One of the questions I am most often asked is about how to clean a piece of vintage jewellery. The answer always depends on the materials in the jewellery as different types require different care. One of the most useful ways of cleaning vintage silver jewellery is to use an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner however it is not suitable for everything
What vintage jewels can I use ultrasonics for?
You can use an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner for pieces made entirely of solid silver, gold or platinum come out particularly well. With silver, you may like to consider the vintage patina. If you wish to retain it then just use the cleaner for 10 minutes at a time until it is as shiny as you wish. A very heavy black colour will need manual intervention to get it back to white.
With all other jewellery only place it in an ultrasonic machine if it is in perfect condition. Most hard gemstones do well. Diamonds, sapphires, spinels and topaz are fine as are most quartz-based stones such as agates, citrines, cairngorms and aquamarines. If you have a lot of tiny stones in a piece such as a pave set ring they check that the stones are firmly in place first. They will fall out if loose.
Don’t use on anything which has used glue in its construction.
It’s great for glass beads too and porcelain as long as it is not handed painted. I would not use ultrasonics for pottery so ensure you can tell the difference between porcelain and pottery before doing this.
Do not use on costume brooches where diamante are set into non-precious metals. Also not on anything where the stones have a closed back setting as water will get behind the stones and make them dull or fall out.
Do not use you cleaner for the following items. Gemstones which may be oil filled such as emeralds. Organic based materials including pearls, cameos, wood. Plastics can deteriorate too.
None precious metals such as solid brass or copper are fine but take great care with plated metals as the plating can come away.
Why choose an ultrasonic cleaner over other methods?
It is easy to use an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner and you can walk away whilst your jewels become bright and shiny. It does not require elbow grease. Also, it is non-abrasive so for the correct type of materials it preserves them better than harsh chemicals.
How to choose an ultrasonic cleaner
These can be bought quite easily from about £25 upwards to over £200. For the most home use you will a small ultrasonic cleaner will be quite adequate however I would recommend you choose one that will plug into the mains. Battery operated examples do not seem to have adequate power.
AntiquesAvenue uses a professional to clean all suitable pieces of jewellery before they are photographed for sale. This is made of metal and has a larger capacity than the smaller home ones. Also, it can heat the water which helps with the cleaning. Other than that it does the same job as the smaller cleaners.
How use an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner
You place a cleaning liquid plus water in the tank and then place the jewellery in it. The machine passes sound waves through the water that vibrate the dirt clear. Most have a timer on them but if not start with 20 minutes. Rinse in clear water and repeat as necessary.
What cleaning solutions can I use?
The manufacturers will be happy to sell you cleaning liquids to mix with water to use in your ultrasonic machine. I was not entirely happy with these solutions and have tried various options. Eventually, I concluded that washing up liquid was as good as anything and will not harm your jewellery.
Your jewellery must be well rinsed in clean water after use and then polished dry with a clean soft cotton cloth.