Care of Antique Jewelry

Antique Jewelry is beautifully unique and special. Whether it came from your own grandmother, great-grandmother, or is a special gift from your husband or fiancé’s family, a family heirloom usually has great meaning. Because of its rarity and meaning, it’s important to take care of antique jewelry to ensure it lasts generations to continue the tradition.

If you want to protect your investment, antique or collectible jewelry should be inspected often and routinely maintained, repaired and restored. This will ensure that these highly-valued pieces can be worn for many more years and handed down to successive generations. Antique and collectible jewelry should be evaluated by a qualified appraiser to establish its monetary value. It is the right thing to do for jewelry with such historic and sentimental value. Begin by inspecting the piece with a magnifying glass to check for loose stones or underlying dirt. Also, if you find lose parts such as mechanical gears or springs lying amidst your beautiful selection of antique clocks or loose gems from your jewelry, you can try tightening the settings or re-attach the parts if you have the expertise. Pay extra attention to raised details. Because many details in several antiques are actually raised, they attract dirt and grime faster. Use a soft toothbrush dipped in a mild solution of water and detergent to clean the surface of your antique jewelry. Let the solution set for a minute, but be careful not to leave the soap on for too long or they may damage soft metal or stones. Also, avoid commercial jewelry cleaners as they are too harsh for delicate items.

While most vintage jewelry, knick-knacks, and other items may only bring modest value at the outset, some antique ones that are well-cared for will bring a higher reward. In order to keep these in beautiful condition and become a treasured investment, you need to give them some extra tender, loving care.

Jewelry should be inspected for wear or weakness because even expertly-crafted jewelry needs routine maintenance and restoration. Metal fatigue and erosion occur when metal jewelry is stressed by being continually bent or worn and knocked around. Once metal fatigue and erosion occur, these pieces are prone to break. Wash the jewelry with cool, clear, clean water to rinse of the suds. Make sure there isn’t any residue left on the item.

Temperature changes can affect the blue and cause stones to fall out.   Moisture is the biggest enemy because it can cause Verdigris (green algae) damage or rust damage and pitting of metals.  Be sure if you clean your jewelry you dry it best side down so any moisture will drain away from the stones and metal.

Keep jewelry separate from each other so they are not piled on top of each other, lying flat if In general, antique jewelry should be treated with just as much care as your engagement ring, diamond bracelet, or any other piece of fine jewelry. Although gemstones and metal are very hard materials, it is always possible to chip, scuff, lose, or crack the setting/stones if you accidentally hit it in the wrong place or angle.


Rings require more frequent care as they are especially prone to wear. If you wear a chain you can string your ring on it while at the gym or do a rough activity. The following list of unusual materials found in antique jewelry is by no means complete and all need special care. Lockets, foil backed stones, closed backed stones, organic material (wood, ivory, hair, and tortoise), turquoise, coral, shell (cameos), mosaics, horn, bone, pearls, and wings of insects (butterfly), feathers, fabric, iron, steel, jet, vulcanite, and bog oak.


Cleaning your gemstone jewelry doesn’t require any special accessories or appliances. A bowl of water with a few drops of dish detergent will do the trick. To clean behind the stone you can use a soft toothbrush but don’t scrub too hard as this could scratch the stone. Scrub gently and then rinse. Dry gently while using a soft cloth.

Always gently wipe off excess make-up and skin oils after wearing your jewelry. Use a nub free, 100% cotton cloth and gently wipe the piece clean.

All organic gems should only be wiped clean with a soft cloth; pearl, coral, and amber are examples of organic gems.

Diamond and Gemstone Replacement – When a diamond or gemstone becomes loose, it can easily fall out and be lost. It is best to repair the set and reset the loose gemstone as soon as possible.

