How to Clean Sterling Silver Jewellery and Gemstones
Top Tips for Cleaning Silver and Gemstones
Looking after your sterling silver and gemstone jewellery correctly will ensure your favourite pieces remain in pristine condition for longer and when cleaning does become necessary, it will be quick and very straight forward. Here's our top tips for cleaning sterling silver and gemstone jewellery.
Keep Silver Jewellery and Gemstones Covered
Always store silver and gemstone jewellery somewhere cool, dry, dark and if possible on something soft. Keeping it covered with some fabric or placing each piece in a pouch will help to protect the metal and stones from scratches and marks. Sterling silver is very soft so will mark easily especially if it rubs against something hard like the side or bottom of the container in which it's being stored or even against another piece of jewellery. Gemstones can also scratch quite easily some more than others which is why it's so important to keep them covered whenever they're not being worn.
How Silver and Stones Become Scratched
A system created in 1812 known as Mohs scale of mineral hardness is still widely used today and measures the scratch resistance of one mineral when compared against another. Through a grading system Mohs scale gives all known minerals a number between one and ten with talc (from which talcum powder is produced) being the softest so it grades 1 and diamond which is the hardest mineral known to man grading 10. Silver grades just 2½ which means it can be scratched by any material that's harder. The mineral turquoise grades 5 and quartz grades 7 on Mohs scale of mineral hardness so sterling silver is likely to become scratched if it rubs against either of these gemstones. Likewise a piece of turquoise may also become scratched if it rubs against the gemstone topaz which grades 8. Any mineral can be scratched by another which has the same or a higher number on the scale
Sterling Silver will Tarnish
If sterling silver jewellery is not looked after carefully it will quickly begin to tarnish but it may surprise you to know that pure silver is highly tarnish resistant. The tarnish is in fact caused by other metals that have been used as alloys in the sterling silver which make it strong enough to be used for jewellery. The tarnish which is a brown tea-like stain that appears on the surface of the metal is caused by pollutants in the atmosphere and the process is similar to what happens to an apple if not eaten soon after being peeled. Humidity, heat and bright sunlight can further contribute to the build up of tarnish but the brown stains can usually be easily removed with a soft lint free cloth. When cleaning sterling silver jewellery try to avoid using a chemical solution because over time these can leave marks which may be difficult to remove. Where silver is heavily tarnished try initially to remove it with a good quality silver polishing cloth but if unsuccessful, you may have no choice but to use a silver dip. Prevention is always better than cure but tarnish doesn't cause any long-term damage, it's simply a film that covers the surface of the metal. With that said the more tarnish that's present the more challenging it will be to remove it. If you do use a chemical solution choose a good quality product and only dip the sterling silver in for a few seconds and then dry it immediately with a soft cloth. A silver polishing cloth should then be used to remove any remaining tarnish. Chemical solutions should never be used on jewellery that features gemstones. Try to avoid using a brush or any kind of abrasive because you'll almost certainly end up with fine scratch marks especially if the abrasive is harder than the mineral.
Corrosives affect Silver and Stones
Always remove jewellery before going swimming because chlorine which is a corrosive is likely to cause some damage to sterling silver and gemstones. Salt is also a corrosive and as well as being present in sea water is also present in sweat so its also a good idea to remove or cover silver jewellery and gemstones before doing high levels of exercise. Jewellery should also be removed if using a sauna because the combination of heat, salt and moisture will almost certainly leave permanent marks and in some cases, gemstone may even crack or change colour. Household detergents can also leave marks on sterling 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. If rings are removed before washing your hands don't be tempted to place them on the side as there's a good chance you'll forget about them. Either hold them in your mouth or pop them in your bag. Try not to put them in pockets because if you forget to take them out and then sit down, they may well end up being squashed which may result in gemstones becoming loose. Remember silver is a very soft metal.
How to Look after Gemstones
Crystals, rocks and minerals have evolved over millions of years but if not looked after properly they can become damaged in no time at all. Most people think of stones as being hard and resilient but that's not always the case. If a turquoise gemstone is placed alongside a sapphire it may well become scratched because the mineral corundum is considerably harder than turquoise. Other gemstones to be aware of are chrysocolla which is very soft so it will chip or crack quite easily and malachite which as well as being soft is also porous hence may mark if allowed to get wet. Amethyst, emerald, opal, certain colours of tourmaline and almost all shades of turquoise are known to fade or change colour if exposed to excessive heat and garnet, tanzanite, peridot, quartz and topaz are likely to crack if exposed to sudden or extreme temperature changes. The use of perfumes, hairspray and cosmetics may also cause damage to certain gemstones because most leave a residue that may result in a mark if not wiped off immediately. Turquoise is a particularly fragile stone that's known to dehydrate and could even crack if it comes into contact with these or similar products. Try to wipe sterling silver and gemstones with a soft lint free cloth before putting them away to remove any pollutants that may have accumulated on the surface.
Having some basic knowledge about how to look after sterling silver and gemstone jewellery is paramount if you want to ensure your pieces remain in tip top condition. If well looked after jewellery should only need to be cleaned very rarely and the process should be quick and straightforward. Knowing how to clean silver jewellery and gemstones correctly is very important so it's always a good idea to do some research before you start. Whilst doing that remember that anyone with access to the internet can post articles online and not everything that you read will be accurate. Try to look at a few different articles and cross reference the information carefully because what may initially seem to be harmless, may end up causing permanent damage to a much loved piece of jewellery.