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Whether you've obtained your fine jewelry through marriage, death, charm, or persistence, here are some care and maintenance guidelines to keep it healthy and shiny.

  • "Everyday rings collect film caused by cosmetics, soap, and body oil," says Leann Feldt, goldsmith and co-owner of Noble Metals in Madison, Wis. Remove rings when doing routine household chores, when showering, washing your hands, or applying lotion.
  • To avoid chips or cracks, the American Gem Society (AGS), Las Vegas, recommends that you remove rings when doing any type of rough work, such as gardening, working with hand tools, or participating in sports.
  • Put on jewelry after you apply makeup and hair spray.
  • To avoid crinks and breaks, don't wear gold chains or other necklaces to bed.

  • "Clean your diamond ring at least once a month at home," says Feldt. "Soak it for a half hour in a solution of one part mild detergent, one part household ammonia, and three parts water." According to the AGS, this cleaning solution works especially well for other stones including alexandrite, amethyst, aquamarine, citrine, garnet, moonstone, ruby, sapphire, spinel, tanzanite, topaz, tourmaline, and zircon.
           Use a soft toothbrush to clean the stone and its setting, getting between and underneath the prongs. Rinse jewelry in clean water and dry with a lint-free cloth. Feldt cautions against soaking jewelry in bleach, and says it's best to avoid wearing jewelry--including gold chains--in salt or chlorinated water.
  • Home ultrasonic cleaning devices are best suited for karat gold jewelry without gemstones, according to the AGS. If you use a home ultrasonic cleaner for diamonds or other gemstones, have a professional check them once or twice a year because intense vibrations may loosen stones.
           Some gems require more delicate care. For example, the AGS discourages the use of home ultrasonic cleaners or even soap and water for amber, coral, emerald, jade, kunzite, lapis lazuli, opal, or turquoise. These stones are best cleaned by wiping gently--before and after wearing--with a special jewelry cloth or even an inexpensive soft chamois cloth available at hardware stores.
  • When cleaning sterling silver, Jewelers of America, Inc., New York, recommends using a mild soap-and-water solution; once the water beads upon the surface, pat dry with a soft cloth. Don't rub silver with anything other than a felt or polishing cloth; tissue paper or paper towels can scratch silver.
  • As a general rule, check with your jeweler before using a home or commercial cleaning product on fine jewelry.

"When you clean your jewelry, check the stone for chips or cracks," says Feldt. To make sure the prongs are secure, have your jewelry professionally inspected about once every six months for mounted stones, and about once a year for lower mountings such as a bezel or channel setting.

  • To prevent scratches, Jewelers of America, Inc. recommends storing jewelry in a fabric-lined jewelry case or in a box with separate compartments.
  • To avoid tarnishing, don't store your sterling silver in leather, Feldt cautions. Instead, drop an antitarnish strip into a jewelry bag with your silver. To polish, gently rub the piece with a jewelry polishing cloth.
  • Safely store chains by laying flat on a dresser top or by hanging from a peg or hook.

It's important to establish a trusting relationship with a jeweler, just as you would with your doctor, lawyer, or auto mechanic.
  • Get recommendations from friends, family or co-workers.
  • Find out how long the store's been in business or ask about the jeweler's professional training, affiliations, and experience.
  • Ask if the owner does the repair work, because he or she has a personal stake in the quality of repair and repeat business, advises Feldt.
  • Start small so you can evaluate the quality of the work. If you bring in a broken chain for repair, for example, check to see how it looks after it's finished. "Is the design cohesive," asks Feldt, "or is there a solid stretch of stiffness where the chain was soldered?"
  • When in doubt, ask plenty of questions and ask to see the problem under magnification.
  • "Consider working with a jeweler who does the repairs on-site," says Feldt. "Some jewelry stores that send repairs outside may not understand what's involved in repairing something."
  • Don't insist on having repairs or remounting done while you wait. "Properly repairing jewelry may take some time," says Feldt. Some people may fear that if they leave their jewelry, an unscrupulous jeweler may switch their stones. "If someone wants to switch stones, they can learn to do it right before your eyes," Feldt says. If you're working with a jeweler you can trust, this won't be an issue.
  • Get an estimate on repairs and ask any questions you have, such as who keeps the metal if you have a ring sized down. According to Feldt, the jeweler keeps the metal when a ring is sized.
  • Make sure your fine jewelry is insured. Check your homeowners policy to check on coverage, policy limits, deductibles, and repair and replacement options. You may have to buy a special rider to cover pieces valued at more than $1,000. If you have a repair or replacement policy, find out if you have a choice as to which jeweler gets the business. Many consumers prefer to work with a jeweler they know and trust.

Here's the Mohs' Scale of hardness for a variety of popular gemstones. The higher the number, the harder the gem. A stone with a high number will scratch a stone with a lower number.
Aquamarine 8
Amethyst 7
Coral  3
Diamond 10
Emerald  8
Garnet  7
Ivory  2
Jade  6
Onyx  7
Opal  6
Pearl  3
Sapphire  9
Turquoise  6

Compare with hardness of:

Fingernail 2.5
Copper  3
Window glass  5.5
Knife blade  6
Silicon carbide  9

Source: "The Complete Metalsmith" (ISBN 0-87192-240-1) by Tim McCreight

Pearls are extremely soft and require special care:
  • Put on pearls with clean hands after you apply cosmetics, hair spray, lotions, and perfume.
  • After wearing, wash pearls in a solution of mild soap and water or wipe with a soft flannel cloth to remove all traces of perfume, cosmetics, or hair spray, which can cause yellowing.
  • Have pearls strung with a knot between each pearl to prevent loss if the string breaks.
  • Cosmetics and wear weaken and stretch the threads on which pearls are strung. Depending on the level of wear, have your pearls restrung every 18 to 24 months. When in doubt, check to see how easily the pearls move back and forth between knots. If they're loose, it's time for restringing.
  • Don't toss pearls unprotected in your purse or into a jewelry box where they can be scratched by hard metal edges or harder stones; store in soft material, such as chamois bag or tissue.
Source: Noble Metals

Columnist Franny Van Nevel is a consumer advocate and writer. She formerly was director of consumer information for the Wisconsin attorney general's office for 12 years, and is a frequent contributor to Woman's Day.

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