Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How to Keep Your Native American Jewelry Fresh and Beautiful.

Native American jewelry is not something most people "just buy". Normally, extensive thought and care go into choosing what pin, pendant, bracelet or necklace you will add to your adornment options.

Strangely, thoughtful care often becomes an afterthought when the object of your affection has been acquired.

If you treat your jewelry carelessly, however, you may be unhappy with how it looks when you take it from your jewelry box to wear on a special occasion.

Just how do you keep Native American Indian jewelry looking fresh, clean, sparkly and vibrant?

Let's start with the metals.

Solid silver is too soft to be used in most jewelry. To give silver strength, it is combined with another metal, usually copper. The result is "Sterling Silver", if at least 92.5% silver is in the alloy. Having achieved that state, it should be stamped with the words "sterling" or STR. That is the best indicator that the silver in your jewelry is, in fact, jewelry-grade sterling silver.

Gold is another soft metal occasionally used in Native American jewelry. Admittedly, less gold is used these days because its cost exceeds most Native American jewelry-maker's limited budgets. It also is too soft to be used unalloyed.

Gold is classified by the proportion of its combination with strengthening metals.
24 karat gold is solid gold. 22 karat gold is 22 parts gold to 2 parts of some other metal. 18 karat gold is 18 parts gold to 6 parts hardening metal. In the US, less than 10 karats cannot legally be described as gold.

Both silver and gold, even when alloyed, are very soft and easily scratched if mishandled.

Keep individual items of gold or silver jewelry in separate containers. Avoid letting them to rub against one another. The best protection is to wrap each piece in jeweler's tissue and place each in a separate sealable plastic bag. For silver, this has the added value of discouraging tarnish.

The most commonly used stones in Native American jewelry are turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli, shell, malachite, gaspeite, jet, amber, sugilite, opal and mother of pearl. All of these are also very soft, although harder than silver and gold. But they are no match for diamonds and other gem stones, such as rubies and emeralds, which may be found in other jewelry.

It is sensible to buffer every piece of jewelry from other pieces in the same container, especially if they are stored with jewelry containing harder gem stones. Use cotton cloth or tissue to protect the pieces, especially if traveling, when the carriers can be jostled.

Safe cleaning of jewelry requires some specific cautions. The best cleaning materials are warm water with or without a small amount of liquid soap. In any case, do not soak the item for more than a few minutes in order to avoid discoloration of the stones.

Some companies promote commercial cleaners as safe for jewelry. It may be true or it may not. At least, read the instructions carefully before using to be sure a commercial cleaner can used with the stone or metal you are cleaning. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution and only use a commercial cleaner when the process recommended above is insufficient.

Ultrasonic cleaners, which may be safe for diamonds and other harder gem stones, are not safe for turquoise, coral, malachite or similar materials used in Native American jewelry.

Do not use bleach or any strong cleaners to clean jewelry with turquoise, coral, malachite or similarly soft stones. Bleach can discolor the stone or cause its vibrancy to fade.

For the same reason, do not wear jewelry in a swimming pool or hot tub. The chlorine or bromine used to disinfect pool water is unsafe for the most stones in Native American jewelry.

Silver and gold jewelry is best cleaned a soft cloth, such as a polishing cloth specifically made for the purpose. I encourage you to pick up polishing cloths either when you buy the jewelry or before you clean it. Some Native American jewelry dealers, such as <>Beaded necklaces should be stored flat in order to avoid the thread from stretching. Stretched threads can break. That can be tragic with a beaded necklace.

Inlay and channel work require special care. Inlay is a Native American jewelry technique in which individual stones are cut to prescribed sizes and shapes so that they can be set against each other within the bezel or metal lip that will hold them. Inlay work is extremely delicate and requires great skill.

Channel work is an allied technique, in which the stone pieces are set within silver or gold channels. Channel work, while also demanding, is somewhat more forgiving for the person cutting and setting the stones, because of the metal around each piece of stone.

Do not attempt to reshape or bend a bracelet, choker or pendant, or resize a ring with inlay or channel work. Changing the shape of the underlying metal can loosen the stones. At worst, they can actually pop while the item is being bent. At best, the integrity of the setting is compromised so that a jar or jolt can cause stones to dislodge.

If this happens to a piece of jewelry you have acquired, it is best to return it to the original artist for resetting. It is important, therefore, to keep a record of where you bought the item and, if known, the name of the artist.

Remove jewelry when doing housecleaning or other chores around the house, such as gardening. Dirt can get into stone settings and scratching of surfaces is more likely when you are preoccupied with the activity.

Wait until after makeup has been applied or hairspray has been used before putting jewelry on. These can contain substances that are harmful to jewelry. Keeping your jewelry clean is easier than cleaning it, and it makes it easier to cleaning when you must do so.

When cleaning jewelry, it is safer to do so over a small bowl of cleaning solution and a bowl of clear rinse water than over the sink. A dropped piece of jewelry can be scratched by the sink material and a loose stone can be lost down a drain. Some experts suggest placing a strainer over the drain if you are required to use running water to rinse the item.

Do not change jewelry over a tile or wood floor. If you should be unlucky enough to drop a piece and it hits the hard floor it could be damaged. A soft carpet or a bedspread is much more forgiving.

If you have several pieces of valuable jewelry, I recommend acquiring a safe in which to store them when not being worn. Of course, nothing will completely stop a determined thief or burglar, but a safe may slow the perpetrator long enough protect your possessions. The safe should also have a high fire rating so that your precious metals and stones will be protected from heat if a fire breaks out near the safe.

When washing up, do not place your jewelry on a shelf over the sink or in direct sunlight for an extended period. Do not cook over a hot surface or flame while wearing jewelry. Even a modest amount of heat can damage the stones.

Do not keep opals or pearls in plastic bags. They need to breathe.

Never use toothpaste or any other abrasive to clean jewelry. What's effective for teeth can scratch jewelry.

Traveling? As indicated, always pack your jewelry items so that they are protected from one another in transit. I would never pack them in checked baggage. That is asking for trouble. It is much safer to carry them on you person or in carry on luggage where you can keep an eye them.

Native American jewelry is created by skilled artisans based on generations of tradition and embraced by great passion and love for the items and their components. When you buy and wear any Native American-made necklace, bracelet, pin, pendant or pair of earrings, you are carrying forward a tradition of love and beauty. Following the preceding guidelines will mean that your Native American jewelry will please you for years to come.

About the Author

William Ernest Waites and his wife, Susanne, have owned and operated a Native American jewelry dealership and tribal art business for 25 years, first in Chicago and most recently in Florida. Their online gallery of Native American jewelry is at

Article Source: Content for Reprint

This article was written by me for general publication by anyone else who wants to pick it up. You read it here first.

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