If it is properly taken care of, gold jewelry will keep its timeless luster, last a lifetime and remain a great investment piece or treasured heirloom for future generations. Here are some tips on how to treat this most iconic of all metals.
Although it is quite lasting and durable, gold can get scratched and dented, if it is treated too harshly – pieces worn on hands and wrists, such as rings and bracelets, are especially susceptible to this kind of damage. It is always wise to keep that in mind and take them off before activities that are potentially high-impact.
Frequently used gold that is repeatedly exposed to dust, moisture, perspiration and makeup can eventually collect dirt and marks, and over time lose some of its radiant shine.
Like most jewelry, gold can be altered and even damaged by acids, abrasives and other harsh chemicals. Chlorine is its worst enemy – it can weaken gold and eventually break it down, so it is best to take off gold jewelry before getting into a swimming pool or a hot tub. When using chlorine bleach, it is best to wear thick rubber gloves or remove your rings and bracelets altogether.
To maintain its beautiful luster, about once a month clean your gold jewelry that does not include soft gemstones, pearls or crystals with mild detergent and lukewarm water, using your fingers or a soft cloth. Or use a nonabrasive jewelry cleaner specifically designed for gold, to be on the safe side. You may help yourself with a soft-bristled brush (such as baby toothbrush) to gently loosen more stubborn dirt in hard to reach places. Never use toothpaste or baking soda! And always remember to close the drain if you are using your sink – many precious pieces have slipped away and gone down the drain while being cleaned! Rinse your jewelry in warm water, let it dry completely and buff with a soft, dry, lint free cloth. Avoid using tissues, because they might contain tiny wood particles that can scratch gold’s surface.
Regular polishing is another way to maintain the original glow of gold jewelry. It can remove small scratches and smudges and even out spots that may be prone to tarnishing. You may use special fabric infused with cleaning and polishing solution available at most jewelry stores.
In addition to more thorough polishing, once in a while take off the jewelry that you wear every day, such as your engagement or wedding ring, and simply buff it with dry cotton cloth to remove moisture.
Once or twice a year take your gold jewelry for professional cleaning, polishing and thorough inspection. Your jeweler might recommend cleaning with professional equipment, such as ultrasonic, ionic or steam machines. They can also conduct extensive polishing with abrasive papers if your jewelry is more severely scratched.
It is best to store each piece of gold jewelry in an individual plastic bag or cloth pouch, wrap them in soft tissue or keep them in a fabric-lined jewelry box with separate compartments (you can use silica gel packets to help absorb moisture from the air). This will prevent your pieces from getting scratched or tangled and will reduce the potentially harmful exposure to outside elements.
White gold tends to dull over time and lose its original luster, so it must be professionally polished at least once every two years. Even white gold still has a yellowish hue, so it is often plated with a layer of rhodium – a hard, white metal that can be polished to high shine and gives gold extra brightness. This rhodium coat eventually wears off (especially on rings, where there is a lot of friction), and has to be replaced by a professional up to twice per year. As with yellow gold and most jewelry in general, remove your white gold jewelry before going into chlorinated water, and avoid contact with harsh chemicals, which can cause pitting and discoloration.
Can gold tarnish?
It depends. Tarnishing, evident as dark surface discoloration, is mostly associated with silver, not gold, because of the chemical nature of these metals. Pure gold (24k) will not tarnish, but it is too soft to be used in jewelry making, so it has to be alloyed with other metals, including silver and copper – which are susceptible to tarnishing. The general rule of thumb is that alloys with high gold content, such as 18 karat and higher, do not tarnish, except for a few specific and rare conditions. Tarnishing can happen in smaller karats, depending on the remaining content of the alloy and the external factors that contribute to the tarnishing process. For example, a 10 karat gold piece that contains high percentage of copper can oxidize and develop a red or black tarnish. The unsightly tarnish film can be easily polished off by a professional. See more about the tarnishing process, ways to avoid it and the remedies under “How to Take Care of Silver Jewelry".