Family Archivist: Grandma’s Jewelry

By Denise May Levenick Premium

Will your children, nieces and nephews know the story of the rings and brooches they find in your dresser drawer or jewelry box one day? Without a little help, my sons probably won’t recall who’s pictured in my grandmother’s gold-tone brooch. These simple tips will help you preserve treasured heirlooms and the stories that make them special.

Antique Jewelry Box

  1. Look for engravings. Use a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe to carefully examine watches, brooches, fraternal organization pins, wedding rings and charms for engraved names and dates. These can help you identify the original owner and significance of the piece. Transcribe what you find and add it to an heirloom history stored with the jewelry (see the opposite page).
  2. Remember red, white and blue. You may clean red rubies, white diamonds and blue sapphires with mild dish detergent and water. But according to the Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., “Many other gemstones have fickle properties that require specific care.” Even ultrasonic cleaners can damage some gemstones, like pearls and coral. Take other stones to a jeweler for cleaning and maintenance.
  3. Preserve pearls. Store pearls in a soft pouch or case to prevent scratches from other jewelry. Don’t hang your necklace, which can stretch or break the cord.
  4. Go for the gold. True gold won’t tarnish and needs cleaning only with a soft, dry cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners such as baking soda, toothpaste and bleach. Be careful not to rub off any engraving.
  5. Save your silver. Gently polish sterling silver with a soft, dry cloth. Remove stubborn tarnish with a small amount of nonabrasive silver cleaner, such as Hagerty Silver Clean or Tiffany & Co. Silver Polish Spray. Exposure to air will hasten tarnishing, so store your vintage silver jewelry in a cloth pouch. Bags of Pacific Silvercloth are embedded with tiny silver particles that absorb tarnish-producing gases.
  6. 6Make a cameo appearance. Cameos feature intricate designs carved on stone, ivory, lava, coral, tortoiseshell, bisque or other materials. Portraits have always been popular, but you’ll also see flowers, birds and other natural images. The carving is typically set in a 14K gold or sterling silver. Avoid synthetic cleaners, dips and stiff brushes. Use only a soft, natural artist’s brush with warm distilled water. Have any cracks professionally repaired before cleaning.
  7. To avoid stains and hard-to-remove residue, don’t apply hairspray, perfume or lotion while wearing your heirloom jewelry.
  8. Make it yours. A good jeweler can restring and add to a beaded or pearl necklace to suit your style and neck size. Knotting between pearls minimizes loss in case of breakage. Replace broken clasps with suitable vintage pieces to maintain the historical integrity of your jewelry.
  9. Use it or lose it. With phones and Fitbits to keep folks on schedule, many no longer wear wristwatches. But mechanical timepieces are best preserved in working condition: Broken springs and gunky lubricants can make it difficult to get an old watch ticking again. Wind and run your heirloom watch every month and have a jeweler service it every five to seven years.
  10. Separate for storage. Avoid jumbled jewelry boxes where bumping can cause scratches. Soft cloth pouches or lined boxes are the best way to store rings, pearls, watches, and individual jewelry pieces.
  11. Don’t dehydrate. Very dry air can dehydrate your pearls and cause stones to crack. But damp conditions can encourage tarnish and erode the metal on settings, chains, clasps and watch movements. Store jewelry in a place inside your home where the humidity and temperature are moderate and consistent.
  12. Set it up for success. Jewelry sets and collections are more valuable than individual pieces. When possible, keep a set together instead of giving one daughter earrings; another, the bracelet; a third, the necklace. If the set must be split among family members, encourage borrowing to reunite the pieces for special occasions.
  13. Insure properly. Talk to your insurance agent about any special arrangements needed to cover valuable jewelry under your home insurance policy. You’ll probably need to get an appraisal from a reputable jeweler.

From the January/February 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine.


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