By Juliet Strong of Juliet Strong Jewellery
Do you own beautiful gold or silver jewellery that doesn’t look quite as it did when you first bought or received it? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Whilst most pieces are enhanced with wear and age, others do suffer from neglect.
The good news is that keeping your jewellery looking its best is really very quick and easy. So here are some simple tips that I give to my customers on how to clean and maintain your gold and silver jewellery at home.
Why does jewellery tarnish or discolour?
Silver can darken in colour because the metal reacts with oxygen, sulphur dioxide and moisture in the air to produce a thin layer of tarnish. This deposit of tarnish only affects the top few layers of the metal and can appear if your jewellery is not maintained properly.
While pure gold does not tarnish, almost all gold jewellery is an alloy. Anything less than 24 karats is mixed with other metals called alloys to increase its hardness and durability. Depending on the percentage of other metals mixed with the gold, there is the possibility it could tarnish.
Gold plated jewellery has a thin coating of gold over the top of another metal (I use silver, but gold-plated brass is also popular) so take care not to damage the surface and remove the gold layer when cleaning.
Jewellery cleaning basics
In general silver, gold and gold-plated jewellery should be washed in warm soapy water and dried with a soft cloth. Immerse your piece in a bowl of warm water with a few drops of liquid soap (e.g. Fairy Liquid) for 10-15 minutes. Then carefully work a cloth or old, soft toothbrush over it before rinsing in clean water.
It’s very important to dry your jewellery well before storing otherwise the tarnish will quickly re-appear. I find using a hair dryer along with a soft cloth the most effective.
More cleaning tips for very dirty jewellery
If the soap and water approach isn’t enough then try mixing one part bicarbonate of soda with 3 parts water to make a thin paste. Dip your piece in water then very gently rub the paste into it using a soft cloth. Finish by rinsing in clean water. The slightly abrasive texture of the paste will help to lift the dirt, but do use with caution to avoid damaging your jewellery.
You can also clean very dirty or discoloured jewellery in silver dip (a tub containing a special solution) which you can buy in most hardware stores or online. Do be sure to check the specific guidelines on the product you buy, as these can vary slightly between brands. You only need to dip (not rub) your jewellery for a short time and make sure you thoroughly wash the pieces afterwards in soap and water. You can then dry it carefully as outlined above.
One important thing to note – make sure you don’t dip any silver jewellery that has an oxidised (black) finish, like in the image above, as the dip will strip it all away.
Restoring finishes to gold and silver jewellery
The finish on all metals will change with wear – matt becoming slightly shiny and highly polished becoming duller. This is more noticeable on rings because they are rubbed and touched frequently.
To refresh a matt finish yourself, lightly brush the surface of the piece with the finest grade wire wool using a circular motion to create a non-directional pattern. Don’t, however, use this technique on any surfaces with special treatments such as plating, oxidisation, fused gold leaf and sandblasting.
Highly polished silver and gold can be rubbed over with a special cleaning cloth such as these from Town Talk which are available at John Lewis. Not only will they clean up your jewellery but they are also impregnated with a special anti-tarnishing agent which should keep your pieces shiny for longer.
How to maintain your jewellery
Maintaining your jewellery in top condition isn’t complicated, but it does require you to develop a couple of good habits.
Firstly, remove jewellery when showering or swimming as the chemicals in some soaps and chlorine can discolour and, in some cases, corrode pieces. Also, try to avoid contact with perfume or skin lotions – it’s best to apply these some time before putting on your jewellery.
Gold plating does wear off over time so if you need a piece re-plated do contact your jeweller to see if they can help. If you own a piece of my jewellery and would like it gold plated again then please do get in touch.
Secondly, when not wearing your jewellery I advise that you keep each piece in a box or pouch, like the ones pictured above. This will prevent tangles or scratches. You should also store your jewellery in a cool, dry place which is out of direct sunlight. For long-term storage I recommend using sealed bags or boxes which are airtight to reduce tarnish development.
Ultimately, prevention is always better than cure. A little attention to maintenance, plus occasional cleaning, is infinitely preferable to dealing with a seriously dirty or tarnished piece. An added bonus? Taking good care of your jewellery will also extend its life, which is really what we want for our favourite pieces.
Images: © Juliet Strong Jewellery unless otherwise credited. See more of Juliet’s work and shop online at julietstrong.co.uk.