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How to Clean Dirty Jewelry–Part II

Or…The Dirty Secret About Jewelry–Part II

In the previous article, we went over how to clean debris from your jewelry that builds up from lotions, soaps, grime and sweat, using an ultrasonic machine. Now we’re going to learn about getting rid of tarnish. It’s the special enemy of silver jewelry.

Tarnish. An ionic machine is the perfect solution for this problem.

Tarnish can be gone forever with one of these little beauties!

Ionic cleaners

Oh happy day! They finally have been able to produce these for consumers and they are a godsend! If you have a lot of jewelry, especially silver, an ionic cleaner is relatively inexpensive way to blast off tarnish. It won’t do a thing to get the debris off, but it will blast away dulling tarnish and make your metal sparkle again.

Ionic cleaners work electrolytically to remove the tarnish.

In other words, they use a small electrical charge from direct current, an alkaline based cleaner and an anode plate in the bottom of the tank. There is a little clip that is the cathode, that you attach to the jewelry to complete the circuit. You’ll know it’s working because it will give off little bubbles, and with heavily tarnished silver jewelry, you’ll notice the smell of hydrogen sulfide, or the rotten egg odor.

A company that I know sells a true consumer level ionic cleaner is Speed Brite. Their smallest one is called a Mini Speed Brite and it uses a 9 volt battery to power it. You won’t have to worry about getting electrocuted with the battery, unlike the ones where you plug in the transformer to regular 110 v AC power. Usual disclaimer that I don’t get paid, just personally satisfied with the product.

This one is a commercial one, but it works similar to the consumer version.

A commercial ionic cleaner in use with the clip on lead attached to the chain laying across the bottom of the tank

Cleaning chains

This machine is great for cleaning chains, because it can remove tarnish from the inside of the chain links, a boon for something that has very fine links, like a French rope chain. However, if it doesn’t remove the tarnish from inside the links, it could mean you have a combination of gunk and tarnish. An ionic cleaner can’t remove debris, so you’ll have to use some hot water, dish soap and a toothbrush to get rid of the debris so the ionic can get to the tarnish itself. Or use a spiffy ultrasonic machine.

If you’re cleaning a chain, you can only clean a long chain a few parts at a time. If the chain crosses over itself, it will deposit the tarnish that it cleaned off the rest of the chain to the part where it crossed itself–and then that part will be really tarnished! So, unclasp the chain, put what you can across the bottom and clean that. Move the clip up to a tarnished area, lay out more of the tarnished part across the bottom and clean a little more.

In this demonstration, I’ll show you how a chain is cleaned. First, let me state that this particular chain had an oxidized patina put on it that used several mordants to make the oxidation really stick. In addition, it has also sat around for awhile, so the oxidation is age hardened to the chain. In other words, this type of tarnish is tough to the extreme.

Extremely tarnished chain
When the machine is turned on, it immediately starts bubbling and lifting the tarnish
Here you can see the part of the chain that is clean, next to the original tarnished area

One thing you need to be aware of, it will also clean off the oxidation that has been deliberately added to enhance details. So if you have something that has a black finish in the recessed areas, clean in stages of 5 seconds at a time. Make sure you’re not cleaning off the detail!

Don’t use an ionic cleaner for anodized aluminum, niobium or titanium. It will ruin the lovely colors!

Likewise, there are certain stones that shouldn’t be used in an ionic cleaner, like some drusy (druzy) crystals that have been anodized. If in doubt, take your piece of jewelry into a professional jeweler’s store and ask.

The chain above was dipped 3 times in the 30 second cleaning cycle, for a total of 90 seconds. Your average tarnished piece with oxidized detail may only take 5-10 seconds.

This machine will also clean gold, platinum, white gold, fine silver, coin silver and a host of just about any metal. It’s superb for copper.

Finishing up

Be sure to rinse thoroughly with clean running water. Dry with a soft tea towel or old T-shirt. Your jewelry is bright and tarnish free.

With the next article in this series, we’ll be going over low tech methods, also known as elbow grease, and a little kitchen chemistry. Not too much elbow grease though, because frankly, I don’t have the time and neither do you!

Copyright 2011 by Katherine Palochak

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How to Clean Dirty Jewelry–Part I

Or…The dirty secret about jewelry–part 1

We girls love our pretty sparklies. Even if you don’t wear jewelry much, I’ll just bet you’ll throw on a pair of earrings or a necklace for the office party. Maybe you wear your wedding ring religiously, but would like for it to look as good as it did they day it was first put on your finger.

This is going to be a primer series for what’s available to you as the general public. We’ll be going through the luxe items in jewelry cleaning, right down to the inexpensive, but highly effective methods, that you can do with common household ingredients and an electric toothbrush, dips, polishes and cloths.

First, let’s go over what machines and methods are available for professional jewelers, because the new jewelry cleaners for the general public consumers are spinoffs from these machines. We have ionic cleaners which remove tarnish; ultrasonic cleaners that remove debris, oil and dirt; steam cleaners for likewise removing oil, debris and dirt; and good old-fashioned elbow grease. We also have our bench polishers and flexshafts, with their different buffs and compounds, for actually polishing and removing scratches. There are a few other things that are available for removing caked on debris like lye (definitely not for consumers!) and other caustic methods, but you have to be trained to use them safely and know which stones can handle the different types of acids or bases. Chemistry does play an integral part in cleaning things for us.

