We have cold weather maintenance for our cars and our homes, our boats and our RVs. Those are all major purchases that most people don’t make but every few years. Jewelry can be another major purchase that is not always a yearly occurrence (we wish it was), but when it comes to specific care regimens, a lot of consumers have never been told one way or another beyond the assumption that common sense will reign.
But jewelry has some winter guidelines of which to be aware, as well.
Now, don’t take this as a call to lock your jewelry away for the winter. That would just be a silly overreaction. Jewelry is meant to be worn and enjoyed.
This post is to make you aware of the different kinds of risks to jewelry that exist during the coldest parts of the year. Some of them really are common sense; others, most people would never have considered and may have already fallen victim to.
Hold on a second…
Before we get into the heavy stuff, let’s address one thing that’s somewhat of an urban legend, and that’s gems (more specifically opals) cracking or exploding when they’re exposed to cold weather when someone steps out of a warm house.
Like any legend, there’s a kernel of truth there. Opals are very susceptible to thermal shock – rapid, substantial changes in ambient temperature (think swings of 50ºF in a split second). But then, so are garnets, emeralds, tanzanite, and quartz. And it does happen; I’ve seen it. But it’s rare, and it requires some rather unstable material to bring it into reality. If an opal doesn’t break or crack while it’s being cut and polished, the chances of it breaking under normal wearing conditions are slim.
The real problem for most opals is moving from a high-humidity environment to a low-humidity environment and vice versa. Think moving from Birmingham, Alabama, to Tucson, Arizona.
Still, while it’s plausible, the only way to know if it will happen to your opal is if it actually happens. Therefore, err on the side of caution. Don’t wear your opal jewelry outside of your clothing when you’re venturing out into a polar vortex. Matter settled? Great.
Below are some things to really watch out for. The first culprit in winter weather jewelry damage seems rather innocuous at first.
It’s sweaters. Particularly knit sweaters and turtlenecks. In most jewelry set with stones, those stones are prong-set. Prongs catch on loose and loopy threads, like those found in your stash of ugly Christmas sweaters. Prongs on any kind of jewelry are prone to snagging on knit sweaters. Pulling it off over your head can snag earrings and pendants (in more ways than one; keep reading), and sliding your hands in or out of sleeves can snag rings and bracelets.
Most well-made pieces of jewelry with prong set stones shouldn’t have any problems dealing with a knit sweater. If your prongs are in good shape, you’ll feel it tugging if it gets caught. But even well-made jewelry wears down over time, and prongs get thinner with age.
It’s true that earrings and pendants aren’t prone to as much prong-wear as rings and bracelets, but they get snagged in sweaters more often than rings or bracelets do. And when an earring gets snagged…ow.
Anyway, worn prongs on rings and bracelets are not as resilient when it comes to getting snagged on loose threads. Thin prongs can not only bend out of place, but they can break off entirely, severely jeopardizing the security of your stones, and you may never feel the pull.
Turtlenecks (mock turtlenecks included) pose another threat. Many women wear pendants or necklaces on longer chains over their turtleneck sweaters. No big deal, right? You get to show off your beautiful piece of jewelry while staying warm and cozy. Until you forget you’re wearing it and try to take your sweater off. Then the chain snaps, and your pendant gets lost somewhere in the folds of your sweater.
The answer for prevention is simple. Let your jewelry be the last thing you put on before you leave the house, or, if you’re hosting, before you leave your bedroom. And when you’re done socializing, do a quick check in the mirror to make sure you aren’t forgetting about any jewelry you might be wearing before you start to disrobe.
It also doesn’t hurt to have your jewelry cleaned and inspected for wear and tear about once every quarter, or if you suddenly start noticing pieces snagging on things when they didn’t before. At Windsor Jewelry, we’re glad to clean and check your jewelry for free, and it only takes a couple of minutes.
The next culprits of winter jewelry damage (and personal harm) are less innocuous.
The stove and oven are sources of exceptional heat. For whatever reason, people tend to wear their jewelry more often when cooking during the holiday season (October 31-January 1). I don’t know why that is, but I’m as guilty of it as the next person. I think it probably has to do with the fact that I’m trying to get things finished off at the last minute before gatherings. But whatever the reason, some unsightly things can happen to jewelry around extreme heat.
Electric coil stovetops have been measured at temperatures way north of 1000ºF. While that kind of heat doesn’t necessarily transfer to non-stick pans (which are thermal insulators), cast iron skillets and mild steel woks get hotter than a cat on a tin roof. The broiler in your oven can get up over 500ºF, too.
Theoretically, those kinds of temperature swings are very bad for jewelry, especially colored stones like opal and quartz (amethyst, citrine, etc.). However, the real danger is the metal. Precious metal alloys like gold and silver are excellent thermal conductors, meaning they grab radiant heat out of the air and transfer it to whatever they’re touching.
Pulling that rack of ribs out of the oven doesn’t seem like a long time for exposure. But if you’re using a potholder rather than sticking your hand in an oven mitt, the silver ring on your finger can definitely get hot enough to burn your skin if you end up fumbling around a little bit. The burn isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s left a mark on my hand more than once (mostly because I refuse to heed my own advice – “Do as I say, not as I do.”).
And if you hang onto that cast iron skillet too long, you’ll have a concentrated burn around your finger where your wedding band sits (yes, that’s happened to me, too).
The answer? Don’t wear your jewelry while you’re cooking. Period. Not during the holidays, and not during any other time.
So is any of that really and truly winter-specific maintenance advice?
Sort of. Not really, unless you tend to wear knit turtlenecks to summer BBQs.
But regardless, it’s worth storing away in your jewelry care archive alongside “Don’t wear your jewelry in the pool or hot tub,” and “Don’t do any gardening in your jewelry.”