  • Prong Repair – Gemstone prongs can become fragile or stressed because they provide the pressure to hold a valuable gemstone in place. Gemstone prongs should be inspected by a qualified jeweler and replaced if weak or have observable cracks.
  • Chain Repair – By design, metal chains are moveable. This motion causes the individual chain links to wear against one another, making them susceptible to breakage. A valuable pendant can be lost if a chain breaks. Precious metal chains should be routinely inspected for wear and repaired when necessary.
  • Ring and Bracelet Resizing and Restoration – When antique jewelry is handed down, it is often worn by someone smaller or larger than the original owner. Resizing such pieces is commonplace. Additionally, antique rings and bracelets often need to be restored because they have wear damage. This restoration should be done at the same time the piece is resized.
  • Remodeling and Restyling – Antique jewelry that is handed down from generation to generation is often no longer stylish, even though the metal and gemstones are still of great value. Remodeling and restyling such pieces can give them new life. An expert jeweler can remove the gemstones and refurbish the metal by melting it down and blending it with new metal. The antique piece can then be remade with a more contemporary design.
  • Broken Clasps – Antique jewelry is stressed when continually worn. This stress most often occurs in the movable parts of a jewelry piece such as the clasp. If a clasp is no longer working properly or broken, it needs to be repaired or replaced by a professional jeweler.
  • Polishing – Precious metals will eventually need to be professionally polished after years of being worn or stored in jewelry boxes. Aging metals will acquire a dark patina that is not attractive. This patina needs to be removed and a fresh new chemical patina needs to be applied to bring back the original shine and luster to the piece.


Apply make-up, lotion, and perfume before putting on your jewelry. The dyes, creams, abrasives, and other substances can harm all kinds of jewelry. Wash the cameo with a gentle scrubbing with a very soft toothbrush using a mild soap and water solution. (I use liquid Ivory detergent and water.) Be sure to rinse it off immediately and thoroughly and pat totally dry. You can use paper towels.

Wipe the cameo with mineral oil. Be sure to do front and back. You can apply the oil with your finger, a q-tip, or a cloth. It should be allowed to soak for a few hours or overnight. Wipe the excess off. This should be done once or twice a year, especially after cleaning. Store in a clean, dry place when not in use.

Check the pockets of your clothes before sending them to the Laundromat to ensure that you have removed all jewelry. The spinning motion of the washing machine, as well as the harsh soaps in washing the clothes, can severely damage your jewelry.

Don’t do

  • Wear your fine jewelry to the gym, while doing housework, gardening, rock climbing or during any activity you feel may cause damage to your ring! Even rings should be taken off to protect it against dirt, sweat, and banged up by using your hands.
  • Wear antique jewelry while using harsh cleaning chemicals. Bleaching the toilet, cleaning the swimming pool, or even common gardening chemicals can affect some metals.
  • Clean antique jewelry with salt water or Ultra Sonic cleaners. Salt water is a corrosive substance that can damage certain metals. Ultra Sonic cleaners are great for modern jewelry; however, can damage many fine antique pieces of jewelry. Do not use jewelry cleaners, these chemical cleaners can damage antique jewelry. Soap, water, and a toothbrush will clean most antique jewelry. A little toothpaste and a toothbrush is a great way to clean diamonds. Remember to test any methods of cleaning on an unseen area first. Every antique is different if you have any concerns consult a specialist before cleaning or repairing your antiques. The methods above may not be suitable for all antiques.
  • Wear your antique jewelry while cooking. Because of the age of your precious metals, stones and diamonds are often easily loosened. The last thing you would want is your diamond falling into your cookie dough.
  • Store your antique diamonds in sunlight, humidity, or cold spaces. Especially in Florida, it’s important to not store your fine piece in direct sunlight or humid temperatures.
  • Keep jewelry away from sunlight, heat vents and the interiors of hot cars.
  • Use caution so you don’t drop your jewelry piece because these delicate pieces chip easily.


  • Get your jewelry fitted by a certified jeweler. There is nothing worse than receiving an heirloom ring that is too small or too large. While resizing antique jewelry can be tough, it can be done in some cases. Take your heirloom to a certified jeweler to talk about your options.
  • Take your antique to a jeweler to get it cleaned. Harsh and modern chemicals can damage and discolor your piece. Be sure to always consult a professional to deep clean your piece. Periodically, you may use a damp lint-free cloth to remove dust and dirt.
  • Store your antiques in a special jewelry box where it is free from getting scratched or bent. Be sure to store it in its own nook, drawer, or space away from the bulk of your jewelry.
  • Examine your heirloom periodically to inspect it for loose diamonds, broken prongs, or bent metals.
  • Apply hairspray and perfume before putting on your jewelry. Allow these substances to dry. Spray and other substances can stain gold or silver and damage pearls.
  • If you take your rings off at night, you will double the lifetime of your ring!

Wear it! Many people feel too afraid to wear their grandmother’s precious stones. Don’t be afraid to flaunt your antiques as long as you treat it with care.