Cleaning Your Diamonds
Buzzy, ultrasonic jewelry cleaners and hissy steamers are standard equipment for a gemologist. I clean your jewelry as the first step of the identifying, grading and appraising process. It is a satisfying and somewhat mind-numbing task, and frankly, I enjoy doing it. However, the water is very hard in this area. It leaves light-blocking mineral deposits on the back of diamonds and sometimes it just takes TIME to break that gunk down, more time than you may have planned for your appraisal appointment. Therefore, any progress you make loosening and dissolving that film prior to seeing me will save time when you are here.
Antique and estate pieces are notorious not only for their historical and familial significance but also for their accumulation of historical and familial gunk. In the jewelry business, this is known as schmutz.
It took me awhile to make the connection: I get those white stains on my stainless steel sink from hard water. That same hard water is the reason it takes forever to get a ring grade-ably clean here in Middle Tennessee.
Diamond rings that look clean to the naked eye look completely different under ten-power magnification to a trained grader. Most jewelry stores will clean your jewelry at no charge and get it looking a lot better than it did when you walked in. But store personnel don’t need to be obsessed like diamond graders, who have to be able to see microscopic crystals inside the diamond and see light reflecting off the surface of the diamond: top, bottom and sides.
If you are comfortable doing any cleaning before your appointment, here is how it’s done: use Mr. Clean and warm water or liquid jewelry cleaner or a drop of ammonia in warm water. Apply it with a soft toothbrush. Scrub and rinse, keeping your sink plugged ! Repeat the process a few times, especially for older pieces. I use distilled water in my cleaners, steamers and rinse water but you don’t need to.
If you get enthusiastic about this, and if you have a jeweler’s loupe or other magnifying device, look underneath the stone from time to time; check your progress. See what surface areas remain looking white or hazy. That’s the residue to attack with a vengeance!
A wooden toothpick used VERY gently is useful for dislodging junk under prongs, but I recommend this only for contemporary, sturdy items with VERY secure stones. Common sense applies: if the prongs have not been checked recently, if the piece has many, tiny, diamonds such as in a pave’ setting, if mountings are old, worn, delicate, if you don’t know what gems or metal you have, or if there is any reason to be concerned about stones falling out – if you are just plain creeped out by the whole idea, then by all means don’t clean it ! That cliché, “don’t try this at home” applies. Wait. We’ll do it here, and we’ll do it safely. If we cannot clean it in a reasonable amount of time, which is rarely the case, we will send you to a bench jeweler for a boil out.
Then there is the matter of the picture; we need your ring sparkly clean for the photograph on the appraisal. Digital cameras are fabulous: light-blocking grunge shows up on and ruins photos; it is remarkable how much impact it has. So have a last look at the underside of your stones and under prongs. That’s where this junk hides.
Here is the upside: you won’t believe how beautiful your ring will look when it is really clean.
You can barely see inside this diamond, but you certainly can see the soap and hard water residue; it’s the foggy-looking areas, in the photo.
Soap and Hard Water Residue Inside This Diamond
Those with a penchant for physics, pizza, or both, may enjoy reading this:
From Diamond Grading: Assignment 6, pg. 12, Copyright 1994 GIA
“…a diamond has a remarkable affinity for grease and oily substances. When a stone is worn in a piece of jewelry, its pavilion will eventually accumulate a layer of skin oil and other greasy matter until it is no longer in direct contact with the air.
While the refractive index of air is, for all practical purposes, 1, the RI (refractive index) of the grease layer will be around 1.5-enough to significantly hamper the optical performance in the pavilion and diminish the overall brilliance, even if the stone is well made. As it works out, in any area where a material with an RI between the values for air and diamond makes intimate contact with the stone, with no air pocket in between, the critical angle within the stone becomes effectively broader.
What this means is that much of the light which would have been totally reflected within a clean pavilion and gone out through the crown now falls inside a wider critical angle cone and leaks out through the pavilion.
At a diamond-grease interface, the critical angle will increase to about 38°.”
Susan Schwartz, GG
Serving Franklin, Cool Springs, Brentwood, Spring Hill, Antioch, and the Nashville area
Covering Williamson and Davidson Counties