I’m not kidding. Pleeeeease clean your jewelry.
The fun thing about being a gemologist and jewelry designer is that people like to show me their jewelry, and lots of people have lots of interesting jewelry that I really like to look at. The not-so-fun thing is that most people rarely (if ever!) bother to clean it. Which means that I look at a lot of gunk and grime, and I definitely don’t like looking at that.
Not only is dirty jewelry totally gross, but it makes it hard for ME to properly assess it and hard for YOU to enjoy it. Nothing kills the sparkle of gemstones quite like built-up lotion, soap, body oils, dirt, and…well, you get the idea. This is especially true for diamonds, because the grime changes the difference between the refractive indices of the diamond and its surroundings. When the diamond is clean, the index of refraction just beyond its boundary is that of air, which is different enough from diamond’s refractive index that the light stays inside the diamond and bounces around and eventually exits through the top of the diamond—that’s why clean diamonds are so bright and sparkly. When grime builds up on the bottom of a diamond, the effective difference between the diamond and the grime is suboptimal and the light leaks out the bottom instead of bouncing around and exiting the top. When this happens, the diamond ends up looking dull and lifeless, which is a shame because you probably paid good money for color, cut, and clarity grades that aren’t apparent anymore. Pretty much the same deal for other transparent gemstones, whose vibrant colors are darkened and dulled by dirt and grime.
Not only is dirty jewelry disappointing to look at, but its structural integrity is at risk. If left uncleaned for long periods of time, all that gunk and grime can work its way between the gemstones and the metal holding them in place (prongs, bezels, etc). Then if you ever DO get around to cleaning your jewelry, the stones will be loose in the mountings and at risk of falling out.
Now that I’ve thoroughly disgusted and scared you, let’s talk about how to keep your jewelry clean. My favorite technique is to use a small ultrasonic cleaner filled with water and several tablespoons of jewelry cleaning solution. You can find compact, inexpensive ultrasonic cleaners and cleaning solution online. I keep mine next to my kitchen sink, and every day when I get home I drop the jewelry I’m wearing into it and let the machine go for 15-20 minutes. Once a week is probably sufficient for you, but I am a walking advertisement for my jewelry so I like it to looks its absolute best every day. Sidenote: I’d put my ultrasonic cleaner by my bathroom sink if I could, but my counter isn’t quite big enough. (Sigh and eyeroll about the inconveniences of a tiny NYC apartment.)
If space, time, or budgetary constraints prevent you from getting an ultrasonic cleaner, you have another option. You can clean your jewelry with a soft-bristle toothbrush and any dishwashing liquid that cuts grease (I use Dawn). This technique is also preferable for more fragile stones like emeralds, which are typically fractured and clarity enhanced. Simply wet the toothbrush, add some dishwashing liquid to the bristles, and gently scrub your jewelry making sure to clean underneath the gemstones thoroughly. When you’re done, rinse the jewelry carefully under running water. Caveat for pearls: make sure you don’t submerge strands in water. Instead, dip a cleaning cloth in a mixture of warm water and dish soap and wipe the pearls gently.
Please do me a favor and try one of these cleaning techniques—I guarantee you’ll be pleased with the results, and your jewelry will thank you!