How to Clean Jewelry – Gemstones
If the item that you want to clean is in good shape then it is important to determine which method is best for your fine gem pieces based on the gem or gems on your piece. There is not one cleaning process that works for all gems. It’s always best to start your cleaning with the gentlest methods before trying anything stronger. The following methods are suggestions for real gemstone jewelry. Do not use these techniques on costume or rhinestone jewelry.
Peridot, blue topaz, tourmaline and tanzanite can be fragile and/or porous. Harsh cleaning solutions can enter the gem through the microscopic holes and damage the gem over time. These delicate gems need gentle cleaning. They should not be exposed to ammonia, heat, ultrasonic cleaning, or any abrasives. They can be cleaned in warm (not hot) soapy water and a clean soft bristle brush. Make sure to rinse well in cool water and allow to dry thoroughly before storing.
Opaque gemstones like jade, lapis, turquoise, malachite or onyx are essentially rocks, not crystals as in transparent gems. Like your average rock, they are porous and will absorb water, soap or any chemical you put them in. For that reason, soaking them should be avoided as they can become discolored from the soaking solution, even a mild soap and water. The best method of cleaning them is to wipe them gently with a moist cloth. Never use an ultrasonic cleaner, a brush or ammonia for cleaning them. Coral and amber are also best cleaned using this method.
Opals are hardened silica gel containing 5 to 10 percent water. Special care is needed in cleaning them to avoid drying them out. Simply wipe them gently with a moist cloth. Never use heat, an ultrasonic cleaner or ammonia when cleaning them.
Diamonds and cubic zirconia can be cleaned using a premade ammonia based cleaning solution or with a similar solution that is easy to make at home. Mix together six parts warm water and one part ammonia. Stir in a few drops of mild dish soap until suds form, and then soak jewelry for a few minutes. If the jewelry is especially dirty, allow it to soak for up to 15 minutes. Then gently scrub with a clean soft-bristle toothbrush, getting into the small areas between the gem and the setting. Rinse with warm water then lay on a soft, absorbent towel to air-dry.
An ultrasonic jewelry cleaning system uses only water (sometimes a cleaning solution) and ultrasonic energy which is transmitted into vibrating energy waves. Make sure that you select a model that uses an ultrasonic transducer as some call themselves ultrasonic cleaners but only have a motor that causes vibrations. The motion of the ultrasonic waves creates millions of microscopic bubbles in the water or cleaning solution. When the bubbles bump into the jewelry, they gently penetrate the crevices and clean them out. Gemstones that are generally safe to clean using this method are alexandrite, amethyst, aquamarine, cubic zirconia, diamonds, garnet, sapphires and quartz.
It is a common and accepted practice in the jewelry industry for emeralds and rubies to be enhanced or treated. If you know that the gems are solid, they should be fine in ultrasonic cleaners but improper cleaning can cause the gems to break apart if they have internal fractures or pits that have been filled. To be safe, it is best to clean these gemstones by swishing in a solution made up of a drop of mild dish soap in lukewarm water. Rinse and then use a soft cloth to pat the gemstone dry. Unless you are certain of the pedigree of your gems, take them to a jeweler for a more intense cleaning.
Antique and irreplaceable or sentimental jewelry should also be taken in to a qualified jeweler for cleaning. They can inspect the jewelry for needed repairs as well as use their widespread knowledge of specialized cleaning methods and chemicals which can be more effective than the methods described above. With proper cleaning and good care, your fine jewelry can be kept looking new for years to come.
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