Cleaning vintage jewellery

22 April 2018

Whether you have bought it as an investment or simply because it just caught your eye, you need to look after and care for it to make sure it survives in the best possible condition for future generations.

Pearls and jewellery in a wooden box

How to clean jewellery at home

Take extra care with vintage jewellery as it can be very delicate. Make sure you know what type of materials the jewellery is made up from so you don’t use the wrong method to make sure it survives in the best possible condition for future generations.

What is cameo jewellery and how to clean it

Cameo jewellery usually consists of an ornate carving in a natural material like stone or shell. Cameos, shell cameos in particular, can discolour and crack from drying and aging so they require special care.

  • Use a gentle soft-bristle toothbrush in a mild soap-and-water solution.
  • Rinse the cameo thoroughly with warm water immediately after cleaning the jewellery.
  • It’s also important not to let your cameos dry out because they can begin to crack.
  • Moisturise the cameo with mineral oil or baby oil and let it soak in overnight.
  • To keep your cameos in top condition, completely cleanse them once or twice a year.

You should never soak cameos in any cleaning solution for more than 30 seconds.

What is paste jewellery and how to clean it

A lot of vintage, costume jewellery is made with paste stones. Paste is a collective word used for cut leaded glass that is faceted to resemble gems or precious stones. Paste jewels are often backed by a copper or silver lining.

When cleaning paste jewellery, take care not to get your diamante wet. Water behind the stone will ruin the foil and stones become dull, the setting beneath them can go green or they can fall out altogether. You should also use lint free cloth to clean paste set jewellery to avoid fibres getting caught in the setting.

Cleaning gold jewellery and other metals

  • Silver jewellery
    Sterling silver jewellery may tarnish over time simply from general wear. You can clean the build-up of tarnish from silver jewellery using baking soda. You’ll need to thicken about 2 tablespoons of water with baking soda until it forms a paste.
  • Silver plated jewellery
    Be very careful when cleaning plated jewellery as if the plating is thin, it can wear away. Watered down washing up liquid can be a good solution, just remember not to soak plated jewellery in water.
  • Gold jewellery
    Gold jewellery doesn’t build up a tarnish in the same way but can still become dirty over time. Washing up liquid and warm water are a good way to polish gold. You can soak it for a few minutes then polish with a soft cloth or cotton balls.

Never use a toothbrush or baking soda on silver plated or gold jewellery.

How to clean pearls

Pearls tend to flourish and bloom when they are worn regularly because they need the oils from your skin to nourish them and keep them 'living'. If they are not worn, they may lose their lustre so wear them, enjoy them, and they will tend to look after themselves. Never soak pearl jewellery in water as it can damage the pearl’s silk thread. Instead, dip a soft cloth in warm water and polish.

How to clean diamond jewellery and other stones

If the piece is set with semi-precious stones, pearls or glass - never use a silver dip because this will submerge the whole piece and could cause moisture to get trapped behind the setting. Use a jewellery polishing cloth instead to keep jewellery dust-free.

Storing your jewellery safely

To keep your jewellery looking its best always store pieces in a clean, dry place. Try and keep it separate too because you can inadvertently damage pieces by jumbling them altogether in one drawer or big jewellery box. Harder pieces such as diamonds and gems can scratch each other as well as the surface of gold jewellery.

If you can, keep the pieces separately. Whether it is a piece of vintage costume jewellery or something more expensive, if you have gone through the expense of buying the jewellery it makes sense to look after it. Why not buy a nice jewellery case that is designed for safely storing jewellery or, keep it in the original box or pouch it came in?

Don’t forget to insure your jewellery and other valuable in your home contents insurance cover. It’s important to let us know when you need to cover jewellery and other specialist items or high value items on your policy. You can do this by speaking with the home insurance team on 0345 604 6438. They will be able to provide advice on the correct level of cover as well as seeking jewellery valuations on your behalf.