How to clean your vintage jewelry? The methods should vary according to the piece. If it consists entirely of metal (such as a gold chain or silver brooch) - then I would highly recommend purchasing an ultrasonic cleaner. There are many different models out there and most recommend using their cleaning solution which of course provides the manufacturer a never ending income.
We found a very nice unit that can be used with distilled or tap water and or distilled/tap water with a drop or two of dish washing liquid. It does a wonderful job! But beware! This type of cleaning is not suitable for all jewelry. If your jewelry has stones attached then you must carefully evaluate the stones, settings and overall condition, Soft materials such as pearls; opals, coral and others will be damaged by the ultrasonic waves!
We never submerge any stones that have a foil backing. If the stones are not prong set then be aware that the glue may break loose and the stone/stones may become loose. Be prepared to re-glue the stones and always, always check the strainer basket, water and piece cleaned before throwing out the water used! You will probably want to have some good slow drying glue designed for jewelry available. We have had good success with UHU twist and glue. Do not use the new fast drying glues. You have no margin of error when placing the stones and their composition is hard on foil backing. Clean up should you place too much glue in the setting is near impossible!
After the ultrasonic bath - we recommend placing the freshly cleaned jewelry on a soft towel and then taking your hand held hair dryer and gently drying the piece. Be careful not to cook the piece! Gently dry and then leave it out in a warm dry area. We usually dry a piece or pieces, let it sit for an hour or so and then dry it again. We always let a piece sit out (on a different towel) for several days before storing. Moisture can be very devastating to your prized pieces!
As we discussed - some pieces are not suitable for the ultrasonic cleaner. For these pieces, we recommend the basic cleaning with Q-tips and clean water. On some occasions, we will use the suds from dishwashing solution. Jewelry that has rhinestones with foil backing should never be submerged. The moisture can seep between the stone and the foil and leave dark spots or even destroy the foil entirely. It can also serve to help loosen the glue. Be very careful and always dry your jewelry after cleaning. Even when just using a damp Q-tip.
These fortunate pieces have survived decades and are now entrusted to you and your care. Please treat them accordingly. You now own a piece of history so please take the time to treat it as such. If we should be caught out in the rain or a damp night - my lovely wife will dry her treasured vintage jewelry upon our return. This jewelry has survived upwards to fifty years and beyond. Now, YOU are its worst enemy or best friend. Some pieces may require a more intensive cleaning than a Q-tip can provide.
A soft bristled toothbrush often will work quite well. No toothpaste - only water or foamy soapsuds. Never use an old toothbrush. Toothpaste is abrasive and there may be remnants left on the brush. Some pieces may need even more assistance to get the dirt and grime out of the recessed areas. Before scraping - try to restore that wonderful sheen lost over the years. Some experts suggest using a dental pick against metal - we recommend a gentler approach.
Any superstore or pharmacy should sell dental floss sticks - usually a C shaped head with dental floss stretched tight across the C and a handle that comes into a nice thin point. The added benefit of these is you can use them for their intended purpose and then set them aside and use them for those tiny little areas of your precious treasures. Healthy gums and jewelry for the same price!
Patina - What is patina? It’s the green gunk you might see on your vintage jewelry. Either the plating was poorly done - it might have been damaged at some point in time and this green almost algae like growth has occurred. What can you do to repair this? Have the item re-plated is about the only solution.
Sometimes it works - sometimes it causes more problems than it solves. The problem with patina is that the item is already damaged the integrity of this lovely item. The plating is already damaged. It has been eaten away and the patina is a rust like or cancerous material on your treasure. Sometimes, it can actually accent the item.
As a general rule though - patina is not desirable on jewelry. Some will try to remove it with a pencil eraser (our personal preference). Some will try vinegar on a cue tip or even catsup applied with a cue tip for about five minutes. The advantage of the catsup is that it should stay where applied and should not affect the other areas. It does have a vinegar (acidic base) that will devour the green “cancer". The ultrasonic cleaner will also remove this growth. BUT, you have not cured anything.
The piece has had damage. You have removed a never healing scab and it will surely re-appear. The metal plating is gone forever. The surface has been damaged! Each time you clean it to remove the growth - you have removed a little more of the existing plating.
Some recommend cleaning and drying thoroughly and then coating with a clear coating such as fingernail polish. Beware though - should you choose this method - it will probably bond to the other plating and should it suffer an injury or you try to clean again - you may end up removing even more of the plating. Be very careful.
Although this jewelry is well designed and crafted - it was never expected to last his long. It was designed for an event or perhaps even a season or two. Yet now, it is an ever increasing investment!
You have a piece of history and artwork that if treated accordingly - will last for many more years and become either a heirloom or retirement asset. Or junk - your choice!
Richard and Kathryn Baird - avid collectors of vintage jewelry. Our personal collection is well into the thousands - we quit counting after four thousand. We absolutely adore the craftsmanship and unique designs from the artists. Come join us at http://www.the-vintage-jewelry-advisor.com for more articles and important info on acquiring and preserving these artifacts from the past. Help save a bit of our heritage and an era that shall never be revisited again.