Inheriting a piece of jewelry is much like inheriting a journal or old family tale – it carries intimate stories, passed down from generation to generation. Fine jewelry is also built to last – precious metals and gemstones are, after all, natural materials that have survived billions of years and traveled hundreds of miles to the earth’s surface. Pitted against daily wear and modern life, however, they need a little care and attention to ensure their beauty is everlasting. We spoke to an expert set of fine-jewelry designers to find out how to preserve your pieces – whether astute investments or treasured heirlooms.
Diamonds aren’t delicate
Diamonds are the most resilient of all gemstones, and therefore also the easiest to clean. Their extreme durability means they are unlikely to be scratched, and so they can withstand regular cleaning, including professional ultrasonic deep-cleans. Suzanne Kalan’s Firework designs – intricate jewels with plenty of nooks and crannies – make her the perfect person to advise on how to keep diamonds scintillating at home. “The best way to clean diamonds is to make a soapy solution with warm water – soak your piece for a short period and gently brush the stone with a very soft toothbrush,” says Kalan. “It will work wonders if you’re unable to have it professionally cleaned.” Once dry, Kalan advises softly polishing your diamonds with paper – to remove any water marks and ensure a potent sparkle.
The current trend for bezel settings, where stones are set flush with their surrounding metal, can make diamond cleaning trickier. “To properly clean a bezeled stone, you will eventually have to take it out of the setting for a proper clean,” explains designer Anita Ko. “Because of this, I always advise my customers to remove their bezel-set jewels when washing their hands or applying lotion.” Where possible, opt for prevention rather than cure – less build-up of toiletries, sweat, chlorine and sea water will make cleaning easier.
Go easy on colorful gems
Gemstone durability is graded from zero to ten, according to the gem’s hardiness. While diamonds register at ten, with sapphires and rubies at nine, softer stones such as emeralds and tanzanites that score between six and eight require more specialist care and won’t survive abrasive cleaning detergents. “We recommend using a soft, clean cloth only,” says Sameer Lilani, director of Amrapali, a house renowned for its richly hued stones. Some more unusual gemstones, such as chalcedony and chrysoprase, also require extra care, adds Roberto Boghossian, managing partner at Boghossian. “Avoid all strong chemicals, as well as exposure to excessive heat sources or sudden changes in temperature – the latter could compromise a stone by slowly cracking it.”
How to care for precious metals
Most fine jewelry is crafted in gold or platinum, so you won’t be faced with the relentless tarnishing challenge posed by silver, but precious metals still need some attention from time to time. “A jewelry-polishing cloth can be used on dry jewelry to remove any tarnish that may develop with age,” advises Yves Spinelli, co-founder of Spinelli Kilcollin. For chains, pair mild soap with your trusty toothbrush, and gently pull them through the bristles – but proceed with caution, as gold and platinum can scratch.
Many jewelers will regularly service jewels and check the stability of their settings, while metals can be repolished to renew their shine, but Lilani advises resorting to this only once every two to three years. Metal maestro Buccellati recommends classic jewelry pouches made of antioxidant materials to keep pieces away from dust, dirt and air, but store them wisely, as humidity and heat will accelerate the oxidation of metals.
Preserve pearls, opals and enamel
While diamonds can take a little rough and tumble, it is crucial that fragile, porous stones such as pearls are treated with care. “Pearls are an organic material and do not tolerate any chemicals,” explains pearl doyenne Sophie Bille Brahe. “If you don’t wear them regularly, they may fade; they are best treated with the natural oils from our skin,” she adds. When storing pearls, ensure they are tucked away from direct sunlight; while opals require a humid climate. “Opals have a very high water content, so need to be stored in a more humid environment, or else there is a possibility they can crack,” explains Boghossian.
The current trend for vibrant enamel jewelry requires extra focus on the fundamentals of fine jewelry care – when it comes to water, exercise or lotions and potions, remove, remove, remove! “Enamel should stay as far away as possible from any solvent, such as nail-polish remover or isopropyl alcohol,” warns designer Bea Bongiasca. She also advises biodegradable soap to remove the particle build-up from toiletries or sweat. “It’s like with clothes – you have to wash them!” she quips.
Select storage wisely
How jewelry is stored is so important that many designers spend as much time considering the style of their boxes as they do their jewels. Swiss jeweler Nadia Morgenthaler crafts bespoke cylindrical boxes that allow her earrings to remain suspended when not being worn – to remove any pressure and avoid rubbing – while Bille Brahe has crafted an entire array of opulent, plush velvet hard-case boxes to protect pieces while traveling. Messika’s ring boxes even have a party trick – when opened, a little light flickers on to illuminate the treasure inside. Originally conceived for dimly lit proposals, they’re also handy for seeing whether your diamond ring needs a proper clean: “Nothing makes a diamond sparkle more than light,” explains founder Valerie Messika.