How to Make Stone and Metal Jewelry Sparkle

By Gill Chilton

Stone and metal jewellery benefits most from your cleaning attention. Most people know that diamonds are amongst the hardest of nature’s rocks. Industrial ones get used as cutting blades. Yet, many other precious and semi-precious stones don’t share the diamond’s hardness.

Confusingly, they all look and feel hard to the touch, yet opals are soft enough for the glaze to get stained, whilst amber can fade in sunlight. It’s no wonder, then, that one cleaning process doesn’t fit all.

You can ask for ultrasonic cleaning at jewellery shops. If they have the equipment and consider your stone suitable, they put it into a container and ultrasonic waves remove the dirt.

One way to find out how much of a clean and polish your ring or necklace can take is to discover its position on the Mohs Hardness Scale. The Mohs scale ranks items according to how hard they are, usually by determining whether one material can scratch or be scratched by a second material. So the Mohs scale lets you know which stones can scratch others in your collection if their surfaces touch. For example, a sapphire brooch, with a high Mohs value, can easily scratch a coral necklace, with a low one.

Basically any material – not just gemstones – at the same point or higher on the Mohs scale can scratch a surface made from a material with a lower Mohs value, which is why, when you’re cleaning jewellery, you need to take care to keep items separate. Luckily, fingernails are only at 2.5 on the scale, so there’s no problem touching everything.

Rank Stone or Metal Washing Instructions
10 Diamond Immerse in hot, soapy water and scrub with an old, soft
toothbrush. Rinse and air dry.
9 Sapphire Immerse in hot, soapy water and scrub with an old, soft
toothbrush. Rinse and air dry.
8 Cubic zirconium Immerse in hot, soapy water and scrub with an old, soft
toothbrush. Rinse and air dry.
8 Topaz Immerse in warm – not hot – soapy water. Topaz
doesn’t like rapid changes in temperature. Rinse and
7.5 Emerald Most emeralds are coated with a protective oil, which means you
can’t use ultrasonic cleaning. Use warm water only.
Don’t immerse, instead dip a soft cloth in plain warm water.
Rinse and air-dry.
7 Ruby Immerse in warm, soapy water. Rinse and air-dry.
7 Tourmaline Use a soft cloth dipped in warm water. Avoid brushing the
stone. Rinse and air-dry.
6 Marcasite (pyrite) The stone cracks easily and cheaper marcasite is simply glued
into place, so don’t scrub, but simply rub carefully with a
wet cloth.
5 Opal Scratches don’t show readily because of the stone’s
opaque qualities. Even so, avoid rubbing. Wet a silk cloth with
warm water and gently wipe the stone. Dry thoroughly and store in a
cloth bag – opals hate light.
4 Platinum Soak in soapy water. Rinse and dry.
3.5 9-carat Gold Soak in soapy water. Rinse and dry.
3.5 Coral Wipe with a soft cloth.
3.3 Silver Needs very regular cleaning. Immerse in warm, soapy water and
scrub with a soft brush. Rinse and be scrupulous about drying.
3 Pearls, cultured and real See the ‘Building up to pearls’ section.
2.5 22-carat Gold Wash one item at a time in hot, soapy water
2.5 Jet Wipe with a soft cloth.
2.5 Amber Wipe with a soft cloth.

The weakest material may be the stone’s setting. If the claws are out of line, get them fixed before scrubbing at the stone.