38 Stones & Gems | Jewelry Care

64 Arts
Multi-colored gemstones

Image via Flickr user jaYmE del Rosario, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

While I often feel like I’m the reason we can’t have nice things (klutziness does not a jewel protect–good thing diamonds and sapphires are tough!), I do try to take care of my jewelry and keep it clean and shiny so I can wear it any time I get the notion. I mean, even the Hope Diamond wouldn’t look like much covered in dust and grime, right?

But different types of jewelry require different types of care, so let’s take a look at caring for our shiny bits. You never know, you might have an heirloom in the making!

Precious Stones

image via Amazon.com

image via Amazon.com

Since precious stones tend to be up there on the hardness (Mohs) scale, these types of jewelry are the easiest to care for: warm water, a soft toothbrush or paintbrush, and some gentle detergent and you’re pretty much good to go. If you prefer to clean a lot of jewelry all in one go, a table-top ultrasonic cleaner can certainly be used for this type of jewelry with no problem, and there are also affordable steam cleaners for jewelry on the market, too.

When we were shopping for engagement rings the halo ring was (and still is, I think) very popular, and there was a rumor going around that those sorts of rings were harder to clean. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re harder to clean, all those little stones do give additional surfaces (facets!) for dust and grime to collect, making them dull faster than their larger solitaire counterparts. It was about that time that I learned about the Dazzle Stick. Between professional cleanings at the jewelers, I like giving my rings a gentle cleaning with this handy tool to keep them nice and shiny.

Found in the jewelry section of my local Wal-Mart, the Dazzle Stick has cleaning solution that you release into the bristles with a few clicks. Once the bristles are showing blue, you gently swish them into the nooks and crannies in your setting and then rinse it all clean. Since my jewelry is at the mall, this saves me a lot of schlepping out there and, really, isn’t much different than what they do.

Semi-Precious Stones

On the other hand (you see what I did there), semi-precious stones (like my personal favorite, Lapis Lazuli)  tend to be softer and very porous which means they will just soak up water and chemicals and pretty much anything they’re submersed in, often resulting in discolorations and dulling of the stones. Because of this, stay away from the cleaning solutions, even the mild ones, and just use a damp cloth to wipe away any grime or debris should they get messy. If you’re very careful you can still clean the settings or bands with a gentle detergent, but it almost seems more trouble than it’s worth.

Funny, though, as these pretties were once just hunks of rock carved out of mountainsides and caves you’d think they’d be able to stand up to just about anything, right? Still, the process of cutting and setting them into jewelry does tend to make them more fragile, so a little care isn’t too much to ask.



image via Flickr user Mauro Cateb, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Pearls are simply elegant and gorgeous with their natural shine and luster. This luster actually comes from a thin layer called the nacre and can be damaged easily, so absolutely never use any sorts of chemical or ultrasonic cleaners with them. Pearls, like the metals below, do best when worn–the natural oils from our skin actually help to condition them a bit–but that doesn’t mean that more is necessarily better. Lotions, perfumes, hair products can all damage the finish of pearls, so always put your pearls on last and wipe them down with a soft cloth before putting away.

Gold & Silver

Did you know that precious metal jewelry actually stays cleaner by being worn that by sitting in a box collecting dust and tarnish? It’s true! And while most jewelers will tell you to take off your rings before washing your hands, etc., I see that as a plumber’s bill waiting to happen as he rescues your ring from the pipes under your sink! It is true, however, that bleach can severely damage gold and silver, so removing them before doing housework or going into the pool is a good idea (just make sure you put them somewhere safe).

For regular cleaning a polishing cloth is best–not paper towels or tissue as the tiny wood fibers in there can scratch up a metals finish. White gold is actually regular gold coated with a fine layer of rhodium (in most cases) and some sterling silver gets plated as well to make it whiter and brighter. Over time this finish can wear down and start to look dull, so plan to have regularly worn rings re-plated every 1-2 years; if the shop you bought it in offers a lifetime protection plan, this service is often included for a very nominal fee.

