17 July 2012

Fashion: Protecting Vintage Jewelry

This post is written by contributing author Paige Ronchetti.

You may or may not know this, but I make jewelry for a living. Even before it was my job, I was totally obsessed with gems - especially anything vintage. Older pieces are awesome, but all of that history requires a little extra care. Cleaning vintage items incorrectly is the fastest way to ruin them (dramatic, but true), so today I have some quick tips for how to avoid that.

1. Never get your rhinestones wet. Ever. Vintage rhinestones have foil backings, which is what makes them so sparkly and wonderful. But if that foil gets wet or starts to scrape off (from scrubbing with a brush, for example) the stones will get dark and cloudy. Here's a visual for you:

Happy rhinestones!

Sad rhinestones.

If you buy a rhinestone piece that needs a little TLC, try wiping it off with a soft cloth first. A piece of an old t-shirt works really well. If there's still some grime around the prongs, use a pin to gently poke it out. In dire situations, you can spray a bit of glass cleaner onto your cloth and gently dab at the stones. But that's it! No water, and definitely no commercial jewelry cleaner. Please. It will make me sad.

2. Be gentle with aurora borealis beads. These shiny iridescent pieces are some of my favorites. Items in great shape are hard to find because a lot of people don't realize the finish rubs off until it's too late. If you find one that's a little dusty looking, just wipe it off with a soft cloth.

As with its cousin the rhinestone, you'll want to avoid brushes and commercial jewelry cleaner.

3. Gemstones need more cleaning power. Remember when I said to avoid that pesky water? That doesn't apply to real gemstones! The best way to clean more valuable pieces (real stones set into a fine metal) is with warm soapy water and a soft-bristled brush. If something is looking especially gunky, dip the brush into some jewelry cleaner and scrub away. Just don't drop the item into the cleaner, since that might be too harsh.

Clean gems are more valuable than those that aren't, so it's worth it to keep them looking nice. Plus, if there's not a bunch of grime in the way, it's easier to catch the details:

Do you own any vintage jewelry? What's your favorite piece? Have you developed any cleaning methods over the years? Or accidentally ruined a piece? (I used to think rhinestones could get wet. Sad times.)

Paige Ronchetti lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband. They have no kids and no pets, which gives them a lot of time for eating spicy food and looking for bargains. Paige's blog is Little Nostalgia is a collection of projects and pretty things. There you can find DIY tutorials, home decor inspiration, and affordable fashion ideas. When she is not blogging, Paige is working on her vintage-inspired jewelry lines, Little White Chapel and Oh Nostalgia. Connect to Paige via twitter or pinterest.


  1. I don't own very much vintage jewelry, but the pieces I have are close to my heart and incredibly grungy!

    Thank you so much for this great info. You're giving my special pieces a brand new life.

  2. Thank you for the great information Paige. Until recently the only thing I knew was how to restore the shine of silver jewelry (baking soda)!

    1. Oh, baking soda! So useful.

      There are new commercial cleaners that claim you can use them on vintage silver... but they also warn against getting it on any stones. Figure that one out.

  3. Paige, fantastic. who knew you shouldn't get rhinestones wet. I have to say, I have a LOT of vintage jewelry. Some I've bought for myself, but most I can say quite happily were handed down to me from both of my grams. I'm especially partial to their brooches. Also, I was recently given my gram's diamond ring by my parents. Beautiful vintage look. Just need to get it sized as she was a wee lass with size 5 feet....which means it's too small for my normal size fingers.

    1. I'm a brooch fan, too! I know it's a cliche to say this, but they really don't make them like they used to. Stones glued into place? Please.

      I think you should blog about your collection. I'd love to see it!

  4. all jewelry is beautiful! I don't think there's anything like vintage jewelry though! http://lindasbling.com