Caring For Your Vintage Costume Jewelry
Direct sunlight, temperature extremes, and moisture are the enemies of costume jewelry and should be avoided. Moisture is especially harmful to foil-backed rhinestones and can damage them irreparably. It causes foil backs to separate from stones.
Excessive handling of jewelry should be avoided: pin backs, clasps, and other fittings should be treated gently and with care. Remember, even “newer” jewelry is decades old.
Your jewelry should be cleaned regularly and especially when you first purchase it (with one exception that I’ll discuss later). Many times, this will be the item’s first cleaning in years. I use a gentle, non acidic and nonabrasive cleaner that does not contain alcohol or ammonia. Don’t spray the cleaner directly on the jewelry because it is impossible to control where the moisture goes. Rather, I put a few drops of cleaner on a cotton swab and gently rub it over the jewelry surface. I also use plastic needle-nose pliers for working a small, tight wad of saturated cotton into hard-to-clean spots on the back of intricate pieces like clamper bracelets.
Accumulations of soil can often be found on jewelry especially where it touched the skin. This includes earring backs, the underside of bracelets, and necklaces including clasps and the length that would lay on the wearer’s neck. Over time jewelry can be compromised if not cleaned properly. The collected residue may be from make-up, body creams, dusting powder, or hair products. Any residue should be cleaned off as soon as possible after you purchase jewelry. Likewise, when you anticipate wearing a piece of jewelry from your collection, skip the cosmetics and skin creams in places where your jewelry will come into contact with your skin.
If left unattended, accumulated soil can lead to verdigris. While catsup, lemon juice, or vinegar have been touted as effective for removing it, I think none of the suggestions are a cure-all. The presence of even a small amount of verdigris is evidence the metal has been compromised. By cleaning your jewelry you may stem the progression of metal loss, but you will not prevent it. Even though we have all done it, I recommend not purchasing jewelry with verdigris. If you already have a favorite or family piece that is compromised, clean it as best you can and store it separately from your other treasures.
If you collect plastic jewelry, remember that it can crack or chip if dropped. If your collection includes copper jewelry (plain or enameled), keep in mind the following: enameled surfaces can chip or crack if dropped. And never polish copper jewelry: a chemical cleaner could strip off the varnish, leaving the copper to rust and corrode. Once this starts, it cannot be stopped.
Regular cleanings, careful handling, and dry, roomy storage will keep your costume jewelry safe and free from damage for many years.
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