"Costume jewelry is more easily damaged than fine jewelry,"says Christie Romero of Anaheim, an antique and vintage jewelry historian, lecturer, dealer and collector. "You really must take good care of it for it to last."
Romero, lectures on costume jewelry and is the host, co-writer and co-producer of "Hidden Treasures," a videocassette on antique and vintage jewelry of the 19th and 20th centuries, has seen jewelry ruined through neglect. Jewelry thrown together gets scratched and absorbs moisture. Plastic bags trap moisture that eats away at jewelry.
"Verdigris is caused by moisture on brass or copper-based metals, which is what most costume jewelry is made of. The verdigris attacks the metal and eats it away, leaving a green patina behind. This verdigris corrosion can spread to the entire piece of jewelry and destroy it," she says.
The green areas can be gently cleaned with a mixture of one tablespoon of salt and one tablespoon of vinegar in very hot water, using an old, soft toothbrush. "But that formula doesn't turn the metal shiny again," she says. "It would have to be replated to get that."
Moisture not only harms rhinestones and metals, it also destroys faux pearls because the moisture lifts the pearling off, exposing the dull stone underneath.
Another mistake people make is to don their jewelry before dousing on perfume or hair spray. The moisture from these products destroys the jewelry.
You can sometimes do more harm than good trying to clean or restore costume jewelry. "The worst thing is dunking costume jewelry in cleaner, since any moisture that gets behind rhinestones will cause the foil backing to tarnish and turn black. After that happens, the only thing you can do is replace the stones. You cannot revive them," Romero says.
"Replacing one or two rhinestones is no problem. You can do it yourself as long as you make sure to get all the foil backing out of the cup before you glue in the new stone," she says.
"Enameling is difficult to repair and sometimes it doesn't look right when it's restored. The best thing is to take care of it in the first place," said Romero.
* Line drawers or containers with foam found at upholstery stores. Not only will the foam absorb moisture, it offers resistance so the jewelry doesn't slip and slide around.
* If you live near the beach, put packets of silicone gel--found in vitamin bottles and shoe boxes--inside your jewelry box. Silicone absorbs moisture.
Romero offers classes on simple repairs, such as replacing rhinestones, straightening clasps and stickpins and cleaning jewelry.
"Styles and Periods of Jewelry" is scheduled for Oct. 4, 11, 25 and Nov. 1, 8 and 15 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Sleepy Hollow Antique Mall, 12965 Main St., Garden Grove. The fee is $120 for six three-hour sessions. "Material Identification and Restoration," also at the antique mall, will be Nov. 22 and 29 and Dec. 6 and 13, 6:30 to 9:30. The fee is $80 for the four three-hour sessions. Call (714) 539-9187.