Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your Handmade Jewelry

These twelve sections will give you all the information you need to care and clean your handmade jewelry

Identify your gemstone jewelry
1. Identifying Gemstones

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Gemstone Hardness
2. Gemstone Hardness

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Hardness vs Tenacity in Gemstones
3. Hardness vs Tenacity

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Gemstone Wearability
4. Gemstone Wearability

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Gemstone Cleavage
5. Gemstone Cleavage

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Caring for your jewelry before cleaning
6. Care for Your Jewelry

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Cleaning your jewelry at home
7. Cleaning At Home

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Pearl and Opal Care
8. Pearl & Opal Care

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Caring for Sterling Silver Jewelry
9. Sterling Silver Care

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Copper Jewelry Care
10. Copper Jewelry Care

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Mixed Metal Jewelry Care
11. Mixed Metal Care

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Final thoughts on jewelry care
12. Final Thoughts

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Identifying the Gemstones in Your Jewelry

Have the gemstones in your jewelry been properly identified?

Different gemstones have different physical properties. That means they can react very differently to heat, light, acids, and scratching.

There are many different gemstones that can be used in jewelry. Some gemstones are commonly used in jewelry like diamonds, sapphires, and rubies. Other gemstones wax and wane because of their popularity or even their availability. For example, Tanzanite was only discovered and identified in 1967, which is young in gemstone terms, so it wasn’t used in jewelry until later in the 20th century. But, Tanzanite was instantly popular and highly in-demand because of its beautiful color.

Availability of material plays a role too since there may not be enough gem-quality pieces to create mass-produced jewelry. A rare species of garnet, Demantoid garnet, was discovered in Russia in the early 1900s and was used primarily in the Czar’s jewelry; once that small, original, single source was exhausted, Demantoid garnet was not widely available, and no new material was mined until a new source was discovered in the 1990s. It continues to be a very rare variation of garnet not mass produced in jewelry and is highly sought by collectors.

On the other hand, sapphire which is the mineral corundum, comes in all colors of the rainbow and is commonly used in jewelry because of its lovely color and hardness. Depending on the trace element content, sapphire varieties might be blue, yellow, green, pink, orange, purple, white or black. If corundum is red, it’s considered a Ruby. So, you may be surprised to find what you thought was another gemstone may in fact be a sapphire. And the opposite happens as well… a blue gemstone isn't necessarily sapphire. It could or may likely be a Sapphire, but it could also be another blue gemstone like Iolite, Tourmaline, Zircon, Tanzanite, Spinel, Benetoite, Kyanite, Sodalite, or Labradorite, just to name a few. 

Just because great-great-grandma’s ring has a transparent red faceted stone in it, the age alone doesn’t indicate that the gem is a genuine ruby. It could be a different gemstone, or even another material. Synthetic gemstones have been around for hundreds of years, and often older pieces feature synthetics.

The only way to know for sure is to have your gem checked out by a certified gemologist. Here at Bella Ornamenti, we give you as much information about your gemstone as we have. Whether the gem is natural or man made, color, shape, etc... If you have any questions about cleaning a piece of gemstone jewelry purchased from us, please send us an email and we'll be happy to tell you the best way to clean your piece. 

Gemstone Hardness

Did you know that the particles of dust you see floating in the air and settling on tables contain quartz? This mineral has a hardness of 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale. That means the quartz in dust makes those particles hard enough to actually remove the finish from your car and the polish from your table. Dust can even cut glass. Everyday hazards such as this make gemstone hardness an important consideration when designing and wearing jewelry. 

Mohs Hardness Scale is based on 10 minerals, each of which is assigned an arbitrary value from 1 to 10. These minerals, along with their assigned value are:

Mineral                                                 Mohs Hardness
Talc                                                            1
Gypsum                                                     2
Calcite                                                       3
Fluorite                                                      4
Apatite                                                       5
Orthoclase                                                6
Quartz                                                       7
Topaz                                                        8
Corundum                                                 9
Diamond                                                   10

Each mineral can be scratched by itself or any above it. None can be scratched by any below it. For example, topaz can scratch quartz, but it can't scratch corundum. Talc can be scratched by everything, and nothing but diamond will make a mark on diamond.

