Family heirlooms, especially jewelry, can carry great sentimental value. If you have a collection of antique jewelry, chances are it is languishing in a drawer or a jewelry box somewhere, either because you’re worried about damaging it or it doesn’t match your style but you still hang on to it. Did you know that leaving it to languish like that could be damaging it too? What do you need to do to care for your antique jewelry to ensure that it lasts for many more generations?

Get it Cleaned by a Professional

You might like that patina that has developed on your jewelry over time, but it is actually a form of oxidation. If you’re not familiar with the term, oxidation is also known as rust. Take your favorite pieces to a professional jeweler to have them cleaned.

While you’re there, ask what they recommend for keeping your jewelry clean at home. Harsh chemicals can damage the jewelry, so a professional jeweler will be the best person to ask about what kind of chemicals, if any, you should be using.

Whatever you do, don’t use ultra sonic cleaners.  They are a great tool for cleaning modern jewelry, but antique jewelry wasn’t made with the same techniques as modern jewelry, so the ultrasonic frequencies can damage the metals.

Keep it Safe

Storing your antique jewelry collection is more complicated than just stashing it away in a drawer where it could get knocked about, dropped, or tangled up. Store your antique jewelry in its own dedicated jewelry box away from the stuff you normally wear. It should also be stored away from direct sunlight, and in a humidity controlled environment.  You might like to see those stones sparkle in the sun, but too much UV radiation can damage the pieces.

Caring for your antique jewelry collection is all about preserving the past — not just your personal past, but the past of each individual piece of jewelry. Storing them properly is just one small piece of the puzzle, but it is easily one of the most important.

Get Them Properly Fitted

If you’re going to wear any of your pieces of antique jewelry, make sure they fit properly. Rings should be fitted by a professional jeweler, and necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and broaches should have their clasps, settings, and equipment examined by a professional to ensure that they are in good enough shape to wear.

You don’t want to wear your antiques just to have them fall apart on you, or have their stones fall from their settings, after all.

Wear Them Carefully

The point of jewelry is to be worn, so if you have some classic antique pieces that have been cleaned and properly fitted, wear them!  Just be careful when you do.  Don’t:

  • Wear them while cooking Older pieces often have loose settings. The last thing you need is your stones falling into whatever you’re cooking!
  • Wear them while cleaning At least if you’re cleaning with harsh chemicals. Take your rings off and store them on chore day. The harsh chemicals could damage the metals, loosen the settings, or destroy inlays or enameled surfaces.
  • Wear them while exercising You don’t want to sweat your rings off or accidently bang them against exercise equipment. Leave them in your gym bag.
  • Wear them while swimming Especially if you’re going to be swimming in salt water. Swimming increases your chances of losing your jewelry.  Salt water is a natural corrosive (which is why salted roads cause cars to rust in wintertime) so you should absolutely not take your antique jewelry into the ocean.

Add To Your Collection

Your antique jewelry collection doesn’t have to just be made up of heirloom pieces. Picking up new pieces of antique jewelry can be a great way to enjoy these classic pieces while preserving them. There are a number of different types of antique jewelry, spanning the centuries. Georgian antiques can date back to the early 1700s and often include floral and scroll motifs. Victorian jewelry dates between 1837 and 1901 and usually has romantic themes — its creation is often associated with the reign of Queen Victoria in England, hence the name.

Take some time to study the different types of antique jewelry to discover what you like the best. Looking into antique jewelry can also allow you to build your collection at a fraction of the cost of modern jewelry — even if some antique pieces are expensive because of their collectability, you can often find overlooked pieces at estate sales and auctions for cheap, because the people selling them are unaware of their value.

Inspect Your Jewelry

Whether you’re wearing it or not, take the time to inspect all of your antique jewelry. Look for broken metal or cracked metal, corrosion points, or loose gem settings, all of which can be associated with both age and wear.

If you find a problem with one of your pieces, don’t try to fix it yourself.  Instead, take it to a professional jeweler who has experience working with antiques. Vette them if possible to ensure that they have the skills necessary to take care of your collection.  Building up a relationship with your local jeweler can also be beneficial, as you’ll always have someone you can call if you need a piece sized, cleaned, or repaired.

 

An antique jewelry collection can be a great investment, for both yourself and eventually for your children.  Make sure you’re taking good care of all of your jewelry — care for it well, and it will last you for generations to come.