Several weeks ago, I wrote a post discussing how to restore your vintage costume jewelry collection. That post led to an interesting conversation with friends over cocktails. One of my friends had read the post and was curious about the most common issues I have seen while sourcing for my store. I told them, “it’s a toss-up between sunlight damage and moisture damage.” There are so many things that people don’t realize can damage their collection that I thought I would share some of the biggest enemies to protecting your investment.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many stunning pieces have been ruined by sun damage. The good news is that most of them can be fixed with a little patience and dedication. The most common issue I see is damage to stone because heat can change its color. I remember a recent brooch I found at the Chelsea Flea that a third of the stones had an unintentional ombre effect to them. It took a while to fix but the end results were stunning and worth the time but it could have been avoided.
The worst effect that makes me weep every time I see it is corrosion. Extreme heat which can be caused by direct sunlight to the piece or poor placement of your storage box will accelerate the corrosion. While light tarnishing can be fixed with some jewelry cleaner and a microfiber cloth, extreme examples are often a lost cause. So make sure you are aware of where you keep your pieces in your room. It is best to store your pieces in a light-tight, temperature controlled place. This can be a drawer, box, or cabinet- don’t overthink it, it doesn’t have to be some oversized rococo jewelry chest. Trust me, I have some pieces stored in a designated drawer in my dresser, they are still in great shape.
Water-damaged rhinestones look dark and dull.
Sometimes you expose your pieces to excessive moisture without thinking about it. You should never be swimming, bathing, or cleaning with your pieces on. It makes me so angry when I see actors wearing a beautiful Kenneth Jay Lane piece on a TV show, only to jump into a pool with them on. I sincerely hope that the costume designers on shows yell at the production team for allowing that to happen. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of vintage rings that have rusted thanks to such pointless exposure. As we all know, just because they do it in the movies doesn’t mean you should do it in real life.
Another place your pieces may be exposed to moisture is the bathroom. DO NOT store your piece in your bathroom! I have a couple friends who do this, and they can never figure out why their pieces don’t last and rust. The temperature fluctuations and steam from all those extra hot showers are wreaking havoc on your grandma’s glorious statement ring, and brutalist bangle. Again I will say, store the pieces in a COOL, DRY place.
You should also be putting on your jewelry right before you leave to go out. I know that when I was younger, I would put my perfume, hairspray, and lotion right before I left. I began to notice that my necklaces, and other pieces were developing tiny dots of discoloration. I thought I was going crazy and couldn’t figure out what was causing them. One day I spritzed myself with perfume and I had a realization as the fine mist came out of the bottle. The perfume was causing damage to all my pieces. So the best way to fight this is to change your routine, put them on last. Also make sure you wipe your pieces down when you get home. I know it is easier to just put them away after too many manhattans but you have to force yourself. Protect your investment, you will thank yourself later.
Lotion causes discoloration to the finishes of jewelry.
I have seen first-hand many people just pile all their collection into a bowl or drawer. This is a travesty and makes me want to save these mistreated pieces of estate jewelry. The chains on bracelets are going to tangle with necklaces and end up causing you to break them while trying to untangle the massive ball of chains and stones. The settings on elaborate collar necklaces are going to create deep gouges on your earrings. This way of storing items is only going to speed up the wear and tear of your pieces. Which is ludicrous to me given that it is so easily avoidable. Give each of your pieces a home, separate from each other. If you don’t have space for a jewelry chest, you can also use soft dust bags. There are so many options, my personal favorite are the anti-tarnish jewelry bags. You can even use the bags to polish your silver pieces when they get a little dull!
Always store your pieces in a velvet or satin lined jewelry box.
The biggest thing I want you to take away from this is that proper storage and maintenance is important. Yes, you can repair a piece if it comes to that but it is easier to not have to worry about it. Make sure you wipe down your pieces before you put them away. Invest in a good jewelry chest that has compartments for each of your pieces. It is best if the slots are velvet lined. When traveling use a jewelry roll or miniature dust bags so that you don’t tangle and scratch your prized possessions.