(Nytimes)-Every couple of weeks, Michael Maccari, creative director of the clothing brand Perry Ellis, takes an hourlong train ride from Manhattan to his parent’s house in Massapequa Park, N.Y. The visit frequently includes more than just catching up over a home-cooked dinner.
“Often my mother will catch a glimpse of my necklace and say ‘Gimme that’ and take it off and put it in soapy water,” he said. “She’s a bit fanatical about clean jewelry.”
Like many jewelry lovers, his mother, Carmela Maccari, has a cleaning technique she’s sworn by for decades. To remove any dullness or dirt that has accumulated on her son’s necklace — a collection of several family heirlooms, including a diamond from his grandmother’s engagement ring, all dangling from a 24-inch gold chain that he wears every day — she soaks it in a small dish of Palmolive dishwashing liquid and warm water. After sitting in the solution for about five minutes, the necklace is then rinsed and wiped off with a soft cloth.
“It shines up really nicely,” said Mr. Maccari, who remembers his mother cleaning her own jewelry the same way when he was a child.
While a discussion of maintaining jewelry might sound like something for the next “Real Housewives” episode, almost everyone has at least one nice piece of jewelry: an engagement ring, an heirloom piece or a necklace that was an impulse buy. And that means occasional cleaning.
Mrs. Maccari’s method isn’t complicated or expensive, and even jewelry professionals say that it works.
As Daniela Balzano-Hull, director of De Beers’ large Madison Avenue store, put it: “You know how dishwashing soap is made to remove grease from dishes? It actually does a fabulous job with your diamonds.”
Ms. Balzano-Hull suggested using a baby’s toothbrush, softer than the standard adults’ brush, to remove any dirt that might linger on jewelry after soaking; for rings, the process should include working underneath the stone to remove lotion or grease that may have built up around the setting.
Afterward, put a blow dryer on a low setting and pass it over the piece for about 30 seconds, to remove any residual water that might be left in crevices. That final step replicates, to a degree, the steaming that diamonds get as part of an in-store cleaning process, which De Beers, like many luxury jewelry retailers, offers its clients free of charge.
Lots of choices
There also are other straightforward at-home methods that jewelry owners have found to be effective.
About once a month, Ellen Maguire, a beauty publicist based in New York, soaks the Victorian pieces she wears regularly, including the rose-cut diamond ring she found on Portobello Road in London, in a combination of hot water and Windex, mixed at a three-to-one ratio in a highball glass.
“I’ve used everything known to man,” she said. “There’s nothing that gets them cleaner.”
But the solution, while effective, is not well-suited to some types of jewelry, as cleaning products like Windex can include strong ingredients like ammonia. “It’s not really going to do any harm to your diamonds, but it can get a bit harsh on gemstones should you not wash it all off or have them sit in there for an extensive period of time,” said Katie Zimmerman, chief merchandising officer of the online jewelry retailer Blue Nile.
Diamonds are more durable than other gemstones: on the Mohs scale, which gemologists use to measure strength, they have the highest ranking, a 10. (Stones like amethyst and citrine, by comparison, hover around a 7.) So diamonds can withstand intense cleaning agents, like toothpaste, another traditional favorite for cleaning jewelry at home, but Ms. Zimmerman doesn’t recommend it for gemstones as some tooth cleaners can be abrasive.
Like many other jewelry retailers, Blue Nile sells its own brand of cleaner that is free of ammonia and promises gentle treatment of a wide range of stones. (Mild soap, which also is suitable on more stones than just diamonds, is an effective alternate.).
Cleaners are available in several forms, including wipes that take some of the mess out of the process. But just because the label says “jewelry cleaner,” it doesn’t mean the contents can be used on every kind of metal or gem. It’s important to read the labels for warning messages.
And while there no standard interval, many owners find that doing cleanings every few weeks keeps their pieces in a consistent state of sparkle and shine.
Ultrasonic cleaning machines, which remove dirt with a liquid solution that is agitated by sound waves, are also popular, but should be used with care.
“An ultrasonic is not for the faint hearted,” said Joanna Hardy, a London-based independent fine jewelry specialist. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing. Don’t start buying ultrasonics and just start sticking anything in there. It shines up your diamonds really, really well, but you’ve got to be really careful that you don’t put anything porous in there.”
Stones that rank lower on the Mohs scale — including opals, emeralds and turquoise — should be kept away from the machines, according to Ms. Hardy.
All about pearls
Pearls are extremely porous and require special attention. Carolyn Gams, vice president of operations for Mikimoto America, said they should be protected from potential irritants like perfume, hair spray and cosmetics. These can eat into the pearl’s nacre, the distinctive outer layer, and dull its luster irreparably.
Pearl jewelry also shouldn’t be worn while sleeping, showering or swimming. “We like to say that your pearls should be the last thing on after you’ve done your makeup and your hair, and the first thing you take off,” she said.
The best way to clean them, Ms. Gams advised, is to wipe pearls gently after each wearing with a soft cloth that’s slightly damp, then carefully dry them.
With necklaces, the string threaded through the pearls can stretch out and get grimy with wear; also, it’s important that the tiny knot between each one stays tight and intact. “It has a practical purpose,” Ms. Gams said. “If the strand should break, the pearls do not spill out over the floor.” She suggested restringing necklaces at least once a year if they are worn often.
Brands like Mikimoto use silk thread for the task, but nylon is also a popular and somewhat less expensive option.
If a gem is mounted in a setting, the prongs that hold it in place should be checked regularly.
Yasmina Benazzou, a New-York based jewelry designer who reworks vintage pieces as part of her Haute Victoire collection, lost a stone a few years ago because of a loose setting: She was cleaning a ring that she had found at a Brussels flea market, and its ruby popped out as she was brushing off some dirt. “You have to be really, really careful,” she warned. “The stone fell out and went down the sink.”
Storage also is an important element of jewelry maintenance: Items should be kept apart so they can’t scratch one another, particularly when diamonds or sharp points, like the posts on earrings for pierced ears, are present.
Ms. Hardy keeps her jewelry in specially made individual suede pouches, for example, but a simple jewelry box or even, for gemstones, small transparent plastic bags will do. Of course, the presentation boxes that items come in when they are purchased work as well.
Other options include simply placing items in a single layer inside a shallow drawer that’s been lined with a piece of soft fabric, as Ms. Zimmerman from the Blue Nile does.
Ms. Maguire, who estimates that she travels about 40 percent of the year, uses the socks from airplane amenity kits to hold her necklaces, and organizes her earrings and rings in the compartments of a small box that originally held a set of artificial press-on nails.
Although cleaning and proper storage can be a bit labor intensive, experts say that maintaining precious pieces is time well spent. “You’ve got to treat them with respect,” Ms. Hardy said. “If you want to hand your jewelry down and you want to enjoy wearing it, then look after it.”