How to clean and care for antique jewellery

When it comes to cleaning antique jewellery, whether it’s a piece made in gold or silver, or an item set with precious stones, the first piece of advice is to proceed with extreme caution. Definitely don’t use any materials or creams which contain an abrasive.

Silver, and especially gold, are relatively soft metals and cleaning them with anything that wears away the surface may damage the jewellery and diminish its value. If you abrade the surface of your jewellery you may lose engraved or inscribed detailing, and crucially you may obscure hallmarks.

Hallmarks provide vital information about a piece of jewellery, including the date of making, the name of the maker and the purity of metal. The last thing you want to do is to lose these vital facts about provenance from your antique jewellery.

To restore the metallic sheen of gold or silver, all that’s usually required is a gentle buffing with a specialist jewellers cloth. You can buy jewellers’ cloths online or from jewellers’ shops. If you’re cleaning a piece with diamonds set in it, take great care not to catch the mountings of the stones.

Silver can sometimes become tarnished with a dark patina, often caused by airborne particles of sulphur. If gentle dry polishing won’t shift the tarnish, there are proprietary creams available which can clean silver. It’s best to seek professional advice before embarking on this course of action with an antique piece.

It is possible to clean jewellery that has dirt lodged in corners with a soft brush and some warm water with a little domestic washing up liquid in it. But avoid even this gentle treatment with gold or with pieces that are set with precious stones, as some of those can be damaged by wetting. Never let threaded pearls or beads get wet

Don’t store your jewellery higgledy-piggledy in a drawer where it gets all mixed up as this may cause damage to settings and clasps. Your precious antique jewellery should be kept separately, ideally in cases designed for the purpose.

The final word on cleaning and caring for your antique jewellery is to seek professional advice before you attempt cleaning. Such advice could help you to avoid damaging a highly valuable piece.

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