Care and Cleaning of Your Handmade Jewelry

 What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Care and Cleaning of Your Jewelry

If you own handmade jewelry then you know that sometimes just like us, jewelry needs a little love and care to maintain its beauty. Proper care means showing a little regular, love whether you are using a simple polishing cloth or doing a deeper cleaning of your handmade, Karla Hackman Design pieces.

Hi, It’s Karla and today, I want to share a few tips with you about how to maintain your beloved pieces for long-lasting life and beauty. As a jeweler and metalsmith, I get a lot of questions about what materials I use and how to care for a piece once it has been purchased. I totally understand. When you invest in a piece of jewelry, you want to make sure you are getting good quality materials and that you can care for a piece easily and properly, so it lasts.

blonde woman wearing pendant and rings

What Metals Are Used and Loved at Karla Hackman Designs (KHD)

All Karla Hackman Designs botanical and sculptural geometric jewelry are handcrafted from raw materials. Most pieces are 925 silver, or sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of other metals, generally copper; karat gold (14-24 karat); or a combination of the two. I love the richness of the gold and the beautiful contrast that exists between gold and silver when they are combined. It creates a very distinct and bold look for contemporary jewelry.

Sometimes, I also use fine silver, which is 99.9% pure silver. Fine silver is often too soft to use for most designs, which is why I prefer working with sterling. I love that sterling silver has just enough strength but is still malleable. As an artist, it allows me to create movement even in a static piece. 

Best Loved Techniques Used to Create KHD

I often give my silver or mixed metal jewelry designs a patina, which will darken the piece or the texture. Ito looks fantastic on my organic branch jewelry designs and also accentuates the boldness of my contemporary sculptural jewelry. I do this by oxidizing the metal with gosiba, a German silver oxidizer, or liver of sulfur, a liver-colored mixture that contains potassium sulfide, which is used in among other things medicinal ointment, but it also does a lovely job of creating a rich black color on silver. Once applied, I buff the item by hand or with the buffer to pull back a lot of the oxidation while leaving it in the texture or pattern. Then, I lightly wash it to remove any polishing compound or patina residue.

I recommend using special care with oxidized jewelry designs since the finish can come off with anything abrasive, and your piece will not be the same as when you purchased it.  I recommend avoiding silver cleaner as well unless you want to remove all oxidation from a piece. Silver cleaner can potentially strip the patina from a patterned surface if you submerge it or brush too hard.

apple branch necklace with green chalcedony and cobalto calcite pink druzy

WARNING: Submerging a gemstone or semiprecious stone in silver cleaner can ruin some softer stones, like pearls, turquoise, and coral.

A special word about my Keum Boo designs. Keum Boo is a Korean gilding technique that dates back several hundred years. With these designs, thin layers of 24 karat gold are applied to fine or sterling silver, where the fine silver has been raised to the surface through repeated heating. The gold is then applied to over a hot kiln to the surface of the silver and burnished to create a permanent diffusion bond between the surface of the silver and the gold. These pieces are given a darkened patina to make the gold really pop. 

textured silver cuff with 24 karat gold gilding and gemstones

CAUTION: These pieces should not be submerged in harsh chemicals, like silver cleaner, or placed in an ultrasonic cleaner as you can damage the Keum Boo technique on your jewelry.

To clean Keum Boo designs, rub lightly with a soft polishing cloth as described below. On right: Keum Boo cuff as an example.

Regular Cleaning and Caring for Your Beloved Jewelry

Sterling silver will tarnish naturally over time; however, it can be cleaned easily if you keep in mind a few simple rules and you can bring your beautiful piece back to its original form.

1) Using a jewelry polishing cloth, simply rub your piece with the cloth, hitting all the high points. This will leave patina in the textured surface, something I work very hard to create, but leave all raised surfaces shiny. By the way, you can use a polishing cloth to brighten gold as well as even karat gold will oxidize slightly over time.

NOTE: Once you have used your polishing cloth, make sure to use a soft toothbrush with a drop of soap to gently remove the polishing cloth compound from the jewelry. Otherwise, you can leave polishing compound residue on your clothing or skin. Once you have washed the surface, pat dry with a soft cloth.

2) For a deeper cleaning, use a soft toothbrush and mild soap, like Ivory, Seventh Generation, or something similar to scrub the entire piece of jewelry. Using a little warm water and some soap on the toothbrush, lightly brush your piece. Make sure to get in the nooks and crannies and behind or inside open set stones. This will remove build up from lotion, hairspray or other items. Once you have scrubbed your piece, rinse it with warm water. Then pat dry with a paper towel or soft, dry washcloth.

dendritic agate sent in ring with yellow sapphire

NOTE: Always use a soft toothbrush and not a stiffer bristled toothbrush or brush as you can scratch the surface or set stones.

Some people like to use an ultrasonic cleaner to clean their jewelry. I would use caution in doing so, as many stones and surface treatments can be affected by the heat, chemicals, and vibration of such a cleaner. An ultrasonic cleaner will harm Keum Boo jewelry, pearls, turquoise, coral, other soft stones, and heat treated stones (like topaz, amethyst, citrine). This is why I recommend the two safer treatments above. If you are interested in using one on your Karla Hackman Designs jewelry, please drop me a message to make sure that your piece will fair well.

oak leaves in marquis pattern with garnets in the center,  earrings

Caring for your jewelry well also means avoiding contact with chemicals, cleaners, perfume, hairspray, lotions, chlorine, and salt water. These can strip the finish or damage or ruin a gemstone if your jewelry has stones. This also means avoid wearing silver jewelry in a pool or hot tub. A good rule to follow: Jewelry Goes on Last and Comes off First. 

 All jewelry naturally accumulates wear and a change in color over time. Your body chemistry, daily care, and exposure to natural elements can all affect a piece of jewelry. I recommend polishing your jewelry regularly to keep it clean and store it properly.

If you do not have a jewelry safe or box with acid free lining, this is what I recommend. When I am not wearing my jewelry, I store my pieces in a small plastic bag with a small piece of acid-free paper or a silica packet from a vitamin container or shoe box. This slows or prevents sterling silver from tarnishing/oxidizing. This is also how I store my jewelry designs until they sell. By the way, the paper or silica packet will absorb the moisture and prevent or at least drastically slow oxidation, keeping your jewelry in its best form.

I hope this helps a little and gives you some hints about how to care for and love your jewelry, so it wears well and maintains its unique and one-of-a-kind beauty. Please feel free to drop me a line if you have questions about the care and maintenance of your Karla Hackman Designs.

You may also like

View all
Example blog post
Example blog post
Example blog post