Tips and Tricks to Care for your Vintage Costume Jewelry

I keep seeing people talk about cleaning on social media. That inspired me to share how I clean and care for my pieces. Let me start with a cautionary tale from when I was in my early 20s, well before Kimono Dragon was established and I learned how to care for my jewelry. 

Imagine that you just found the most to die for pair of Kenneth Jay Lane, vintage earrings. They are GORG! Plus the price isn’t bad! Yes, they need a little bit of love to return their luster to the pearls. You don’t really know how to clean costume jewelry, but how hard can it be? Then you remember that you have a jar of cleaner at home for your rings. That should do the trick. So you buy them without a second thought. Afterall, the outfit you are wearing tomorrow night is missing something. You know that these pearl, chandelier earrings will look stunning with the slinky, black number you picked up at the vintage store. You also know they will make all your friends drool with envy. Maybe they’ll even get the attention of that cute bartender you’ve been flirting with.


So you get home, and toss the earrings into the jewelry cleaner leaving them to soak overnight. The next day, you take your new prized possessions out of the cleaning solution and the unthinkable has happened- the finish on the faux pearls is gone and the metal isn’t looking too fabulous either. That is the story of how I ruined a pair of earrings, had to restyle an outfit, and learned that not all jewelry is cleaned the same way.


We all have to start somewhere and that fateful mistake pushed me to where I am today. I have been rehabbing and cleaning vintage designer jewelry for years. Over that time, I have learned what works and doesn’t (as you just learned) when you restore these wearable pieces of art. You probably have pieces from family or even your favorite vintage store that needs a little love. Don’t fret! I promise it is not that hard to rehab and clean your collection. Let me share my professional tips to ensure that your collection can be heirlooms for the next generation of jewelry lovers.


Let’s start by talking about my favorite tools to get any piece looking divine. First, purchase a good jewelry cleaner. Personally, I love Connoisseurs brand jewelry cleaner. I use it on my personal collection and to rehab the pieces for my store. Second, you need a good SOFT bristled toothbrush. This may seem odd to use soft bristles but trust me. Think about how your dentist always tells you to use a soft toothbrush. This is so you don’t scrub your enamel away. We also use it for a similar reason. The only difference is you are keeping the plating on the jewelry and not scratching your collection. Third, you need to purchase a microfiber cloth to clean and shine the jewelry. I like to have two on hand so I can keep one damp and the other dry while cleaning.


I like to start my cleanings by getting to know the piece of jewelry. Obviously, I am not saying introduce yourself and pour the piece a glass of Bordeaux! Inspect your piece. Are there rhinestones or pearls on the piece? Is there a patina that is meant to be on the gold? Now you may be asking, “Laura, why does any of this matter?” Well, my friend, different pieces need different methods.


Pearls, faux pearls, and rhinestones do NOT like getting wet! It can take the finish off the pearls and cause the foil backing to come off the stones making them lose their shine. Also, the glue that is used to hold the shiny ornaments on the metal can become loose with exposure to liquids. When it comes to some pieces you will notice that there is a patina on it. There are numerous designers that added this effect to their pieces so it should not be scrubbed away. I have seen beautiful vintage earrings ruined by friends because they want their piece to be shiner than the designer ever intended them to be. A little research can be your friend so you don’t destroy the value of your collection.


Jewelry that has rhinestones or pearls will require a gentler cleaning method. The first thing you should do is take a dry microfiber cloth to remove any surface-level dust. Sometimes, you will be shocked to find this is all your jewelry needs to look fabulous and ready to wear. If you find that your pieces still need more love, don’t fret. I know you can do this! Slightly dampen your cloth and go back over the piece. This will help to take off any stubborn spots. Finally, thoroughly dry the piece with a microfiber cloth. Sometimes I have to repeat this process several times, but it works. I promise you will get the shine you desire.


Pieces that are all metal are not as hydrophobic. I start cleaning the same as I do with ornamented pieces, take a microfiber cloth to remove dust. You can then take your SOFT bristled toothbrush and dip it in the cleaner. Make gentle, circular stokes on the surface to clean the jewelry. Take care to get into any designs and don’t forget to clean the clasps! Take a slightly damp microfiber cloth to remove the cleaner after you have finished. Then allow the piece to sit out to dry. I often like to take a microfiber cloth to polish it before I put it away or wear it out to really make it shine!


I will also add that you can keep up the appearance with regular maintenance. This is easily done by wiping your jewelry down with a cloth before storing it. If possible, store your treasures in a velvet lined box. This will protect them from dust, scratches, and potential discoloration from direct sunlight. The box should be stored somewhere cool and dry to protect your collection from heat damage and rusting. 


See that’s not so bad! I knew you could do it! Just remember to take your time and pay attention to the needs of your piece.

Until next time stay GORG!


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