Old costume jewelry. It’s dusty, dirty and lost its sparkle. You see it go for nothing in garage sales and it has almost no value, right? You may be very wrong.
Today, there is a very strong market for vintage jewelry, particularly for rhinestone jewelry dating from the 1920’s to 1960’s. Dealers avidly seek good pieces for customers who collect. Pristine condition has the most value, and that is why it is disheartening to see rhinestone jewelry that has lost its value due to improper cleaning methods. Blackened, yellowed or speckled rhinestones negatively affect value.
Rule number one: NEVER, EVER SOAK RHINESTONE JEWELRY IN WATER OR A CLEANING SOLUTION!
To clean rhinestones, spray an ammonia product such as Windex or Glass Plus onto a clean cloth. Gently go over the top of the stones, being careful not to disturb prongs. Rhinestone have foil on the back which will ruin (not unlike a mirror) should moisture penetrate. Open-back rhinestones (glass with no foil) can be spray-cleaned on top and bottom with no worries.
Some rhinestone pieces are difficult to clean due to the ornateness of the setting. Using a soft toothbrush, spray Glass Plus on the bristles and shake off the excess. Go over the piece gently with the brush. Next, take a barely damp (with water) cloth and blot. Then blot it with a dry cloth. Keep in mind that an ammonia product can lighten the metal back to its original shine, so tread lightly if you do not wish to lose a patina on the metal.
It is wise to clean jewelry over a dark cloth. If glued-in rhinestones dislodge, they will be easily seen. Dislodged stones are easy to put back in, but original stones can be hard to match if they are lost.
If the metal has a corrosive green coating (verdigris), the piece is probably ruined. The corrosion will eventually eat its way through and a break will occur. If the corrosion is minimal, there may still be years of wear, but be sure to keep the corroded pieces away from the rest of your jewelry. Verdigris can spread to healthy pieces if not isolated. Do not confuse verdigris with naturally occurring green patina on copper or brass. It is natural for those metals to turn and there is no harm to the piece.
Keep jewelry where it does not suffer movement or rub against other jewelry. If kept in a drawer, it is best to keep jewelry laid flat in a separate box with cotton or in an organza or cloth bag. Vintage jewelry needs to breathe and should not be kept in plastic bags for long periods of time. For transport, however, plastic is fine.
Restoration of vintage jewelry, such as broken pin backs or missing stones, is best left to the professional. If great value is suspected, cleaning by a professional may be in order. A reputable dealer can give you an idea of approximate value and discuss preservation techniques. For questions on this article, contact Linda Frost, firstname.lastname@example.org.