For anyone that’s unfamiliar, antique jewelry is any piece of jewelry that is more than 100 years old. That’s a lot of years for dirt to collect under gemstones, metal to patina, and for grime to take away from the inherent beauty of the heirloom. It’s tempting to pick up a polishing cloth and buff away years of unwanted residue. But wait! Before you do that…
There is a right way and a wrong way to clean antique jewelry. We’ve compiled some basic do’s and don’ts you must know before you potentially ruin your investment.
*Remember, this is a general guide for fine antique jewelry. Some antique jewelry like cameos or hair jewelry require special care beyond what is listed here.
D O N ‘ T
1. Polish away patina on old rose or yellow gold jewelry
Patina is something that takes years to form. Some reproduction jewelry will actually try to fake this patina in order to make an item appear older than it is. For Georgian and Victorian jewelry, it’s important not to go overboard with polishing. You don’t want the yellow gold to be so light and shine like the day it was made.
Be careful if you’re having your rings resized by someone not familiar with antique jewelry. The tendency is to take rings to a high polish once the sizing is done. Advise them only to lightly polish the portion where the gold has been added or taken away on the bottom of the ring shank.
2. Use ultrasonic machines
There are times when it is okay to put antique jewelry into an ultrasonic machine for a very quick clean, and I mean quick. But to err on the side of caution, avoid using them altogether. If you have a platinum and diamond engagement ring from the 1920’s, an ultrasonic machine might be okay if the stones are tight and the prongs are in good shape. Most of the time though, the subtle but intense vibrations from these machines can do more harm than good.
3. Submerge jewelry for a long period
Liquid can be detrimental to some antique jewelry, especially jewelry with cameos, opals, seed pearls, or any other soft stone. For fragile jewelry, it’s best not to completely saturate the piece with liquid at all. Instead, lightly clean with a damp brush or cloth.
4. Clean with harsh chemicals like ammonia
The internet will often tell you how wonderful ammonia is for making your diamonds shine. This might work (in moderation) for new jewelry, but antique jewelry deserves a much gentler approach. Avoid harsh detergents, ammonia, and please never use household cleaners containing bleach!
1. Make a gentle cleaning solution
Sometimes the best way to clean your antique jewelry is by making your own DIY cleaning solution. Most jewelry cleaners you find in the store will cost you a lot more money and may not even be as effective. They may even contain harsh chemicals.
To make your own solution, mix lukewarm water with a small amount of mild soap like Dove until it is sudsy. The key here is in the cleaning technique, not necessarily in the solution.
2. Use a soft toothbrush and lint free cloth
Once you make your solution, it’s time to clean your antique jewelry. You’ll either submerge the item for a few minutes to loosen grime, or if your item contains soft stones, you lightly dampen your toothbrush. Before you begin, make sure no stones are loose.
Then, gently brush your jewelry, paying attention to areas like underneath the stone and underneath the prongs. Use slow circular motions using only light pressure. If the piece is extremely dirty, don’t be tempted to use more pressure; instead, implement more patience. Submerge your jewelry into the solution again (if your jewelry can handle it) then gently repeat, repeat, repeat.
3. Make sure to rinse and dry thoroughly
You don’t want to give fragile jewelry a bath, but you want to be sure you remove any soap residue that might build up and defeat the whole purpose of cleaning your jewelry. Run the jewelry under lukewarm water and pat dry. For rings, take a polishing cloth and very lightly buff the shank, avoiding any area near stones or engravings. Let jewelry completely dry before putting it away.
4. Have the right expectations
Antique jewelry is never meant to look new. If this is your intention when cleaning jewelry, think again. Sure, you want to remove dirt, grime, bacteria, and all that other gross stuff. But you don’t want to take away years of character and patina. Is there a scratch in the gold? Leave it, don’t have it buffed away. Is the gold too dark for your liking? Consider a more modern replica like those from Arik Kastan instead.
How do you clean your antique jewelry? Any tips I missed? Let us know in the comments.
This post was contributed by:
Lauren Thomann | I: @agelessheirlooms | W: www.agelessheirlooms.com
kat newkirk May 23, 2017 at 3:29 am:
i use a blow dryer to make sure no water spots appear… and use distilled water because tap water has chemicals in it that are not kind to jewelry.
please post a cameo cleaning/care to-do. i collect antique/vintage cameos. often these have ornate filigree frames that accumulate dirt but i'm afraid to clean them thoroughly because i'm afraid of damaging the delicate shell.
Nicole May 23, 2017 at 9:34 pm:
Great post and very timely. I needed this exact information. Thanks!
Heli jain May 30, 2017 at 11:25 am:
Buy jewellery is not difficult, but which one you need to choose that one is difficult , because on that time you can find many options so you will confuse, after that when you were buying so its look fresh and new after some time it will down, so need to polish, we think it is easy, but its not like that,,,mostly we prefer to drop at jewellers shop for polish, didnt try at home, because we never try, but i feel the help of this at least we can try…like recenty buy a necklace from infibeam.com/jewellery store…there was nice collection of voyella…now after some same thing required, cleaning or polishing, then i try this….almost help ful, because try first time..
Summer Johnson September 23, 2017 at 8:54 pm:
What a great tip that the patina on antique gold jewelry is actually sought after! I had no idea. Vintage pieces are so unique and beautiful that they are definitely worth preserving and repairing.
Estate Jewelers December 31, 2020 at 11:59 am:
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