Friday, January 16, 2009

Cleaning diamonds at home and professionally

Diamonds, including earrings, pendants, and rings, are often the most valuable pieces of jewelry in an individual’s collection. Proper cleaning is necessary to maintain that value, because a dirty diamond will appear yellow and cloudy, diminishing the stone’s brilliance and sparkle. Since color and clarity are two of the factors used to determine a diamond’s price, a clean stone appears more valuable than a dirty one, regardless of actual cost.

Cleaning Diamonds: How Stones Get Dirty

Because of their carbon composition, diamonds naturally attract grease. In fact, when diamonds are mined, they are separated from other stones, dirt, and rubble by being passed over a grease belt. Grease accumulates on diamond jewelry from lotions, dishwater, cosmetics, and even natural skin oils. Simply touching a diamond leaves a thin film of oil on the stone’s surface, and the slightest accumulation will begin to dull the stone.

To keep diamonds from becoming dirty, avoid touching them as much as possible. Removing diamond jewelry before taking a shower or bath, or before applying makeup or lotion, minimizes dirt and grease accumulation. Diamond jewelry should also be removed before using harsh cleaning chemicals that may scratch or weaken the setting. Chlorine can dissolve gold, so jewelry should never be worn while using bleach-based cleaners or while swimming in a chlorinated pool, and such cleaners should never be used on gold or diamond jewelry.

Cleaning Diamonds: Types of Stones

Diamonds are the hardest and most durable gemstones, but they are not impervious to damage. If handled carelessly, diamonds can scratch one another, and other stones can scratch or damage the diamond’s setting, potentially loosening the stone. The tips of intricately cut stones can be chipped and should always be cleaned carefully.

Most jewelry cleaning chemicals will not harm diamonds, but they may affect other stones in the setting or even damage the metal. When cleaning diamond jewelry, always take the precautions necessary to protect the weakest stone in the piece.

Fracture-filled diamonds require extra caution. These are flawed stones that have been treated with glass film under extreme heat to coat cracks and flaws, brightening the stone and heightening its clarity. Even though the treatment may not be visible, the glass filling is more susceptible to discoloration from harsh cleaning chemicals and the stone should be treated as more delicate than an untreated diamond.

Cleaning Diamonds: At Home Techniques

For general cleaning, soak the jewelry in warm, sudsy water with a mild detergent, then use a soft-bristled, non-metallic brush to gently scrub the piece. The water should never be boiling, which could warp the metal and loosen the setting. Most dirt accumulates in the crevices around the prongs and setting, so concentrate on those areas. If the dirt is caked on and difficult to remove, use a toothpick or unwaxed dental floss to loosen it, and consider soaking the piece for a few minutes longer. Rinse the jewelry in clean, running water, and dry with a soft, lint-free cloth to avoid lodging any dust particles in the setting. If you are using a sink to soak and clean the jewelry, always be sure the stopper is firmly in place to avoid losing valuable stones down the drain!

If mild detergent isn’t strong enough to remove all the dirt, a solution of one part hot water and one part ammonia can be effective. Ammonia also brightens metals, especially yellow gold, and can give an additional luster to jewelry. Ethyl alcohol is another alternative, and because alcohol evaporates quickly it does not leave water spots. Commercial cleaners are safe for most diamond jewelry, but be sure to read the instructions carefully and avoid leaving the jewelry to soak for too long.

Weekly cleanings help keep diamond jewelry looking its finest, and the more frequently it is cleaned, the easier it will be to keep sparkling. Regular cleanings also avoid the need for riskier techniques that may be required to remove decades of buildup. The simplest cleaning of all is to gently blow a puff of warm breath on the diamonds, particularly rings, whenever they’ve been touched, and wipe them on a scarf, handkerchief, or sleeve to remove the smallest layer of film.

Cleaning Diamonds: Professional Cleaning

Professional cleaning may be necessary if the diamond jewelry is extremely dirty. Jewelers use steam or ultrasonic cleaners to remove the buildup, but the process could take hours. Ultrasonic cleaners literally shake dirt loose with high frequency sound waves transmitted through a detergent solution. These vibrations could damage stones by enlarging flaws or weakening the setting if used too frequently. If all other cleaning methods fail, diamond jewelry may be boiled in sulfuric acid in extreme cases, but this is risky and could damage the piece.

Even if you regularly clean your diamonds at home, it is wise to have them professionally cleaned once or twice a year. This gives the jeweler the opportunity to inspect the setting, prongs, and stones to be sure they are still secure and in no danger of being lost. The professional cleaning will also remove any hidden dirt or residue that may evade regular home cleanings.

Cleaning is an easy and efficient way to preserve any piece of diamond jewelry. With proper cleaning, diamonds can maintain their sparkle and beauty for many years, and their brilliance will always attract a sparkling smile.

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