9 Useful Tips To Clean Your Precious Gemstones And Jewellery
Curating a jewellery collection is an enjoyable endeavour, a tangible way to collect meaningful mementos of special moments in life or places you’ve travelled to pass on to the next generation. But in order to ensure your pieces pass through time in good condition, it’s essential to take proper care of your jewellery. This is especially true when it comes to precious stones, which come with various characteristics that dictate a proper gemstone care routine. With some knowledge and cleaning tools that you probably already have in your kitchen, your bijouterie will be able to last as an heirloom for generations.
Why do gemstone and jewellery pieces lose their shine over time?
Gemstones and precious metals are organic materials that form from elements reacting together in the depths of the earth. As such, they are vulnerable to:
- Scratches and chips;
- Damage from exposure to harsh cleaning agents;
- Natural oil and dirt build-up on the surface;
- And fading from excessive exposure to heat or sunlight.
Stones have varying levels of porosity which can also affect their durability and appearance over time. Diamonds, sapphires, and rubies are considered non-porous as they have tightly packed crystal structures, whereas other stones like opals and pearls are typically more porous, making them more susceptible to damage from exposure to liquids, oils, or chemicals.
Even non-porous gemstones can have surface-level porosity or micro-cracks due to poor cutting or polishing techniques during manufacturing.
Tips for gemstone and jewellery care
Here are four hard and fast rules for the daily care of your fine jewellery that applies to most gemstones and types of metal.
Do not store jewellery together
A jewellery box is a sentimental way to store your regalia. But without proper compartments and dust bags, your pieces bang together, and harder gemstones may scratch softer materials. They are also subject to micro imperfections from dust and dirt settling on them, rust spreading from one piece to another, and at a greater risk of tangling. Over time, this leads to dullness, discolouration, and damage.
Take your jewellery off while doing exercise
While it can be troublesome, it’s best to remove your ornaments before exercising. This is because many metals fade or oxidise when exposed to sweat, water, and body oils. Then there’s the factor of chipping, warping, or even losing a gemstone or two during vigorous activities.
If you do keep it on while working out, the best practice is to wash with soap and water to get rid of any lingering fluids and keep your gems looking shiny. Keep in mind that there are some materials that are more resistant to sweat or water, such as stainless steel, pure gold, or diamond.
Do not wear jewellery when swimming
In a similar vein, metals and gemstones in your rings, earrings, and necklaces can be harmed by the chemicals and/or movements involved in swimming. First, the chlorine in swimming pools and seawater in the ocean can corrode and oxidise metal, respectively. At the beach, suntan lotions and oils can remove the oiling or colouring treatments sometimes used on gemstones to give them their lustre.
Chemicals to avoid while cleaning gemstones
Before discussing how to polish certain precious gems, it’s important to keep in mind what not to use when cleaning them.
- Bleach or chlorine: As mentioned, harsh chemicals such as these can degrade the surface of gems.
- Ammonia: Ammonia can cause discolouration or damage to certain gemstones, such as emeralds.
- Abrasives: Abrasives such as toothpaste or baking soda can scratch or damage the surface, especially of softer stones like opals.
- Acids: Acids such as vinegar or lemon juice can cause damage or discolouration to some gemstones, including pearls, turquoise, and lapis lazuli.
How to clean lab created diamonds and gemstones? The same rules apply to both natural and ethically created stones, since they are chemically identical.
How to clean your gemstone jewellery
Blanket advice for how to clean gemstones is putting them in warm water and some mild soap or detergent, rinsing, then rubbing gently with a microfibre cloth. In general, ultrasonic cleaners can damage or loosen stones in jewellery settings, especially those that have fractures or inclusions. However, lab grown gemstones generally have fewer imperfections than their natural counterparts because they form in carefully controlled environments, so they are safer candidates for washing using ultrasonic technology.
While this same general advice can apply to most precious stones, all gemstones have unique properties. Here are some key points to remember for how to clean gemstones; we’ve chosen some of the most popular gemstones used in jewellery.
Emeralds rank 7.5 to 8 to on the Mohs hardness scale. They are a relatively soft porous gemstone that can be easily damaged by harsh chemicals, water damage, or high heat. Heat in particular can extend existing fractures, which do frequently appear in mined emeralds.
A gentle way to clean emerald gemstones is to leave them in lukewarm water with a few drops of dish soap for a few minutes, then rinsing thoroughly and patting dry with a non-abrasive cloth. Don’t leave emeralds in hot water, subject them to sudden temperature changes, or soak them for longer than 10 minutes.
The red variety of corundum, rubies are a nine on the Mohs scale, making them (along with sapphire) the hardest stones in the world trailing after only diamonds. They are less brittle than emeralds and have no cleavage (the ability to break along internal crystal planes).
A relatively durable gemstone, you can clean a ruby using the same method explained above, using a steam cleaner, or using an ultrasonic cleaner if the stone has no significant surface imperfections or inclusions.
Sapphires are made up of the same mineral as rubies. As such, they can similarly be polished using warm water and soap, steam, or ultrasonic technology if they are free of large fractures or scratches. If your sapphire jewellery has large stains or smudges, you can gently brush these with soap and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
The hardest mineral in the world at 10 on the Mohs scale, diamonds are the most resistant to wear and tear, making them suitable for long-wear jewellery.
Diamonds can be soaked for longer in a degreasing solution (such as lukewarm water and soap mixture), up to 20–30 minutes to loosen any dirt or debris before brushing with a soft tool, rinsing, and wiping with a soft cloth. A special case, ammonia can be used to clean diamonds in the proper ratio with water (e.g. ¼ cup ammonia to 1 cup warm water).
One of the softer gemstones commonly seen in jewellery is opal, which ranks 5.5 to 6.5 on the hardness scale. You can dip a microfibre cloth dampened with a mixture of warm water and gentle dish soap to clean and restore the shine to opal stones, but it’s best to avoid soaking them in the solution.
Do not subject opal jewellery to intense sunlight or artificial lighting; the temperature change and heat can result in fractures.
Note: If you’re unsure about the best way to go about polishing a particularly delicate or valuable fine jewellery piece, we recommend you seek professional advice to avoid doing something irreversible.
Inter-Pacific is your trusted partner in lab created gemstones. We supply and source un-mined, ethically made coloured gemstones in a variety of rare hues and sizes that meet the highest standards in the gem industry. Book a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you facilitate your eco-friendly jewellery business or attain rare gemstone collectibles.
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