Monday, April 8, 2013

Proper care, cleaning, and storage of vintage rhinestone jewelry

Today's post is a summary of everything I've learned over the past couple decades about the proper care & cleaning of vintage rhinestone jewelry.  If you have ever purchased vintage rhinestone jewelry at a flea market that was in desperate need of cleaning, I have some useful tips for you.  This information also applies to modern rhinestone jewelry and the way it should be cared for. 
In the photo above, are five pieces of vintage costume jewelry that incorporate foil back rhinestones.
All five of these pieces have rhinestones that were manufactured with a special foil coating on the back side.  It is important to know if your pieces of jewelry have rhinestones with or without foil on the backs. 
Compare the photo above with the photo below.  The photo above shows the front side of some foil back rhinestone jewelry.  The photo below shows the back side of the jewelry.  Notice that with only the top two pieces of jewelry (the crown and the gray rhinestone chain) are you able to see the foil on the backs of the rhinestones when you turn the pieces over.  The bottom three pieces do not have open backs that allow you to easily determine if the rhinestones have a foil coating or not.  If you are unsure about what kind of rhinestones are in your jewelry, I would suggest that you play it safe and assume that they have a foil coating.  From what I have seen in costume jewelry, the majority of all rhinestones that you come across will have foil on the backs (either gold or silver color foil). 
 (Below: back side of jewelry whose stones have a foil coating. 
Click on the image to enlarge)

Why is it important to know if your rhinestone jewelry has foil back stones or not?  Because foil back rhinestone jewelry needs extra special care.  There are certain things you need to do with foiled rhinestone pieces in order to keep them in good shape for years to come.  I will provide you with everything you need to know about their proper care, but first take a look at the photo below.  These are some loose vintage foil back rhinestones.  Notice that some have gold foil, and some have silver.

Now look at the vintage rhinestones in the next photo.  These stones do not have foil on the back.  It's easy to see the difference when the stones are not already set into the jewelry, right?

I have already showed you examples of vintage rhinestone jewelry that has foil on the backs of its stones.  Now look at the two photos below for some examples of vintage costume jewelry whose stones do not have foil coatings.  Foil-less rhinestones will typically be prong-set or bezel set (not glued into a setting).  To see more detail, you can click on the images below to enlarge them.

(Below: front side of jewelry whose stones are not foil coated)
(Below: back side of jewelry whose stones are not foil coated)

 And the next two photos show you some vintage pieces that have both foil backed rhinestones, and rhinestones with no foil coating.  Notice that when you view the back side of the butterfly, you see only the backs of the light blue, oval shaped see-through stones (no foil).  But those tiny clear stones that you can see on the front side of the butterfly do have foil backs.  Click on the images to enlarge.

(Below: front side of jewelry that has both foil coated and non-foil coated rhinestones)
(Below: back side of jewelry that has both foil coated and non-foil coated rhinestones)

So remember my advice, and if you aren't able to easily see the backs of all the stones in your piece of jewelry, it is better to assume that there is a foil coating on your rhinestones.  As I mentioned, foil back rhinestone jewelry needs extra special care!  Here are my tips for storage & cleaning of your rhinestone jewelry:

  • Avoid heat!  I see many vintage jewelry vendors that sell their rhinestone jewelry at outdoor flea markets where the hot sun is cooking their pieces of jewelry all day long.  This is very bad for rhinestone jewelry whose stones are glued-in.  The hot sun can melt the glue that is holding your stones in place, and then you risk having the stones fall out.  Never let your rhinestone jewelry get hot.  Don't leave it in your car, and if you sell vintage rhinestone jewelry at outdoor venues, try to keep all your jewelry shaded to prevent the stones from falling out.  (NOTE:  the exception is with prong-set or bezel-set rhinestones.  These stones should never fall out unless the prong or bezel breaks)
  • Avoid moisture!  Have you ever seen a piece of vintage jewelry whose rhinestones have darkened?  For example, a piece of jewelry whose rhinestones used to be sparkling white, but are now a dull gray?  The darkening of foiled rhinestones happens when the foil backing starts to deteriorate.  The number one thing that will cause the foil to deteriorate is moisture!  If your rhinestone jewelry has foil-back stones, NEVER immerse it in any kind of liquid!  The moisture will cause the foil to start to separate from the backs of the rhinestones.  The stones will then loose their clarity, color, and sparkle.  Also, storing your rhinestone jewelry in ziploc baggies can trap moisture and speed up the deterioration of the foil.  Let your pieces breathe in a cool, shaded environment.
  • Avoid chemicals!  Be careful not to spray your rhinestone jewelry with perfume, hair spray, etc...  Not only will it make your jewelry look "dirty", the chemicals might deteriorate the foil backing on the stones.
  • Give your jewelry space!  Do not store your rhinestone jewelry piled on top of one another.  It is very easy to chip your pretty stones. 
  • Take care when cleaning your rhinestone jewelry!  As mentioned above, never immerse jewelry with foil back rhinestones in liquid.  Here's the best way to clean those pieces of jewelry. Start with a lint-free cloth and simply wipe the surface of the stones.  This will help to get rid of dust and light dirt.  If your stones are still dirty, you can lightly spray your cloth with water or an ammonia-free glass cleaner and then gently wipe the surface of your stones.  Remember to spray your cloth only......never spray the piece of jewelry directly!  If you accidentally get your rhinestone jewelry wet, dry it upside down.  You do not want moisture to remain on the backs of foiled rhinestones.  Lay the piece of jewelry upside down to try to get as much of the moisture out as possible.  Let it air dry.  Never use heat to dry your jewelry.  Also, never use a hard brush or anything abrasive to clean your stones. Some stones have a special top coating (such as aurora borealis) that looks awful when scratched.
If you are interested in repairing rhinestone jewelry that has lost one or more of its rhinestones, I will show you the correct way to do this in a future post.  Stay tuned!


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