and rubies can take heat and be cleaned using more powerful solutions – but as a rule of thumb, leave this to the experts.
Once you’ve cleaned your jewellery piece, the final step is to make sure it’s completely dry. If any liquid is left on the piece it could be damaging to the metal in the long term, and moisture can be bad for certain gemstones too.
To ensure the whole piece is dry after you’ve cleaned it, leave it upside down for 15 minutes on a soft towel.
How to clean antique silver jewellery
Silver is a soft metal, and it can be easily scratched. It’s important to look after silver jewellery well, but care doesn’t stop there – you should also store and clean your antique silver jewellery properly too.
The purity of the metal determines how malleable the silver is, and how quickly it will tarnish: 0.950 sterling silver will bend more easily and tarnish more quickly than .925 sterling silver because of its increased purity.
When oxygen and sulphur come into contact with silver, they can bond to its surface and result in the surface becoming discoloured.
Cleaning silver jewellery at home
If you have a piece of silver jewellery that you think is suitable for home cleaning, you should be able to use warm water and dishwashing soap to remove any tarnishing.
To remove any leftover tarnish, you can make a paste of baking soda and water and then use a clean cloth to apply a small amount to your jewellery and use that with a soft toothbrush to polish into the crevices. Once you’re done, rinse with warm water.
How to polish antique silver jewellery
Once silver jewellery is clean, keeping it polished will make sure it looks its best. Polish antique silver jewellery using the following steps:
- Use a silver cloth to polish items, or if you don’t have one, a microfibre cloth will do
- Avoid using paper towels or tissues as these can scratch
- Use long back and forth motions that mirror the grain of the silver
- Do not rub in circles, this will magnify any tiny scratches
- Use different parts of the cloth so that you don’t re-tarnish the silver
- Use a cotton bud to get into small areas
- Silver can also be professionally cleaned
- Antique or valuable pieces should always be cleaned by a professional
Preventing silver jewellery tarnishing
The oils in your skin will prevent tarnish on silver, so silver jewellery should be worn often to prevent it. Avoid exposure with household chemicals, sweat, chlorinated water, and even natural substances and food that contains sulphur, like eggs, mayonnaise, mustard and onions.
You should also:
- Remove jewellery before doing household cleaning tasks
- Remove jewellery before going swimming or sunbathing
- Put jewellery on last: it won’t react well to cosmetics or hair products
- Store it in airtight bags to prevent air tarnishing
How to clean antique gold jewellery
Gold jewellery is described as either pure gold or gold alloy. Pure gold relates to gold that is 24 karat – if the piece is less than 24 karats it will be mixed with other alloys to increase its hardness and durability. Although pure gold is more expensive, gold alloy increases the metal’s longevity and prevents damage.
Cleaning gold jewellery at home
Gold doesn’t tarnish, so it is generally a lot easier to clean than silver. First, rinse the jewellery gently under a flow of warm water. Then use a soft toothbrush to dislodge any dirt or gently scrub. If it still needs a further clean, use mild dish soap and wipe it on the item with a cloth, let it sit for a few minutes, and then use the brush on it again, and rinse. Unlike silver, you should not use a homemade baking soda solution on gold jewellery.
Preventing damage to gold jewellery
It’s important that gold jewellery is well looked after during wear, storage and cleaning. If your jewellery has gemstones, we recommend that it is cleaned by an expert to prevent them from coming loose. Otherwise, to prevent damage to gold jewellery you should:
- Remove jewellery before exercise
- Remove jewellery before cleaning or bathing
- Remove jewellery before coming into contact with chlorine or hair dye
Cleaning an antique diamond ring
Few things are as beautiful as a sparkling diamond ring – but sometimes a good clean is required to get them back to their best.
To dislodge dirt from a diamond ring, put the ring in a tea strainer and let it sit in a mix of carbonated water with washing up liquid, before using a soft toothbrush to gently work at it.
Never use chemicals like bleach or chlorine with gold. Do not use baking soda or powder cleaners. And remember, if in doubt, take it to a professional jeweller to be cleaned by an expert.