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How to care for antique jewellery

Top tips on how to properly care for your antique jewellery and keep it looking clean and new

If you’ve invested in antique jewellery, then you are in possession of a little piece of history. To be classed as ‘antique’, the piece must be 100 years old or more.

That jewellery has had quite the journey to reach you and has likely adorned many a person’s hand or neckline. Not only do you have the pleasure of being the next owner, you have the responsibility to maintain the piece so that it can survive another few hundred years. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways in which you can clean and care for your antique jewellery.

Antique silver

Silver is a popular choice of metal in jewellery, but it is a soft metal and notorious for tarnishing. Tarnishing leaves the metal looking dull, almost like a film has settled over it. It can also change the colour to darker shades.

AC Silver has some top tips for cleaning silverware and silver jewellery. A good silver polish will prevent the item from tarnishing, but there are a few cleaning methods you can use to remove any current tarnish build-up:

  • Use a soft toothbrush to clean any crevices
  • A few drops of mild dish soap in hot water will help clean silver
  • Always use a soft cloth, to avoid scratching the silver
  • Avoid soaking silver for a prolonged period of time, as this can cause damage

Also, using or wearing silver actually reduce tarnishing! So, if you’re not going to wear the jewellery in question for a while, pop it in a protective silver storage bag. Don’t store it near stainless steel, as this can also damage silver.

If your antique silver has heavy tarnishing, hot water and dish soap might not be enough. Instead, whip up this paste from Good Housekeeping by:

  • Mixing three parts bicarbonate of soda with one part water
  • Use a soft cloth to apply the paste
  • Work into the crevices, using a soft toothbrush if needed
  • When the paste turns grey, rinse then buff dry

Top tip: AC Silver recommends covering the hallmark on antique silver with a little sticky tape before polishing or cleaning. This prevents the soft silver from wearing down and distorting that all-important hallmark.

Antique gold

Like silver, gold is a soft metal that scratches and bends quite easily. In fact, gold becomes softer the purer it is, and 24 carat gold is one of the softest metals in the world. High carat golds won’t usually suffer discolouration from contact with household chemicals, but it’s still recommended to remove gold rings before, say, washing up or cleaning the house.

You can clean gold quite easily with some warm, soapy water and a soft toothbrush. Like silver, it’s recommended that you invest in gold cleaning-specific products too, and don’t rely on just household cleaning techniques. The latter are good for maintenance, but products designed to polish and clean metals will help protect them.

White gold

White gold is treated similarly to gold — a nice, simple polish with a soft cloth will keep white gold jewellery clean, and a little soapy water for a deeper clean. White gold can be soaked for up to 30 minutes in soapy water.

Top tip: Good Housekeeping suggests using a small strainer to pop your gold jewellery into, before submerging that into a bowl of warm, soapy water.

Antique platinum

Platinum is a much stronger metal than silver or gold. But that doesn’t mean it’s indestructible! This lustrous metal still needs care and attention and, depending on your personal tastes, different methods of cleaning.

You see, over time, platinum develops a patina. If you have a piece of antique platinum jewellery, the platinum likely already has a patina developed. Some people love this look, as it adds character to the older piece.

But if you want to restore a little lustre to your platinum, feel free to use a similar technique as your gold and silver cleaning — a drop of mild washing up liquid, warm water, and a soft toothbrush! Unlike silver, you can soak the more durable platinum in this solution for around 30 to 40 minutes before scrubbing lightly with a soft toothbrush.

Remember to rinse it after in clean water, and dry it with a soft cloth.

Antiques with gemstones

If you have antique jewellery with gemstones set in it, then it’s wise to be aware of the various softness in regards to gemstones.

We all know diamond is exceptionally tough, but did you know just how soft amber is? Pearls are also very soft, and require a delicate touch when it comes to cleaning them. Lapis lazuli and opal are a little more durable than amber, but still relatively soft compared to other gemstones.

When cleaning jewellery with gemstones in, always be aware that they can fall out of their setting. Use a bowl or container to clean any jewellery, particularly gemstone jewellery, to avoid losing anything down the sink. Again, a soft toothbrush is a wise move for cleaning around the delicate setting, but if you see the gemstone moving or loosening, take it to your jeweller to repair it.

You’ll want to avoid using a cloth here, as the threads can catch on the claws of a gemstone setting. Try an artist’s brush instead to sweep carefully around a clasp.

Specifically for pearls, using a soft make-up brush dipped in warm water and a drop of shampoo to clean them up helps restore their shine and sheen. You don’t want to soak pearls, as they are porous by nature.

Follow these steps and keep your antiques clean and protected. After all, they’ve come a long way, and deserve all the care and attention in the world.

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