The Joy of Gems

Caring for Treasured Jewelry

Even though Theresa Garcia-Hawkins grew up in the jewelry industry, it wasn't until she attended the Gemological Institute of America and worked there too, that she became immersed in her career path. "I found my world," she says. Theresa traveled and lectured. She also developed courses for jewelry sales training. "That was fun!"

She moved to Europe and was an appraiser for Swiss Customs for confiscated jewelry. She sat on panels at trade shows around the world, and at the cream of the crop in the United States, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

Her father had started a jewelry business in the 1970's that combined both of his daughters' names. In 2010 Theresa Marie returned to the U.S. and was launching her business at the same time her sister, Victoria Dawn, was retiring. It was fitting to use the same name, and Victoria Marie Jewelry was born again in Parker.

Fine jewelry can add elegance and sparkle to any outfit, but it is much more than a fashion statement. Gemstones often have sentimental value because they were received as gifts or handed down as family heirlooms.  A beloved piece of jewelry is truly priceless to its owner, but improper care can be disastrous, so much so that the piece might not be able to be restored.

Vintage jewelry has its own set of challenges. Filigree, with its openwork and intricate design, can be delicate, so there is a fine balance between restoring it and maintaining its original integrity. "All of the normal precautions prevail (as for other precious gemstones) when it comes to care," Theresa says. "Vintage and estate jewelry should always be taken to a reputable independent jeweler to have it cleaned, maintained and appraised."

So what are the normal precautions that should be taken when caring for any fine jewelry? "Gemstones should never be exposed to harsh chemicals," Theresa emphasizes.  "Jewelry should be removed when you are cleaning and lotions and perfume should always be applied before you put on your jewelry."

Personally, I like to wear a favorite piece of jewelry most of the time, but it might have been wise to save Grandma's opal ring for special occasions. Opals are a softer stone so they can crack easily and they are also amorphous, which means they can absorb products that can change them forever.

Emeralds can be worn daily, but care should be exercised here, too. Explosives are used to mine them since emeralds grow in a hydrothermal method. This creates fractures and 99% of all emeralds are treated by oiling, often with cedar oil, at the factory. The oil seeps into the fractures to give the stone a more even color.

Sapphires are often heat treated to lighten the color and remove green (which can appear almost black) undertones. If an emerald has a lab report that it hasn't been oiled or a sapphire comes with a lab report of no heat treatment, the stones are extremely valuable and the price is profoundly impacted.

Tanzanite is wildly popular and this is one gem a special treatment does not affect the price. Tanzanite is a zoisite and forms as a metamorphic brownish crystal. It is heat treated at the mine to bring out vibrant shades of deep blue and violet, sometimes leaning to red. Because it is quite soft, coming in at a 6.7 on the Mohs hardness scale, it can scratch and abrade.  Like other soft stones, it can corrode if exposed to harsh chemicals and can actually explode when subjected to sudden temperature changes, which can happen if it is cleaned improperly.

Pearls, both fresh and saltwater, are an organic material, and are also porous. Like opals, they should never be subjected to harsh chemicals.

Peridot is known for its distinct chartreuse color. Steam cleaning can cause the internal clarity characteristics to expand and fracture, forever changing the look and color of the stone.

The hardest of gems, landing at 10 on the Mohs scale, diamonds are impervious to just about anything. Acid baths won't phase them. The chemical composition of diamonds and the crystal lattice structure are part of the beauty and what makes them so timeless as an ideal wedding or engagement stone. Surprisingly, jade is even stronger because of its interwoven structure.

When choosing a precious gemstone or having one reset, a wise rule of thumb is to look for mountings that will protect it. Take care of your treasure and it will be yours for a lifetime!

Tip 1. Opal, Emerald and Turquoise - Stones should never be put in to an ultrasonic cleaner or exposed to a high temperature cleaner.  Opals can crack, emeralds can fracture and turquoise can destabilize.

Tip 2.  Antique Rings (in original box)  - Make sure a reputable independent jeweler cleans, maintains, and appraises any antique or estate piece. 

Tip 3.  Pearls - Fresh or Saltwater (and other organic materials including coral, amber, abalone, and cultured pearls) should all be handled with special care. Wash them in warm water with a gentle degreaser, such as Dawn. Rinse gently and lay flat to dry. Don't expose them to hairsprays or perfumes.

Tip 4. Diamonds - Keep them clean so they sparkle and have prongs checked periodically to make sure diamonds are secure.

Never use harsh silver or gold cleaners on soft, porous gemstones such as opals and pearls.

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