Most of the commonly used gems have a Mohs hardness of 6 or greater. The hardness of some gemstones may vary slightly, depending upon the direction in which they are scratched. Hardness may also deviate according to where the stone was found. Gemstones may be assigned a range of hardness, such as 5-6 for hematite, rather than a single number.

Following are the Mohs hardness of some popular gems.

8 1/2                        Chrysoberyl
7 1/2                        Aquamarine, Emerald
7                              Amethyst, Tourmaline
6 1/2                        Peridot
6                              Moonstone, Opal, Turquoise
5                              Lapis lazuli
4                              Malachite
3                              Chryscolla

The Difference Between the Hardness of Gemstones and Their Tenacity.

Tenacity refers to the ability of a material to resist the development of a crack or cleavage when there is physical pressure or impact. If the mineral or gemstone is hammered and the result is dust or small crumbs, it is considered brittle.

Less exact than the Mohs scale, the tenacity of a gemstone is measured in words:

Exceptional (e.g. jadeite, nephrite)
Excellent (e.g. sapphire)
Good (e.g. quartz, spinel)
Fair (e.g. tourmaline)
Poor or brittle (e.g. feldspar, topaz)

Jade, for example, is among the most tenacious gemstone (i.e. exceptional)—more so than even diamond (which is measured fair to brittle, against all odds). By comparison, kyanite and zircons (both of which are considered brittle) are not considered gemstones with a strong tenacity.

While tenacity is not an exact science, this measurement does explain how the hardest gemstones can be so fragile against impact. This measurement also helps us decide the best course of action when determining jewelry settings and gemstone pairings. It is also why you so often see sculptures made out of jade with very fine details, but no sculptures made out of topaz. The stone has a great resistance to impacts.

What Does Gemstone Wearability Mean?

Gemstone hardness contributes greatly to the degree to which a gem will show wear. This is often referred to as wearability or sometimes "durability." An opal with a hardness of 6 will be rapidly covered with fine scratches and lose its polish if worn everyday as a ring stone. Remember, quartz (hardness 7) is a component of dust and one of the most common minerals on Earth. Simply wiping off dust from a softer material will scratch it. The scratches may be tiny, even microscopic, but they'll accumulate and become visible over time. On the other hand, a ruby with a hardness of 9 will remain bright and lustrous for years because it's harder than most of the abrasive particles that contribute to wear.

In practical terms, gems softer than quartz will lose their polish and become dull simply from cleaning. A 7 or higher on the Mohs scale usually indicates a gem is hard enough for normal jewelry use. This is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. Pearls and opals are some of the most popular jewelry gems but are well below 7. Hardness, tenacity(toughness) and stability are what goes into wearability grading.

Wearability can be graded as follows:

Very Good
Display Only

An "Excellent" grade means a stone can be worn in virtually any type of setting for any occasion, even daily wear. A stone with a wearability grade of "Poor," like an opal, means its jewelry use should be very carefully considered. You should only wear it occasionally or in protective settings. "Display Only" stones are for collections or display purposes only.

Although gemstone hardness has a significant effect on wearability, other factors play a role, too. Just because a gem is hard doesn't automatically mean it will wear well. Some gems are sensitive to changes in temperature or common chemicals, even sweat.

Stability speaks to a gem's resistance to chemicals, temperature changes, moisture, and light. Some gems are more susceptible to damage, color change or loss, or other deterioration when exposed to these.

Gemstone Cleavage

Technically, cleavage has to do with how strongly the molecules of a gemstone bind to each other. To put it in lay terms, it's much like wood grain. You can easily split a piece of wood along the grain, but going across the grain is much more difficult. Many gems have "cleavage planes, which vary across gem species. Depending on how easily the mineral will separate along the planes, cleavage can be defined as follows:


Perfect cleavage means the mineral will split easily. Minerals will poor cleavage will resist splitting. Some gems lack cleavage planes altogether. They are described as having no cleavage.

Have you ever seen diamond cutters in old movies laboring over large diamond crystals? Cautiously, they chisel the crystals with brisk and carefully measured blows. If done just right, the result is two perfect pieces to cut into fabulous gems. If done poorly, the diamond shatters.

