Gems like pearl, coral, ivory, shell, or amber have very different beginnings than inorganic gemstones like ruby or diamond. Organic gems were formed from biological processes and, though they are strong enough to be set in jewelry, they require special care and cleaning.
When cleaning your jewelry, never use harsh soap or chemical jewelry cleaner on organic gems. Don’t use an ultrasonic cleaner or steam cleaner. You can dampen a soft cloth, like flannel or microfiber, with water or mild soapy water, and run the cloth over the gems. Then you should dry quickly with another clean, soft cloth. Never soak an organic gem because of its porosity.
Organic gems shouldn’t be subjected for long to strong light or heat. Drastic changes in temperature or humidity are bad for them as well. Sunlight can bleach gems like ivory, destroying the yellow patina which shows age and makes the ivory more valuable. Heat and high humidity can cause crazing or discoloration.
At the same time, too little humidity is bad for organic gems. If your gems are very dried out, you can hydrate them with a little mineral oil. Some people recommend doing this once a year. Put it on and take it off with a soft cloth. Do not soak it in mineral oil, but, if the piece is very dehydrated, you can wrap it in a cloth dampened with mineral oil, and let it sit overnight. Just make sure to wipe off any excess oil in the morning.
Human oils are moisturizing for organic gems. But when you remove your jewelry, it’s best to wipe it down with a clean cloth. Put jewelry on after you’ve put on your make-up, hairspray, and perfume. And don’t wear these gems if it’s a really hot day–sweat has a chemical component to it that can stain some organic gems. If you’re going to be cooking, cleaning or doing any activity involving vinegar, bleach, or detergents, take your jewelry off.
Finally, when storing your jewelry, it’s best to keep organic gems in a protected soft pouch or tissue paper to protect them from being scratched. Do not, however, store them in a plastic pouch. The plastic can emit a chemical that can cause a pearl’s surface to deteriorate. Storing jewelry in a safety deposit box or safe can dry out organic gemstones. Place a small container of water in the lock box, and be sure to open the box regularly to allow air circulation.
After all this, it may sound like organic gems aren’t worth the work! But once you get in the habit of caring for your organic gems, it won’t seem like work. They are definitely worth the extra care!