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Cleaning Silver and Gemstone Jewellery



 silver polishing cloth




1. Top Tips for Looking After Your Jewellery
2. Keep Silver and Gemstone Jewellery Covered
3. Dealing with Tarnish on Silver
4. Protect Jewellery from Corrosives
5. Gemstone Hardness Versus Toughness
6. Always Look After Your Gemstones




Top Tips for Looking After Your Jewellery

  • Some gemstones react badly to water so be careful about what advice you follow

  • Keep silver and gemstones covered when stored away

  • Silver and certain gemstones scratch very easily

  • Sunlight can cause a gemstone's colour to fade

  • Very few gemstones are tough, not even diamond 



Looking after your silver and gemstone jewellery carefully will ensure your favourite pieces remain in pristine condition for longer.  There's so much information online about how to clean silver and gemstone jewellery that it's difficult to know where to start.  Whilst some of the methods being recommended are really great others are genuinely awful and may well cause some level of damage to certain gemstones and/or the silver.

In one article that we read the author recommended dropping gold jewellery with gemstones into white vinegar and leaving it there for ten to fifteen minutes.  She then said after being removed it should be "scrubbed if necessary" with a soft bristled toothbrush.  Whilst gold will not react or corrode to vinegar many gemstones will and if it's calcite, you'll likely to find there's not much of the stone left.   

Follow our basic and straightforward tips and your silver and gemstone jewellery will remain clean and scratch and tarnish free for many years to come.



Keep Silver and Gemstone Jewellery Covered

Store your jewellery somewhere cool, dry (so not in the bathroom) and dark and if possible and on something soft.  Keeping it covered with material will protect the silver and gemstones from becoming scratched or marked. 

Silver is a very soft metal so if it rubs against something that's even slightly harder it's likely to scratch.  That could be the box in which it's being stored or another piece of jewellery.  A tool known as Mohs Scale of Mineral hardness is widely used to measure the scratch resistance of one natural mineral against another.  All known minerals are graded from 1 to 10 with 1 being the softest and 10 the hardest.  Silver grades 2.5 on the scale which means it can be scratched by another mineral with the same number or one that's higher.

Many gemstones are also very soft an example being malachite which grades 3.5 to 4.  If a malachite gemstone were to rub against a silver bracelet there's a good chance the silver will scratch.  If you have amethyst and turquoise in your collection the amethyst could scratch the turquoise because this purple variety of quartz is a much harder stone.

Scratches on silver and gemstones can be avoided simply by keeping individual pieces of jewellery separated and covered.



Dealing with Tarnish on Silver

Although sterling silver is prone to tarnishing pure silver is fairly tarnish resistant.  The reason sterling silver jewellery tarnishes is because of other metals used in the alloy particularly copper which is the industry standard.  Pure silver is too soft to be used for many household items and most jewellery so tends to be mixed with at least one other metal.  By doing this strength and durability is improved.

Tarnish which is a reddish brown substance that forms on the surface of certain metals is caused by sulphur containing gases in the atmosphere.  The process is similar to what happens to an apple if not eaten soon after being peeled.  Additional factors that contribute to the build-up of tarnish include humidity which is why silver jewellery shouldn't be kept in the bathroom, perspiration and even bright sunlight.

The good news is that tarnish is just a film that covers the top surface of the metal so doesn't cause any damage.   It can usually be easily removed with a soft lint free cloth or better still with a branded silver polishing cloth.  Where possible try to avoid using chemical solutions to clean silver jewellery because over time they can leave marks which may be difficult if not impossible to remove.  Where silver is heavily tarnished or the shape of the piece of jewellery makes using a cloth difficult you may have no choice but to use a chemical solution.

If using chemicals is the only option choose a good quality product.  Dip the sterling silver in for just a couple of seconds and then dry it immediately with a soft cloth.  A silver polishing cloth should then be used to remove any remaining tarnish.  Chemicals should never be used on jewellery with gemstones.

Be very careful if using a brush because if the bristles are too hard you'll end up with fine scratch marks on the silver.



Protect Jewellery from Corrosives

Jewellery should always be removed before using a swimming pool or jacuzzi because chlorine which is a corrosive is likely to cause some level of damage to silver and many gemstones.  Salt is also a corrosive and as well as being present in seawater it's also present in perspiration.  For that reason jewellery should preferably be removed but if not at least well covered whilst doing strenuous exercise.  It should also be removed before entering a sauna because many gemstones react to heat and some react to moisture so the combination of heat, salt and moisture is a recipe for disaster.  

Household detergents can leave marks on silver and gemstones so either wear gloves to protect rings or remove them completely.  There is some evidence to suggest that latex may speed up the rate at which silver tarnishes and many household gloves are lined with latex.

When you're out and about if you remove your rings before washing your hands don't place them on the side as there's a good chance you'll leave them behind.  Either hold them in your mouth or pop them in your bag.  Try not to put silver rings in your pocket because if you forget to take them out and then sit down they may well end up being squashed.  Remember silver is a very soft metal even after having been alloyed with copper. 

If silver is wrapped in paper, cardboard or plastic for any length of time it will tarnish due to the presence of moisture.  For this reason small packets of silica gel can often be found inside packaging because they absorb moisture.


silica gel packets



Gemstone Hardness Versus Toughness

Rocks and minerals have evolved over millions of years but if not well looked after they can become damaged very quickly.  Most people think of stones as being hard and resilient but that's not always the case.  Whilst some can be scratched more easily than others, the hardness of a gemstone mustn't be confused for toughness.  Diamond which is the hardest material known to man grades 10 on Mohs scale of mineral hardness which means it can't be scratched by any other mineral.  Not even a knife will scratch a diamond but a diamond will certainly scratch a knife. 

Just because a mineral is hard however that doesn't mean that it's strong or tough.  Pure gold grades 2.5 to 3 on Mohs scale but if you pound it with a hammer it will just get flatter and flatter.  Do the same to a diamond and you'll smash it to smithereens.



Always Look After Your Gemstones

For gemstones to be kept in pristine condition they need to be well looked after.  Chrysocolla and malachite both of which are widely used in silver jewellery are very soft so need to be handled with care.  Malachite is also porous so is likely to mark if repeatedly exposed to water.

Many gemstones including amethyst, citrine, topaz, fluorite, red spinel and turquoise to name just a few will fade or change colour completely if exposed to bright sunlight for long periods of time.  The colour of opal on the other hand is said to shine brighter in sunlight but heat can cause the stone to dry out and crack.  Many gemstones that handle heat well may crack either externally or internally if exposed to sudden temperature changes.

The mineral turquoise is a particularly fragile stone that's sensitive to heat and can crack and change colour very easily.  Contact with perfumes, hairspray and cosmetics can also cause damage if not removed quickly.  Before putting your silver and gemstone jewellery away try to wipe it with a soft lint free cloth to remove any pollutants that may have accumulated whilst they were being worn.  A lint free cloth means it doesn't give off fluff caused by fibres used in the manufacture of the material. 

Whilst most gemstones can be cleaned quite safely in warm soapy water others cannot so it's not a practice we recommend unless you have good knowledge about the gemstone you're cleaning.  Some jewellery can be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner but many gemstones will crack if cleaned in this way.

Doing research online to look for information about how to clean silver and gemstone jewellery is a great idea but remember that anyone can post articles online and not everything you read will be accurate.  Always try to read a few different articles and cross reference the information carefully because what may initially sound like a good idea, may end up causing permanent damage to a much loved piece of jewellery.

Remember when it comes to looking after silver and gemstone jewellery prevention is always better than cure. 



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