BY Pam Wiggins

Reprinted with permission from VFCJ and Pam Wiggins

Most avid vintage jewelry collectors have heard, at one time or another, that they shouldn’t get rhinestones wet under any circumstances.  All that trapped moisture behind the stones can cause them to darken, “die” and turn downright ugly over time, right?  

But what about the dowsing most rhinestones are subjected to right after they’re plated?  Most prong-set vintage pieces were, in fact, thoroughly rinsed with water to remove the acidic plating solution they were exposed to at the beginning of their glittering lives.  

So where does that leave us?  Do we still believe that water is bad, bad, bad for most vintage costume jewelry knowing it was baptized early on?  Or, is that just an urban jewelry legend perpetuated by well-intentioned, but misinformed, collectors for years now?  

In a quest for the truth, or as close as we can get to it, two jewelry manufacturing experts were queried on this matter last October at the VFCJ national convention-Frank DeLizza of DeLizza and Elster, and Paul DeFruscio, who has been in the jewelry manufacturing business most of his adult life.  

According to DeLizza, using mild soap and clear water is the only way to thoroughly clean a piece of rhinestone jewelry.  In fact, he says, “That’s what I’ve always told people, if you want to get jewelry really clean.”  And if you scoured the summer 2003 issue of the VFCJ newsletter featuring Juliana jewelry like most of us, you know he has been a respected name in the jewelry business for a very long time.  

DeLizza maintains that plating residue left in the stone cups is actually the culprit that eats away at the foil causing damage over time.  Because, ironically, the plating solution wasn’t adequately rinsed away with water years ago when the piece was made.  

Think about the times you’ve found a dry blackish iridescent residue in a stone cup when replacing a dead stone and DeLizza’s words suddenly begin to ring true.  He also noted that Austrian rhinestones have high quality foil that is fairly difficult to damage.  If you’ve ever tried to remove the foil from a stone by scratching at it, you very likely understand what he means about that, too.  But there are stones that originated in other parts of the world that are a little more feeble in the foil department.  What about those?  

DeFruiscio concurs that some stones can be more susceptible to foil damage than others, especially those manufactured in Czechoslovakia.  But even when those more sensitive stones embellish a piece, he feels that we do far more damage to our jewelry by avoiding the removal of sweat, body oils, perfumes and other beauty products than rinsing them in water would incur.  

“Naturally, highly abrasive cleaners are not good for the foil on stones.  But I think if you clean your jewelry with a mild detergent based cleaner, rinse with clean water, and dry it well, the foil on stones should be okay,”  DeFruiscio said.  

So there you have it.  You can immediately begin rinsing your jewelry in water with no worries.  Or can you?  

Rosalie Sayyah, better known as Rhinestone Rosie, who regularly appears on Antiques Roadshow as a jewelry expert, isn’t so sure.  She notes, “I have seen its effect with my own eyes.  Stones have turned black upon immersing them in liquid.”  She goes on to say, however, if the foil is undamaged and initially intact (and you can tell if it is upon close examination), submersion in liquid won’t harm stones.  

Nevertheless, even though she does immerse pieces from her personal collection in water on a regular basis without worry, Sayyah doesn’t encourage others to use liquids when cleaning their jewelry.  Instead, she usually tells curious friends and customers to use a soft, dry toothbrush and perhaps a sprit of Windex to clean their precious pretties.  She also suggests drying a freshly cleaned piece upside down on absorbent cloth or using a hair dryer on low heat to eliminate all moisture, just to be safe.  

So where does that leave us?  Simply knowing water isn’t likely the offender when it comes to the damaged prong-set stones we run across should alleviate some of the paranoia related to this subject.  And, this knowledge also allows us to make a more informed, logical decisions about how to best clean our beloved jewelry, and the risks we’re willing to take when doing so.

To learn more about the cleaning and care of your vintage jewelry, continue your search here....




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