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How to care for your jewellery

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This month we are fundraising to help us rehouse our contemporary jewellery and ensure this taonga is kept for generations to come. You can make your donation here.

In this blog Abigail Timmins, one of our experienced collections professionals, shares her top tips for keeping your personal collection safe and sound

At The Dowse Art Museum we care for a large and important public contemporary jewellery collection. We do this within a dedicated collection store that has environmentally stable conditions, with inert storage solutions and archival materials, and with years of professional knowledge and experience.

Ann Culy, Cut out figure in cloud brooch, 2002, sterling silver The Dowse Art Gallery collection, gifted by the artist

Ann Culy, Cut out figure in cloud brooch, 2002, sterling silver The Dowse Art Gallery collection, gifted by the artist

At home jewellery care is often a different story. Like me, you might casually throw your rings, earrings and watch into an old dish or jewellery box. Storage that offers none of the care and thought the Dowse collection receives or my jewellery collection deserves!

The Dowse’s Boosted campaign to raise money to take better care of its contemporary jewellery collection has given me just the push I need to tidy up my own jewellery storage and in the process share some tips for how you can take better care of your precious things.

Jewellery storage ideals

The basic principles we follow when considering the long-term housing and storage of The Dowse’s jewellery collection can be applied to your own jewellery at home.

1.  Store your jewellery within inert storage materials. A sturdy metal box rather than a wooden box is preferable as many woods and wood products can emit acids and other gasses that can cause metals and some gemstones and plastics to corrode and perish. Acidic cardboard boxes and tissue (i.e. non-archival) also should be avoided.

If you have a jewellery box that is not archival that you want to continue using consider lining it with silver cloth*. Silver cloth will drastically slow the rate at which your silver and other highly alloyed metals (like gold) will tarnish by absorbing any off-gassing.

2.  Where possible, have the jewellery immediately visible when you open the box. Try not to individually wrap everything in tissue. Small objects can easily get lost and dropped when wrapped. Instead, divide the space within the box to prevent direct contact that can lead to physical damage like scratches, dents and tangling.

3.  Store like materials together. If you have a traditional jewellery collection of mainly silver and gold, this is relatively easy to do.

However, if you have a collection of contemporary jewellery it could be constructed of a large variety of materials. Plastics, jewellery constructed of multiple different materials, and jewellery that has altered surface treatments etc, may require their own enclosures and boxes to avoid off-gassing which in enclosed environments can rapidly accelerate deterioration. One way to militate against this is to line the inside of the enclosure with charcoal cloth which will absorb any possible gasses released.

Lisa, Walker, Brooch, 2005, cardboard, plastic, spray paint, silver, lacquer, shell fossil, stone, and wood, Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, purchased 2006

Lisa, Walker, Brooch, 2005, cardboard, plastic, spray paint, silver, lacquer, shell fossil, stone, and wood, Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, purchased 2006

To purchase small amounts of the archival materials I’ve mentioned first enquire at your local fine art or crafting store. Otherwise Conservation Supplies are a great resource.

You can sometimes salvage materials from the packaging of new appliances. For example Tyvek  and Cellaire  are often used in packaging. But, if you are unsure if they are archivally sound: do not use them and risk the safety of your collection. It’s really important to avoid use polystyrene or acidic brown card as these can do more harm than good when used for long-term jewellery storage.

General daily care

Subsequently, combine these storage suggestions with a sensible awareness of the considerations for everyday jewellery wearing. Which are:

-  Remove your jewellery whenever you play sports or do manual labour so as not to damage your jewellery (or yourself or others – you’re special too!).

-  Be aware of the products you use on your skin when you are wearing jewellery. Many soaps and beauty products contain chemicals and oils that can corrode jewellery. Even the acids and oils from a person’s skin, if left for long enough can affect and corrode the surface of some jewellery.

-  The same goes for clothing you have on around the jewellery. Dyes from some clothing can wear onto jewellery, and vice versa. Some jewellery may also have parts that could catch on clothing which could damage either, or both, the jewellery or clothing.

-  Please, be careful NOT to over clean your jewellery! Please!

Each time a piece of metal jewellery is polished or cleaned a thin layer of the surface is removed by the abrasives in the polish, or is dissolved away by strong chemicals in cleaning/dipping solutions. This can gradually eat away surface decoration, plating, engraving and maker’s marks.

It is best to use mild and non-abrasive methods for cleaning metals, for example warm soapy water and a soft cloth or brush will work wonders on many pieces of traditional constructed jewellery. That said, if you are unsure of the materials used in your jewellery or if you are unsure if it is sturdy enough to clean yourself, please check with a local jeweller or gallery first.

Joanna Campbell, Rosette, 2002, 22 and 9 carat gold, Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, winning commission of the 2002 Thomas Foundation Gold Award

Joanna Campbell, Rosette, 2002, 22 and 9 carat gold, Collection of The Dowse Art Museum, winning commission of the 2002 Thomas Foundation Gold Award

In summary

Your jewellery is precious no matter its financial value. It is most often the sentimental value of jewellery that’s most important; and that makes your collection irreplaceable.

Remember, prevention is always better than a cure, and look after your jewellery!

If you are inspired to rehouse your own jewellery I would love to see it! #dowsejewelleryinspo

 

Please donate to our Boosted campaign and help show our contemporary jewellery collection the care it deserved. 

* Silver cloth should be changed every 2-3 years to remain effective as the compounds in the cloth become used up and may eventually be holding the oversaturated pollutants in close contact with your silver. Washing and re-using silver cloth is not effective so it is advised to buy new biannually.

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