There is something you could call the fine jewelry paradox. On one hand, one definition of fine jewelry is that the stuff is made from materials that qualify as precious, which implies a high level of stability and resistance to wear and tear, both chemical and physical. On the flip side, fine jewelry needs to be maintained to look, wear and present itself its best. Oddly enough, it can be damaged quite easily under certain circumstances.
Which raises the question: can you go DIY with cleaning your fine jewelry? You most certainly can, if you use common sense and consider the below guidelines.
The most straightforward scenario is when the wildlife components are replicas in precious metals or gemstones and there are no organics to concern yourself with. The simplest method is a warm detergent solution and a soft brush. Warming up a solution of water and dish detergent, teamed up with a soft toothbrush will get most jobs done. Be patient with the kind of soiling that goes way back. It can be stubborn, particularly in hard to reach areas. Brush some, and then let your piece soak and brush it out again every now and then.
Finally, rinse and dry. Be sure to rinse with warm water over a bowl. When small accent stones are involved, a bowl will catch those that might have come loose during wear; it is easier and less risky to pan them from a clean bowl than having to recover them from a grimy, slimy garburator. A soft tissue paper is perfect for drying. Simply wrap your piece in it and press lightly so as to draw the water from it. Twirl a corner of the tissue paper into a point for the hard to reach areas. Drying fine jewelry from cleaning is not about rubbing off water beads, but nimbly exploiting the capillary action of the tissue paper’s fiber in order to avoid unsightly water stains.
Whatever you do, never use solvents, abrasives or bleach, as they can cause various kinds of irreparable damage. Wildlife jewelry may also contain precious stones besides organic trophies, and you need to also pay special attention to gemstones that might have been enhanced. Emeralds, for example, are routinely oiled to mask fissures and fractures, and the oil may be removed in part by the detergent, causing the stone to look more included after cleaning than before!
If you are not sure, or if you are dealing with soiling of the extremely stubborn kind, a responsible commercial jeweler can give advice and get the trickier jobs done with his trusty ultrasonic cleaner. Ultrasonic cleaners are available online, but they should be used with caution: some gemstones do not stand up to the 35,000 plus shockwaves ultrasonics produce per minute to hurl detergent particles against any soil on the item being cleaned. Reed Runk of KFB Jewelers in Chambersburg, PA, is adamant, “we prefer to clean your trophy parts here in our workshop.” You don’t want to be taking your chances with such valuable items.
Cleaning options become severely limited the moment organics are part of a piece of jewelry. One is pretty much restricted to wiping with a soft, clean cloth. If you need to moisten the cloth, be sure it is only that: moist, or damp. Depending upon the organic and the kind of surface treatment it has undergone, critical amounts of water can leave
stains on the organics’ porous surfaces that go deep inside, similar to wood. Do not involve detergents, or bleach, as they are certain to stain your valuable trophy irreparably.
It certainly is a good idea to keep in touch with the studio of origin. Just as brushing teeth is a matter of routine hygiene and maintenance, wiping with a soft, clean cloth every now and then is so, too. What your dentist would refer to as “deep cleaning” every six months or so is the same as bringing your fine jewelry into the studio for cleaning and maintenance. Some areas may require closer attention, and a goldsmith with a background in organics is able to provide the service. As with every item of fine jewelry, this is the time for a thorough check-up on such vitals such as whether settings are still in good shape and hold your stones securely. A competent studio will also verify and adjust mechanical components like clasps, brooch mechanisms, ear clips and the tension on clutch backs. Whether your wildlife items are strung like pearls and beads, the silk string will eventually stretch from wear and need to be replaced for safety and appearance (restringing).
With time and wear, organic material may require re-treating of sorts, be it with wax or another sealant. Jewelers who specialize in wildlife jewelry tend to guard information about the products and procedures related to processing and sealing such materials with their life. They are vital trade secrets and their business depends upon them. While you cannot expect such a studio to reveal the hard-won insights of decades of experience, you can expect them to restore your wildlife jewelry to as good as new.
If you want to enjoy your fine jewelry for a lifetime, a major consideration is not to let parts or components rub up against one another. “I always tell people to remove chains from pendants when you not wearing them because you damage the pendant and can also damage the chain when you put them into a pouch,” says Madeleine Kay of Juniper Hills, CA, a wildlife artist and goldsmith with well over three decades’ experience. She knows that diamonds are cut with diamond, and that the same premise holds even truer with softer materials.
Readers who are familiar with the intricacies of wearing pearls and turquoise will find they share one precaution with wildlife jewelry: put on last – take off first. “I would suggest for your jewelry to be the last thing on when dressing and the first item off when undressing,” advises Dan Toledo, a seasoned wildlife artist from Whittier, CA, because garments can catch on the jewelry and the alcohols in most cosmetics (eau de cologne, perfumes, etc.) will deteriorate not only the materials, but also their waxes and other sealants.—Robert Ackermann