According to Ian Hadassin, CEO of the Jewellers Association of Australia, people forget that jewellery is fragile. “They take it for granted and think it can withstand almost anything, but jewellery can be damaged if it is not cared for properly. We appeal to consumers to look after their jewellery.”
Gold items get scratched, particularly those that are worn every day. Hadassin says gold rings and bracelets – bangles in particular – are most susceptible to being damaged. “If you’re wearing a bangle or a ring you’re going to be knocking it occasionally, and that’s going to scratch the gold, which is not very hard.” The only way to fix scratches is to have the jewellery polished, taking off a very fine layer of gold, by a professional every couple of years.
White gold is a different story. Because it doesn’t tend to be particularly bright, most is rhodium-plated. As a result, Hadassin says the plating on a ring or bangle may come off within three to five years. “It depends on the quality of plating."
As much of the white gold sold in Australia is imported, how much you pay for your jewellery and where it comes from can make a difference.
Because they don’t tend to get knocked about as much, necklaces and earrings don’t require polishing, and cleaning is usually sufficient. “You can often rinse it in soapy water and dry it off with a soft towel and tissue,” says Hadassin. “Depending on the type of jewellery, you can clean it yourself.”
Precious and semi-precious stones
Precious and semi-precious stones have varying characteristics and may suffer from incorrect care. Diamonds and many other stones are relatively easy to clean with a toothbrush dipped in soapy water. However, turquoise, amber, coral, and opal doublets and triplets should never come into contact with water. Hadassin also warns, “Water can affect glue. Any stone that is glued into place in an item of jewellery [as opposed to being held in place by metal claws or a bezel] should not come into contact with water.”
You can also take diamond pieces to a jeweller to be steam-cleaned or placed in an ultrasonic cleaner. But according to Hadassin, “you have to be very careful with some coloured stones because they can’t take the heat”.
Amber, emeralds, garnets, jade, opals, pearls, peridots and rubies should never be put into ultrasonic machines or steam-cleaned.
Stones set in jewellery can be vulnerable, and as a result jewels can fall out and get lost. Hadassin says settings should be professionally checked every one to two years in rings and bracelets, as gold can wear down, pieces might be bumped or scraped and settings loosened as a result.
Jewels vs perfume
Jewellery and perfume don’t mix well; you should apply perfume before putting jewellery on. “If you wear a lot of perfume, rinse off or wipe jewellery after you’ve worn it because it could affect the stone and even gold,” says Hadassin. Pearls and perfume are a particularly bad combination. “Perfume affects pearls quite badly, and once damaged they can’t be repaired. If you’re wearing a pearl necklace, don’t wear perfume on your neck. Every time you take off a pearl necklace, you should wipe it gently. Gold you can always repair and diamonds are quite hardy, but if perfume starts to eat into a pearl, you have to replace it.”
How to store jewellery safely
Jewellery can last a long time if well cared-for and thoughtfully purchased. However, “you can’t expect items that have moving parts which rub together to last a lifetime,” says Hadassin. “For example, necklaces with links will rub together and get thinner and thinner, and if they start out extremely thin, they won’t take long to wear through. Thick links last longer.”
Jewellery can be stored in zip-lock plastic bags, tissue paper, or their original gift boxes. “Don’t let jewellery rub against other jewellery. Stones can be scratched, and diamonds in particular will scratch other stones.”
Costume jewellery can be particularly susceptible to damage, as plastic, glass and wood tend to be less hardy materials than precious metal and stones. It should be stored in a dry location without direct sunlight.
To prevent oxidisation and discolouration, metal jewellery can be stored in zip-lock bags. Costume jewellery should also be kept away from perfume. To clean, use warm water and a cloth or toothbrush, and ensure the piece is dried thoroughly before being stored.