Diamond cutters don't have to do that anymore, but this is a good example of the effect of gemstone cleavage. Diamonds are the hardest substance in nature but also have perfect cleavage. This means they can easily split along cleavage planes. This is a boon for cutting if done properly. Unfortunately, this also means diamonds can chip or shatter with wear. On the other hand, quartz is less hard than diamond but can take a lot of banging about without damage.

Caring for Your Jewelry BEFORE Cleaning

Cleaning your gemstones after they get dirty is only part of proper care. Pre-use care is also important. Apply your perfumes, colognes, and hairsprays before you put on gemstone jewelry.

Not only will these chemicals reduce gem brilliance, the ability to return light, they can be highly destructive to some gems, such as pearls, which react violently to acid and alcohol.

Remove your gemstone jewelry when doing dishes, swimming or any time they may come in contact with any chemicals. When you are not wearing your jewelry, keep your gemstones away from extreme heat sources and bright sunlight, such as on windowsills or near radiators. Avoid leaving pieces in humid areas too so try not to leave your jewelry in the kitchen or bathroom. Always put jewelry away if it’s not being worn.

If you do want to keep your jewelry together in a box, just make sure the pieces can’t touch, or they may scratch each other. Pay particular attention to this if travelling with your jewelry.

Prevention will help your jewelry stay as beautiful as the day you purchased it!

At Home Cleaning Tips For Your Gemstone Jewelry

The most important recommendation is to ask your jeweler the best way to clean your gemstone pieces!

For most jewelry, warm soapy water is all that is needed. As a first step, let your jewelry piece soak for a few moments in a solution of warm water and mild detergent

Use a soft brush to gently scrub your jewelry. A shaved matchstick or toothpick is quite good at picking out accumulations, but don’t be too harsh. Patience pays off. When you’ve finished scrubbing, dip the jewelry piece back into the solution for one last wetting. Then rinse in warm running water, preferably about the same temperature as your solution. Radical temperature changes are dangerous and should be avoided. Shake or blow on the jewelry piece to remove excess liquid, then gently polish with a soft lint-free cloth or chamois.

GEMSTONES USUALLY SAFE FOR THIS METHOD: Alexandrite, Amazonite, Amethyst, Apatite, Aquamarine, Carnelian, Chalcedony, Citrine, Diamond, Diopside, Emerald, Fluorite, Garnet, Howlite, Iolite, Jade, Kunzite, Kyanite, Labradorite, Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Moldavite, Moonstone, Peridot, Rainbow Moonstone, Rhodonite, Ruby, Sapphire, Sodalite,  Spinel, Sunstone, Tanzanite, Topaz, Tourmaline, Turquoise, Zircon.

Ultrasonic Cleaning

Ultrasonic devices clean gemstones and jewelry by creating high-frequency sound waves that cause bubbles to form in the liquid surrounding your piece. As these bubbles burst with high pressure, they dislodge dirt and grime from the gem and metalwork, leaving pieces looking clean and fresh. It sounds like a simple and easy solution, but there are many caveats with a tool of this complexity.

If your gem has been treated in any way, it’s best to avoid this method. Almost all Emeralds are treated with oil, for example, and heat treating is common across a wide number of stones. Porous and especially delicate gems like Opal and Pearl should be kept away from this method, too.

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding how long you should leave your jewelry in the cleaner for, and at what temperature. Never exceed these guidelines as it may damage your jewelry. Other tips for ultrasonic cleaning include:

Use the recommended cleaning solution as many have been specially formulated to work in ultrasonic technology
Make sure your cleaner comes with a basket that sits within the device (your jewelry and gemstones should not directly be touching the sides or bottom of the cleaner)

Always check that the cleaner hasn’t knocked any stones loose before you dispose of the cleaning solution
Some gems should never be cleaned using this method, regardless of treatment, and we’ve listed some of the most common ones below. This can be down to their relative softness, or even their tendency to split across their cleavage plane under certain circumstances.

GEMSTONES YOU SHOULD NEVER CLEAN ULTRASONICALLY: Amber, Andesine, Apatite, Chrysocolla, Chrome Diopside, Coral, Emerald, Fluorite, Iolite, Kunzite, Labradorite, Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Moonstone, Opal, Pearl, Peridot, Sunstone, Tanzanite, Topaz, Tourmaline, Turquoise, Zircon. To be safe, avoid any gemstone that has been treated, appears heavily included or is damaged in any way.

