When we talk about fighting fast fashion, an inherent part of that process has to be making the things we already own go the distance. Moving away from throwaway, hyperconsumption naturally requires us to slow down, and apply more care and consideration to our possessions.
We talk about this a lot in regards to our clothes, but have you thought about how you care for your jewellery too?
Unlike other accessories, which generally fall under the fashion label, jewellery sits slightly removed. We might give it a lot of consideration when getting dressed, but we can easily forget to apply the same set of conscious guidelines to our relationship with jewellery; including whether it has come from an ethical origin, and how it should be treated.
In general, the main thing to look out for is tarnishing. Tarnishing is a non-permanent, chemical change in the surface of metal. Each metal tarnishes at a different rate, darkening and dulling over time. For example: silver and brass will tarnish, 9ct and 14ct gold tarnish slowly, and high carat gold (18ct, 22ct , 24ct) platinum and niobium shouldn’t tarnish. Factors such as pollution, contact with chemicals, and care will affect how quickly metal tarnishes, so it’s important to learn how we can care for our possessions, and clean them after they’re a bit worse for wear, as tarnish doesn’t have to mean they’re gone for good.
So today, here are some guidelines for making your jewellery go the distance, just like your clothes.
– Before storing your jewellery, give it a brief clean. Things like sweat and water can affect jewellery, so wiping off pieces with a cloth before storing them will keep them looking newer for longer.
– If you can, store jewellery in a box with multiple slots/compartments to keep them separate. Alternatively, store pieces in their separate boxes to avoid scratching, tangling or breaking.
– Placement is also important for storing. Hanging necklaces and long dangling earrings prevents tangling, however pearl necklaces or pieces composed of individual beads/stones strung together should be laid flat, in order to prevent the thread from stretching. Keeping pieces like stud earrings, rings and pendants in pouches/boxes can keep them safe and prevent loss. As much as possible, if you can, place pieces separately.
– Keep jewellery in a place where they’re not exposed to direct sunlight, as well as keeping away from radiators or other heat sources. Sun can alter the colour of gems, while extreme light and heat can speed up the corrosion of pieces.
– Costume jewellery is more susceptible to oxidation when exposed to too much oxygen, or it can corrode more quickly when mixed with other jewellery. Arranging jewellery by base metal and keeping pieces stored in dark, dry, airtight conditions can all help to slow these processes down.
– When it comes to arranging by material the general rules are:
- gold plated or silver plated: store away from exposed sunlight and separate pieces to avoid scratching from other jewellery.
- gold and silver: keep in a cool dry place, stored separately from other pieces or wrapped in cloth/secured in a cloth pouch to prevent scratching.
- diamonds: keep away from other jewellery to avoid scratching, wrapped in cloth.
- pearls: lay flat, store separately.
As you can see, there’s a pretty general set of rules. Separate pieces, keep them in cool, dry, dark conditions, give them a wipe down when you take them off.
– As a general rule, put your jewellery on last and take it off first. Plated metals naturally tarnish when exposed to body oils, moisture, and chemicals. Avoid contact with harsh substances, perfume, hairspray or cosmetics. Whether moisturiser or sun screen, let it sit on your skin and put on jewellery when fully absorbed.
– If you’re doing anything that will cause you to get wet, including swimming in chlorine or saltwater or participating in activities where you’ll sweat a lot, remove your jewellery. Beyond tarnishing, chlorine can weaken the structure of gold, leading to eventual breakage, while cold water can cause your fingers to shrink, making it easier to lose rings or bracelets. Also, avoid wearing jewellery in the bath or shower.
– Avoid wearing jewellery while cooking, cleaning, doing household chores or gardening. Depending on what you’re doing, the chemicals we come into contact with can be powerful abrasives, acids or alkalines which could take the polish off your jewellery and mark the metal and stones.
– Avoid exposing jewellery to extreme heat and light when wearing, as it can lead to tarnishing or discolouration and fading of certain gemstones (kunzite for example).
– Don’t sleep in jewellery, as it can both harm you or break the jewellery as you move around in your sleep. Store it overnight and put it back on in the morning.
– Precious metals are soft, meaning they can be more easily damaged. Avoid squeezing or twisting pieces too much, and keeping them safe from scratches will avoid permanent damage.
