If there's one thing I know about, it's making dirty and unloved jewellery look its best. Finding the potential in a piece that's black, scuzzy and looks unlovable is something I love and do, and it's amazing just how beautiful (and pricey) some things turn out when they looked almost fit for the bin. Not many of us let our own jewellery get into the terrible state that I've seen some pieces in, but sometimes things sit unloved for a long time in a box or tray and it isn't until they're rediscovered that we realise how something can look less than it's best when it's been a little neglected. I thought I'd put a post together to give my tips on how to care for modern and vintage fine jewellery, and how to bring it back to life after a period of loneliness.
[While all of these things are easy to do at home without having to go out and buy anything, if your piece really is looking the pits (loose stones, covered in dents, the dog buried it in your garden etc) then it's worth taking it to a jeweller to have it professionally restored. Cleaning services are relatively cheap, repairs a little more expensive, but the equipment and experience of a jeweller can't be matched.]
I'll start off with silver as this tends to look much worse than gold when left alone to do it's own thang. All types of silver tarnish- sterling silver, silver plate, funky foreign silver, it all tarnishes. The only exception is rhodium plated silver, which will not tarnish for as long as the plating remains in tact, and which is what makes rhodium one of the most expensive metals in the world!
(Actually in fact, some types of Tibetan silver will not tarnish either, this is because very often fashion charms made from Tibetan 'silver' actually only contain 1-2% real silver or less, and many have been found to hold harmful quantities of lead and arsenic. Super cheap Tibetan silver charms for chokers are very popular online at the moment, but please don't buy them- they cost just pennies to make and you really don't want poisonous metals next to your skin, especially not on your throat or chest!)
Tarnish is caused by oxidation which can be spead up by heat and environmental pollution, and can look like a black or brown layer on the silver piece. Luckily, tarnish is pretty easy to remove and all that's required is a bit of friction. Use a soft cloth like a yellow duster to rub over the piece and polish the tarnish away to give back the shine it once had.
My biggest jewellery cleaning tip is to never wash your polishing cloth- it will become black, but the tarnish is amazing at removing more tarnish, and the blacker your cloth the quicker you'll be able to polish your jewellery and the shinier it will become! I've actually seen a jeweller cry when her cloths were accidently put in the washing machine, it takes months to build thick tarnish back up on the cloth. A word of advice though, wear rubber gloves when your cloth starts turning dark unless you enjoy scrubbing your nails! Your black cloth will also be great for polishing gold, but we'll get to that later.
If your piece has texture and tiny groves where a cloth cant reach, an old soft toothbrush and plain white non-whitening toothpaste will do a brilliant job at cleaning up these areas. Don't worry about being too rough with the silver as it's a tough metal and you're unlikely to mark even silver plating, but do be careful with pieces that have gems- in vintage pieces these can become loose with hard brushing, and opaque stones (turquoise, pearls, coral etc) and soft stones (opal, emerald) shouldn't be exposed to chemicals.
Gold is generally easier to clean and polish as it does tarnish in the same way as silver, but it does loose its shine and can look more brown than gold. A quick rub over with a cloth will bring it back to life, and your black silver polishing cloth is great for this as the tiny particles of silver tarnish will create more friction than a plain cloth and lift off discolouration easily. Your trusty toothbrush will come in handy to lift any grime out of textured areas, the underneath of stones, and underneath ring clips.
As an aside, if your gold (or silver) jewellery has turned green with time, then either the plating has worn off or you've unfortunately been fooled as precious metals never turn green.
Storing your jewellery hung on hooks or laid flat in a jewellery box is your best choice for pieces you wear regularly as this will protect them from tangles or damage. But storing items you don't wear often in an airtight bag will keep them shiny and tarnish free as, if the metal doesn't have access to free oxygen, it can't tarnish as much.
I hope these tips helped for anyone wondering how to care for and keep their fine jewellery looking its best at home!