Final Tips

When it comes to cleaning your jewelry at home, the golden rule is that if you’re not sure, don’t risk it. Never commit to a cleaning method until you are sure it is safe for your gem, and when you’ve found one that works, stick with it.

When cleaning multi-gem pieces, always protect the most delicate element. A Pearl accented with Diamonds will need to be cleaned as a Pearl piece, even though Diamonds can take much tougher methods of cleaning.

Don’t use harsh cleaning chemicals such as bleach or anything that contains ammonia, as many gems will react badly with them.

Special Care for Opal and Pearl Jewelry

Never clean opal or pearl jewelry in mechanical cleaning systems, such as ultrasonic, steam, or boiling. Use only the methods recommended below.

A pearl is an unusual gem as it is created organically by mollusks (usually oysters) under the sea. This most famous and glamourous of gems is also, relatively speaking, in need of the most special care. It comes in between 2.5 and 4.5 on the Mohs scale which is much softer than most gems, so always store your Pearls away from your other jewelry. Be aware that even your fingernail is hard enough to mark the surface of some Pearls.

Amazingly, some Pearl advice states you should try not to let Pearls touch the skin, as even perspiration and oils from our skin can cause problems. Don’t let this stop you wearing the Pearls as you wish, though, and if they do come into contact with your skin, wipe them down with a very soft clean cloth when you take them off. Always put your Pearls on last when you’re getting ready, as they’re vulnerable to all sorts of cosmetic products.

The warm soapy water method can be slightly modified to work well with Pearls. The gem is incredibly soft and porous, so despite its oceanic origins, it’s recommended that you don’t dip them into any liquid. When preparing your soapy water, only use a tiny amount of mild detergent. Moisten a very soft and clean lint-free microfiber cloth and wipe your Pearls carefully and gently. If there’s any remaining dirt, use a very soft brush to dislodge it.

Dry your Pearls immediately with a dry portion of your cloth. If the Pearls are drilled and threaded, on a necklace for example, take care to get as much moisture away from the threading material as you can. Never use heat to dry the piece, but you can blow gently to remove any remaining moisture.

It’s also worth having threaded Pearl pieces restrung every few years, and don’t take them anywhere near a steam or ultrasonic cleaner.

Opal is one of the most spectacular and colorful of nature’s treasures, and special attention must be paid to keep it looking its best. As well as avoiding ultrasonic and steam cleaning, be wary of completely submerging your Opal in water too. Some Opals are doublets or triplets, where the Opal has been combined with another gem or even a synthetic material to strengthen it for use in jewelry. Soaking in water can eventually cause these layers to separate.

Warm soapy water is still the best method for cleaning Opal, but unless you’re sure it’s one solid Opal, don’t submerge it. Instead, moisten your soft lint-free microfiber cloth and buff the gem this way. Use a dry part of the cloth to remove any moisture that remains. Because Opal doesn’t like sudden temperature changes, use water that’s room temperature too.

Keep Opal well away from any extreme heat sources; they contain a small amount of moisture, and if this dries out you can get surface cracks, known as crazing. If you fear your Opal is losing moisture, sometimes wrapping it in moist (but not soaking) cotton wool and putting it in an airtight bag can help. Check it regularly and re-moisten the cotton wool if it has dried out.

Opals react badly to acid and alcohol, so be especially careful to keep them well away from any household cleaning products, aftershaves and perfumes, etc.

You might be tempted to simply wipe a bit of dirt off your opal or pearl jewelry. Don’t do it. In terms of hardness, pearls range from 2.5 to 4. Opals range from 5.5 to 6.5. Most household dust is a 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale. That dirt could scratch your opal or pearl. Clean them as recommended above, instead.

Sterling Silver Jewelry Care

The basics -

-Sterling Silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
-Sterling silver will naturally tarnish without care.
-Use a soft jewelry cloth to polish - no cleansers!
-Remove before bathing, swimming or cleaning.
-Avoid chemicals, lotions, perfumes.
-Remove sterling silver jewelry before handling anything with sulfur (like eggs) as they will speed up tarnishing.
-If your item is hand stamped and the coloring has worn off, use a black sharpie to fill in the letters. Use rubbing alcohol to remove excess marker.