When you do wash your metal jewelry, with or without stones, be careful not to let the water too hot. While the harder stones would be fine, sterling silver especially can tarnish in water that’s too hot, though a good buffing should be able to make the tarnish disappear.

Costume Jewelry

Yes, even this sort of sparkle can use some cautious care. Considering what we pay for our less-precious but just as fun pieces, it’s no surprise that they may not be built to last. When in doubt, follow the care instructions for the materials it’s trying to be, but toned down a bit. In other words, if you’ve got a crystal and gold-tone brooch, you can probably wash it in lukewarm water (too hot and you could damage the glue the stones are set with) but skip the detergents. The soft, lint-free cloth is never a bad idea.

And don’t think that just because you’ve got some brightly color plastic jewelry in your stash it can withstand anything! I have a few pieces left over from the 80s (yes, really) and they will fade if left in direct sunlight and become brittle with lots of temperature changes, just like the semi-precious stones in my collection.

It’s a good idea–and a pretty grown-up sort of thing–to forge a relationship with a jeweler, even if that jeweler works at or for a large chain. At some point you’ll need a repair done (especially if you’re like me, an aforementioned klutz) and unless you decide to take up metal-smithing as a hobby, it’s not going to be something even the most adept diy-er can handle. Look around your circle (maybe up one generation if need be) and see who wears nice jewelry on a regular basis and ask them who they trust.

How to you care for your jewelry?

38 Stones & Gems | Birthstones 101

64 Arts
image via the American Gem Trade Association

image via the American Gem Trade Association

Moving on from home decorating to decorating ourselves, it’s onward to the next art on this list:

38 Expert Knowledge of Stones and Gems

and going ahead and combining it with (because, really, why separate them?)

40 Valuing the Shape and Color of Stones

Despite the fact that I have serious issues with the way the word ‘expert’ is bandied about these days, let’s see what we can dig up about precious and semi-precious stones, starting with the first ones many of us likely encountered: out birthstones.

Matching stones with dates of birth (astrologically speaking, at least) goes back to biblical times, but the list we know as the birthstone guide only goes back to 1700’s Poland and was only set in stone–if you’ll pardon the pun–by the National Association of Jewelers in 1912. And while they don’t come right out and say it, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it wasn’t in an attempt to encourage more spending back in the day.

These poems were put out by the famous Tiffany & Co as early as 1870, though, so the practice of shopping by birthstone certainly isn’t new.

By her who in this month (January) is born
No gem save garnets should be worn;
They will ensure her constancy,
True friendship, and fidelity.

The February-born shall find
Sincerity and peace of mind,
Freedom from passion and from care,
If they an amethyst will wear.

Who in this world of ours their eyes
In March first open shall be wise,
In days of peril firm and brave,
And wear a bloodstone to their grave.

She who from April dates her years,
Diamonds shall wear, lest bitter tears
For vain repentance flow; this stone,
Emblem of innocence, is known.

Who first beholds the light of day
In spring’s sweet flowery month of May
And wears an emerald all her life
Shall be a loved and happy wife.

Who comes with summer to this earth,
And owes to June her hour of birth,
With ring of agate on her hand
Can health, wealth, and long life command.

The glowing ruby shall adorn,
Those who in July are born;
Then they’ll be exempt and free
From love’s doubts and anxiety.Wear a sardonyx or for thee,
No conjugal felicity;
The August-born without this stone,
`Tis said, must live unloved and lone.A maiden born when September leaves
Are rustling in September‘s breeze,
A sapphire on her brow should bind
`Twill cure diseases of the mind.

October‘s child is born for woe,
And life’s vicissitudes must know,
But lay an opal on her breast,
And hope will lull those woes to rest.

Who first comes to this world below
With drear November‘s fog and snow,
Should prize the topaz‘s amber hue,
Emblem of friends and lovers true.

If cold December gave you birth,
The month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate’er you do.

