Jewellery can be made from a wide range of materials, put together in many different ways. A necklace of wooden beads and feathers may seem very different from a diamond ring, but they do have something in common - they get dirty! Jewellery can also be damaged by everyday usage and incorrect storage.
So how do you keep your jewellery looking as good as new? Well, first we need to understand a little about what our jewellery is made of and we put our jewellery through.
Most jewellery is made to decorate part of the body, and different areas of the body present different dangers to the jewellery in question. Rings on our fingers probably get more wear and tear than any other item, so if we want a ring to wear every day, it needs to be hard to resist scratching. If it is set with gemstones, they too need to be hard, as well as being fixed securely to the ring. Then there are all the other stresses and strains we place on our ring such as contact with harsh chemicals (e.g. cleaning agents, swimming pools, oil, acid, glue), UV light (sunshine) as well as the physical side (a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel or punching the dashboard). Interestingly enough the one place where our jewellery gets the most damage is.......our jewellery box!
Here's the problem - some things are harder than others, so softer things get scratched, chipped and dented by harder things. In the world of gemstones, a chap called Friedrich Mohs created a scale to measure hardness (see below). He found ten commonly available minerals, each of which would scratch all of the minerals lower down the scale. He started with diamond at No.10 because this is the hardest known natural substance in the world. At No.9 are rubies and sapphires, which are very hard, but can be scratched by diamonds. Then comes topaz at No.8, which can be scratched by sapphires, rubies and diamonds. I think you can begin to see that our habit of throwing our jewellery into a box at the end of a hard day (and harder night) can have a devastating effect as diamonds will scratch anything they touch!
The real problem comes in at No.7 - quartz. Quartz comes in many forms - you may be familar with amethyst, citrine or tiger's eye - but the trouble is that it is so common it forms much of the dust or grit in the air. So whilst quartz can be scratched by topaz, sapphire, ruby and diamond, it will quite happily scratch and damage everything else that is softer, and this includes the metal of your jewellery! It is quite a shock to realise that most precious metals are about 2 1/2 - 4 1/2 on the Mohs Scale - they are very soft compared to quartz, and while you are proudly giving your favourite ring a quick rub on your sleeve, you could be scratching it with the dust that has settled there.
And while we are talking about hardess, remember the old belief that if a gemstone scratches glass it proves it is diamond? Well, if I told you that glass is around 5-6 on the Mohs Scale, you will see that it could also be lots of other things, such as white sapphire, white topaz, and good old quartz!
However, it is not only knocks and scratches that can be a problem. Contact with various chemicals can destroy the beauty of some gemstones and affect the appearance of precious metals. One of the worst offenders is, oddly enough, the human skin. Human skin is acid; female skin is more acidic than male skin, but both can damage "organic" gemstones i.e. those made by nature such as pearls, coral, amber and jet. I have seen beautiful coral beads stripped of their glossy lustre where they were worn next to the skin; a similar story with pearls where the owner was a "twiddler" and continually fingered her pearl earrings.
Chlorine is another big problem, whether is the swimming pool, hot tub or in household cleaners. It is a corrosive bleach that will strip the colour from turquoise, as well as dyed stones such as agates, as well as eat into gold and tarnish silver. See the individual entries under Gemstones etc for your particular gemstone for what to avoid.
So, what have we learned so far?
1. Don't take your jewellery for granted. It needs a bit of tender loving care, just like us.
2. Try to store your jewellery so that pieces do not touch. Remember that most gemstones are harder than precious metals.
3. Learn about the gemstones your jewellery contains so that you can avoid the particular hazards they may face. See: Gemstones etc
4. Learn how to clean your jewellery safely. See: Cleaning Jewellery
Want to clean your jewellery yourself? STOP!
If you don't understand the properties of the piece of jewellery you want to clean, you could do irreparable damage.
Read these notes first of all, and if you are still in ANY DOUBT, ask your local jeweller for advice, or ask them to professionally clean it for you.
|No.||Mineral (or other substance)|
|8 1/2||Cubic Zirconia, Chrysoberyl|
|7 1/2 - 8||Emerald, Beryl|
|7 1/2||Almandine Garnet|
|7 - 7 1/2||Rhodolite (Rose) Garnet, Pyrope Garnet, Tourmaline, Iolite|
|6 1/2 - 7||Peridot, Jadeite, Chalcedony, Zircon|
|6 - 7||Tanzanite|
|6 - 6 1/2||Marcasite, Pyrite|
|5 1/2 - 6||Hematite, Rhodonite|
|5 -6||Glass, Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise, Sodalite|
|5 - 5 1/2||Obsidian|
|3 1/2 - 4||Malachite|
|3 1/2||(Copper Penny)|
|3 - 4||Coral|
|2 1/2 - 4 1/2||Pearl|
|2 1/2 - 4||Jet|
|2 1/2 - 3||Gold|
|2 - 2 1/2||Amber (Ivory, Fingernail)|
|1 1/2||(Human Skin)|
|1 - 2 1/2||Soapstone|