Cleaning Sterling Silver
The most effective way to clean sterling silver is with warm water and mild bar soap. (Liquid soap is likely to leave a film on your jewelry, resulting in a dull finish.)

This cleaning method is safe for hard, non-porous gemstones, like topaz, amethyst, garnet, citrine, peridot, and cubic zirconia. Apply the warm, soapy water with a soft cloth or very soft toothbrush. Rinse clean and gently pat dry with a soft cloth.

Examples of porous gemstones include pearl, opal, emerald, turquoise, amber, coral, and onyx. Porous gemstones should never be soaked in water. If porous gemstones do become wet, gently pat dry and allow them to dry completely before storing. Take care not to expose porous gemstones to makeup, lotion, perfume, or hairspray.

Polishing Sterling Silver
The safest and most effective way to polish sterling silver jewelry is by using a soft polishing cloth. Silver polishing cloths are specially treated to remove tarnish and leave a high polished, lustrous shine.

Begin by gently rubbing the cloth on the surface of the silver, avoiding any gemstones. The dirt and tarnish on the jewelry will quickly transfer to the cloth. The more you use your polishing cloth, the darker it will become. Not to worry! Your polishing cloth will still be effective, even after many uses.

Avoid laundering your polishing cloth, as washing it will remove the cleaning agent from the fabric. A polishing cloth should last several years with normal use.

Storing Sterling Silver
Tarnish occurs on the surface of silver as a result of exposure to air and moisture. To slow the progression of tarnish, we recommend storing sterling silver jewelry in individual resealable plastic baggies. You may also choose to wrap individual pieces in soft tissue paper for added protection.

Organizing and storing jewelry items separately in bags prevents chains from tangling and gemstones from scratching each other and metal.

Copper Jewelry Care

If your copper jewelry has been flame painted, alcohol ink coloring or has patina added, please ONLY CLEAN with a soft cloth (use of cleansers will remove coloring/patina)

For untreated pieces - first try warm soapy water.

If soapy water isn't enough - pour salt and vinegar over your jewelry and gently rub into the jewelry until any grime or tarnishing is removed. Rinse with water and polish with a soft, dry cloth.

If your item is hand stamped and the coloring has worn off, use a black sharpie to fill in the letters. Use rubbing alcohol to remove excess marker.

Mixed Metal Jewelry Care

When caring for mixed metal jewelry, you want to use cleaning tips for the softest metal in the piece.

Regularly wipe down your jewelry with a polishing cloth to keep build up from forming. Do not use facial tissues or paper towels to clean your piece as the paper fibers can scratch the surface of your jewelry.

Storing your jewelry in a fabric-lined jewelry box will also keep your pieces that include silver from tarnishing or collecting dust. We also recommend placing anti-tarnish strips inside your jewelry box. These strips absorb sulfides and other air pollutants to prevent (or at least slow down) tarnish from forming.

When it comes to cleaning mixed metal jewelry, you want to err on the side of caution and use the least abrasive cleanser. Dip your item in warm water with mild dish soap and gently polish the item with a soft cloth.

If you have a vintage item or a mixed metal piece that is in need of a deep clean, it’s best to bring it to a professional for cleaning. They can use stronger cleaning agents that will restore the item’s luster without compromising its integrity.

If you have questions about jewelry pieces purchased from us, whether cleaning, caring, or storing, please email service@shopbellaornamenti.com and we'll be happy to answer as soon as possible.

Copper Jewelry Care

If your copper jewelry has been flame painted, alcohol ink coloring or has patina added, please ONLY CLEAN with a soft cloth (use of cleansers will remove coloring/patina)

For untreated pieces - first try warm soapy water.

If soapy water isn't enough - pour salt and vinegar over your jewelry and gently rub into the jewelry until any grime or tarnishing is removed. Rinse with water and polish with a soft, dry cloth.

If your item is hand stamped and the coloring has worn off, use a black sharpie to fill in the letters. Use rubbing alcohol to remove excess marker.