Old ideas for old stones, yes? But it does give us an idea of the “powers” or features they used to ascribe to the bits of mineral elevated to the status of gems.

Some stones have received an update over the years. March is now more popularly aquamarine, for instance, June usually a pearl or moonstone, August to peridot, and blue topaz and tanzanite often sub in for December’s turquoise. And for the curious, sardonyx is a form of onyx with red bands instead of the black we’re more used to seeing.

I used to be quite excited about diamond as my birthstone, when I was still young enough not to realize how ghastly expensive they are! Now that I’m older and know more about why those shiny bits of carbon are so expensive (and the grief these inflated costs cause to so many for so little, really), I’m far less enamored of them these days, preferring the alternate stone of white sapphire if I had to wear one at all.

Still, a well-cut stone sparkling in the sunlight is certainly beautiful.

And those cuts and shapes are what give the stones their final worth. You’ve probably heard of the 4 C’s of diamond buying, and they apply more or less to other stones as well.

Cut, contrary to popular opinion, refers to the number of facets the finished stone has, not it’s shape. The more facets, the more surfaces there are for light to bounce around upon, and the more sparkle your jewelry displays.

Color, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like. Generally the less color in a diamond the better, though clever marketing has made even black diamonds more sought after these days. In gemstones that are not usually white/clear, the depth of color is more a personal preference.

Clarity sounds a lot like color, but really it has to do with the natural character (or defects) of the stone: inclusions (deviations within the stone itself) and blemishes (flaws on the outside of the gem). It really goes hand-in-hand with cut, above, and how the light bounces around the stone.

Finally, Carat is simply the size–by weight–of a stone. A single carat equals 200 milligrams  and each carat is measured in points. Since there are 100 points in a carat, then each point weighs 2 milligrams. This is what they mean when you see a cocktail ring with lots of smaller stones or a bracelet with oodles of chips in it described not in total carat weight but in points.

Not all gems are evaluated by the same criteria and with the same scrutiny of diamonds, but it’s good to know the basics at the very least.

It’s worth noting, too, that these days it’s not at all uncommon to see lab-created stones right next to their natural counterparts in a jeweler’s case and the one way you’d know it is by looking at the price tag. Fact is, lab-created stones are exactly the same as the natural ones they mimic, not mere stand-ins like cubic zirconia was/is for diamonds in costume jewelry, and might even be better in some respects as those inclusions and blemishes don’t happen in the lab the way they do in nature.

Both my engagement and wedding rings feature lab-created sapphires and I couldn’t be happier about it–I get all the sparkle without feeling guilty about how much they cost Todd.

What’s your opinion on birthstones?

the Finished Trivet

The Finished Trivet

64 Arts

It’s always fun to finish a project, right? Well, this is no exception.

I’ll be honest: I’m great at starting things. I’d even go so far as to say I’m great at coming up with ideas and plans and researching hows and whys and all. But finishing things? Sometimes it’s tough going not to get distracted by the next fun idea. It’s like projectile-ADD… or something like that. Something that sounds less gross?

And when I decided to go in a different direction with the heart trivet and turn it into a mixed media piece? Yeah, it was almost too easy to set the normal trivet aside and get absorbed in the offshoot.

But I had a little talk with myself. It went something like, “hey, wait, before you take off those gloves and let the grout dry, it looks like you’ve got enough to do the square one, too, and that way you only have to deal with the mess once, right? Doncha think we might?”

Apparently my creative side can be swayed by reason and logic. On occasion. But let’s not make a habit of it.

At any rate, I did get it finished.

Trivet In Progress


the Finished Trivet


What a difference some grout makes, huh? I was really shocked how much the grout toned-down the brightness of the tiles. It probably has something to do with the light not being able to bounce around them as much (what will all but one side of each blocked in).

In the future I need to work on my edges: they sort of taper in some areas and that’s not always a desired feature. Still, it was a fun learning experience, a little messy and ultimately turned into a finished, functional item.

And that’s even better than perfect.