Ultrasonic cleaning

Ultrasonic cleaners are ubiquitous in a jeweler’s shop. These produce powerful ultrasonic waves that scrub debris off. They have a transducer in the bottom, and some have them in the sides also. They are not silent. They will remind you of sounds you hear in a dentist’s office. They are one of the new luxe items for cleaning your jewelry at home.

A lot of the machines I’ve been able to find in the consumer area are ones that tout they are “ultrasonic,” but are not true ultrasonics.

Instead, they rely on sonic waves (think vibration) or an electrolytic process with an alkaline based soap. If ever in doubt, if it doesn’t have that high-pitched whine and put holes in aluminum foil, send it back with a big raspberry and get your money back.

A professional ultrasonic with a manual timer and a heater
However, there is one I’ve found that looks like a mini version of my ultrasonic and is made by the same manufacturer. It has the metal bottom with a raised area that typically houses the transducer. It is a GemOro, and no, I don’t get paid or given anything to promote their products. I noticed Amazon.com is selling these mini GemOros on their website for around $100 as of this date of Christmas 2011.
The raised area where the transducer is located beneath the stainless steel tank

If you put a piece of aluminum foil in the tank of a true ultrasonic, it will be full of holes within a few minutes.

If you think sticking your fingers in it to retrieve a piece is okay, prepare to have your fingernails start growing out pitted, or if more than a few times, your fingernails will just fall off. Just because it only seems to “tickle,” don’t be fooled. These are powerful machines!

The aluminum foil folded over a stick that will span the width of the tank
The aluminum foil added to the tank
There are large holes in the aluminum foil now. Particularly notice the ragged edge.
The aluminum foil unfolded. Notice the large missing areas.

Likewise, you have to be careful what kind of stones you put in them. If your stone is fracture filled (some diamonds are) or oiled (like emeralds) it will destroy them.

If they have natural fractures or inclusions in the stones, like tourmalines, rutilated quartz, cape amethyst, opals or diamonds with a lot of carbon deposits, it will likewise shatter or cleave them.

Oops. Check with your jeweler if you can’t bear to take a chance.

Things you should know

When you use an ultrasonic, make sure nothing touches the bottom where the transducer is located. It will cause vibrations that will wear out your transducer prematurely. The exception is soft materials like plastic and silicone. You will see various jigs that suspend jewelry away from the bottom, such as baskets and ring holders.

However, these soft surfaces and metal meshes tend to break up the action of the ultrasonic waves, so it takes longer to clean the jewelry. Jewelers tend to go out of their way to find some way to suspend the jewelry directly into the ultrasonic, using paper clips, bamboo tongs and hand-held glass beakers.

Rinse your jewelry thoroughly in clean water after removing it from the ultrasonic. This helps to remove any remaining debris and cleaning solution. Sometimes a quick scrub with a toothbrush is also needed to get debris out of very small spaces. Wipe the jewelry dry with a soft, clean cloth. Don’t put your jewelry in a sunny window to dry. Certain stones can lose their color or change color! Speaking from personal experience, amethyst is one of those stones.

The vibrations of a true ultrasonic will shake slightly loose stones out of their mountings, so take a needle across the face of the stone, pushing slightly and noticing if there’s any slight rocking. If there is, take it to a jeweler so the setting can be tightened and you won’t lose your stone.

Please check with a reputable jeweler first to make sure your stones will survive ultrasonic treatment.

If you don’t want to go to the expense of buying your own machine, or the vagaries of whether a stone will survive or not, then just take your precious to a real jeweler, where they will clean it for a pittance. Most will educate you about your particular piece of jewelry and how to keep it clean between professional cleanings.

Check back next week for the second part of this series with information on ionic cleaners, another luxe item, and why you want one, especially if you have silver.

Copyright Katherine Palochak 12-17-2011

What can I do with a broken chain?

Whether the chain is silver or gold, it’s not so much about the cost of the metal, as it is the cost for the labor. Gold chains are almost always worthwhile to repair because of their cost. With silver chains, you’ll have to weigh whether the cost of the repair is going to exceed the value of buying a new chain.
But still, a lot depends on the type of chain it is, and where the break is. If the break is close to the end where the fastener is, then usually it just needs a new tip or jump ring soldered on, and it’s only a smidgen shorter than it was. It it’s a very fine chain, such as a triple rope, and the break is more towards the middle, then it takes time to reweave the links and repair them. It can be very labor intensive and costly.
Sometimes actually fusing the broken area of the chain works and is hardly noticeable. Another option you might consider is making a shorter chain for a young child or teenager, since their necks are smaller than adults. One or more bracelets can be made out of the broken chain, if the type of chain is suitable for a bracelet.                             
You can always walk into a jewelry store that does repairs and ask what your options are. The jeweler will be happy to help you with your question.

Copyright 2011 by Katherine Palochak