– If you go clothes shopping, leave jewellery at home, as it’s easy to lose or damage things when changing clothes repeatedly. If you forget, take clothes off and on carefully and check you have all your pieces, including earring backs, before leaving each dressing room.
– Clear nail varnish can be used to prevent tarnishing and damage to costume jewellery, simply apply a thin coat as protection. You can also apply to the inside of rings that aren’t silver or gold to stop fingers turning green.
– Because pearls are strung, in time they’ll need to be restrung to make sure the thread doesn’t snap. Restringing every few years will prevent this from happening.
This is a major part of jewellery care, here’s all the information I was able to find on best practices.
Don’t use toothpaste
This advice is circulated heavily on the internet, however some toothpastes can include abrasive substances (including microbeads which we definitely don’t want) which could scratch the metal or stones. You don’t need it.
Don’t use solvents
You also really don’t need specialist jewellery cleaning products. Natural stones are sensitive and some conventional cleaning products can damage them.
The issue with that blue solvent that a lot of jewelry places will give you when you buy a diamond ring or something is that that’s heavily alcohol-based, so while it cuts out grease, if you’re unintentionally putting something in there like, say, an emerald, emeralds are 99.9% of the time fracture-filled, even antique stones, with an oil-based solution or newer emeralds, because that oil eventually leaks out in all cases, are filled with a polymer, which also can become [unstable], depending on how you clean a thing…
you could put yourself into a bad situation by putting them into an alcohol-based solution, so I just tell people to not use that at all and ultimately with a soft toothbrush you’re not going to hurt anything,” she added.
You don’t need special jewellery polish or cleaner, but simply a soft cloth and some simple tricks. However, because each metal is different, it also means each requires a slightly different approach to cleaning.
Copper and brass
Either briefly soak in a mixture of 4 parts vinegar and 1 part salt or dampen a sponge with lemon juice or vinegar, then sprinkle on salt and rub the jewellery. Then rinse with water and dry with a clean soft cloth.
Gold-plated or silver-plated
Polish with a dry cloth every few weeks. If your pieces become tarnished beyond your cleaning abilities, you can have items re-plated, or you can purchase a plating kit and do it yourself at home.
Mix a few drops of mild non-toxic washing up liquid and two cups of warm water (make sure to not use especially hot or freezing cold water). Soak the jewellery for 15 – 30 minutes then gently scrub with a soft-bristle toothbrush, the softer the better, to remove grime in nooks and crannies. Rinse each piece in running warm water, lightly dry with a soft cloth and allow to completely air dry on a towel before wearing.
Don’t use household silver polish! That is designed for a different purpose.
Either soak the jewellery in a mixture of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water for 15 – 30 minutes or apply the cleaning mixture to a cloth and rub. Then rinse each piece in running warm water, lightly dry with a soft cloth and allow to completely air dry on a towel before wearing.
While platinum doesn’t tarnish, it can get scratched or dirty. Cleaning with a soft toothbrush and mixture of warm water plus soap or washing up liquid should be enough to keep it looking new.
If you come into contact with anything acidic or dirty while wearing pearls, mix warm water and a very mild, non-abrasive washing up liquid or laundry detergent (use about 5ml in 1 litre). Dampen a cloth with the mixture and wipe gently to clean. Then wipe again with a damp cloth (just water) to rinse away any soap, lightly dry with a soft cloth and allow to completely air dry on a towel before wearing.
Don’t use ingredients like lemon or vinegar, as they can damage the pearls.
Soak in lukewarm water with a few drops of mild washing up liquid once or twice a week, using a soft toothbrush to gently remove any dirt. Then rinse in lukewarm water, lightly dry and leave to air dry completely before wearing.
Try cleaning using a soft cloth or a toothpick to remove any particles stuck in nooks and crannies. If a toothpick isn’t working, try a soft toothbrush for more range.
If your jewellery is particularly green, try soaking for 20 minutes in vinegar or a mixture of 1 part warm water to 1 part lemon juice. Then clean with a toothbrush, rinse in warm water, and dry with a soft cloth. However if your jewellery has items such as fake pearls or gems, avoid these acidic options as they could damage stones.
Hopefully, these tricks will help keep your jewellery clean and cared for so that as we continue to explore conscious lifestyles we’re able to do the most sustainable thing of all: continue to use what we already have. I hope these work well for you.
Have any tricks that you think I’ve missed? Let me know!