Types of jewellery to be cautious with when cleaning or polishing

This is a page I will be adding to as I remember examples or indeed have new examples cross my bench. Some of these types of jewellery will end up with their own pages.

There are are many types of jewellery you should be cautious with when cleaning. If in doubt consult a professional jeweller.

Cleaning soft and treated gem stones

What are soft and treated gem stones?

Turquoise, Malachite, Mother of Pearl, Ivory and Bone are soft gem stones. I’ll add more stone stones this list as I remember them.

There are many new treated gem stones which should join this list. The Mystic Topaz and the like have had evaporative metal films applied to them and these are easily damaged by washing. Also I can add emeralds to this list, as many of the natural emeralds sold have been treated, some by oil, which washes out easily and leaves you with a very disappointing stone. Peridot should also join, as it can be damaged in an ultrasonic very quickly.

The same guidance for opals and pearls should be followed.

  • Never use an ultrasonic cleaner
  • Never use silver dip
  • Never soak
  • Never use mineral cleaners
  • Be careful of staining liquids, as these gems will stain easily and be almost impossible to reverse

Mercury changing gold to silver

Gold exposed to Mercury will turn silver in colour and often go dull.

How can gold be exposed to mercury?

A broken thermometer. Built up mercury vapors in old buildings.

Stop wearing the jewellery and wash the jewellery thoroughly. Take the jewellery to a professional jeweller, for refinishing. The damage is only permanent if left unattended. A jeweller can remove the damage and return the jewellery to its original finish.

Over polishing jewellery

This would be difficult to do at home. It mainly applies to people having their jewellery refinished too often by professional jewellers.

It can also apply to jewellery mechanically polished without first being prepared. It is sad to say, but not all jewellers are equal. Some jewellers do not prepare jewellery properly before polishing. This causes them over rely on the polishing machine and often results in jewellery being over polished. Design details are removed, surfaces become over rounded and surface pitting becomes obvious.

There is nothing that can be done to remedy over polishing.

Cleaning costume jewellery

Costume jewellery was never designed to last or be cleaned. It is by its very nature a deception. What should be set is glued. What should be precious gem stones is glass. What should be gold is plated. What should be enamels is paint.

Cleaning costume jewellery is fraught with danger. It is my rule to never clean costume jewellery. Even hand washing it can lead to stones falling out, their foil backing falling off and pearls turning to white glass beads.

Don’t do it, leave costume jewellery as it is, it was never meant to last.

Cleaning plastics

Plastics which have not been plated or given a surface covering such as paint, can normally be washed.

There are many types of plastics and some can be polished. As a rule hard plastics can be polished. Soft plastics and those with an applied finish can not.

Silver polish will normally polish hard plastics well. Wash before polishing in a mild jewellery cleaner, like LilyJewels SparkleClean. Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner.

Cleaning wood

Cleaning wood is similar to plastic. Hard woods can normally be washed and polished, just like metals or plastic. Soft woods though should not be washed or polished.

Woods are absorbent and so prolonged exposure to water and liquids is not going to be good for them.

Cleaning Venetian glass and lead crystal beads

Venetian glass should be treated with a fair amount of caution. Glass made without metal foils can normally be washed without any problems. Foiled glass should probably not be washed, as the foil sometimes extents to the surface and will rub off.

  • Never polish Venetian glass
  • Never use an ultrasonic to clean Venetian glass
  • Never use steam to clean Venetian glass

Venetian glass is best left to an expert to clean.

Lead crystal beads can be safely hand washed, dried and individually polished with a soft untreated polishing cloth.


Cleaning Marcasite jewellery

Sterling silver set Marcasite jewellery can be cleaned with caution. It is usually meant to have an oxidized finish with polished highlights.

Old Marcasite jewellery is usually set, but most modern jewellery the Marcasites are only glued and will often fall out when washed or even hand polished.

  • Never use silver dip
  • Never use an ultrasonic cleaner
  • Never soak

Cleaning leather and fabrics

Leather and fabrics in jewellery present unique difficulties when it comes to cleaning.

Often you will not be able to wash the jewellery. You may though be able to clean it with a damp cloth.

Often you will have trouble polishing the metal parts without effecting the leather or fabric.

In the workshop the leather or fabric is first removed and the rest of the piece refinished. Then the leather or fabric is reinstated or replaced with new material.