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Southwest Affinity Sterling Silver Native American Jewelry

Article written by former owner, Beverley Jones, now of Fancy's Garden

Sterling silver cleaning productsCleaning and caring for your sterling silver jewelry and other sterling silver items

First I would like to say, sterling silver is easy to care for if you follow a few simple steps, so don't be afraid to cover yourself in silver.  You will love the look! 

In this article you will find easy ways to keep your sterling silver clean with a minimum amount of time and effort.  Sterling silver really is not that difficult to take care of whether it is your precious sterling silver jewelry or fine tableware.  Keeping sterling silver tarnish free and sparkling is really pretty easy.  

Though this article is mainly about cleaning your sterling silver jewelry, it applies to all sterling silver.  All the products mentioned here are products that our silversmith's use and recommend for cleaning sterling silver jewelry.  They are available through most reputable jewelers, and directly through W. J. Hagerty and Sons, South Bend, Indiana, but Southwest Affinity does make them available for purchase here for your convenience.

If you wish to purchase any product mentioned here and you don't see it available below, please contact us and we will assist you in locating it.

You will learn how to do the following:

Storing your sterling silver jewelry

Storing your sterling silver in the open air and humidity for extended periods of time can cause it to tarnish quickly.  Tarnish first appears as a golden hue on your sterling silver then quickly turns to black.  This is a normal process that is caused by oxidization and moisture from air and believe it or not sunshine. To keep tarnish to a minimum it is advised that you store your jewelry pieces when not wearing them. 

To reduce tarnish and keep your pieces tarnish free for months at a time, it is recommended that you keep your sterling silver jewelry in an air-tight protective bag made of tarnish proof cloth or you can use a plastic zip lock bag made of Mylar (turkey cooking bags) or polyethylene.  Be warned that some plastic contains sulfur compounds which can cause your jewelry to tarnish faster or stain.  Never use polyvinyl plastic bags.  We store and ship our jewelry in tiny zip-lock bags that are perfect for this.  I have found zip-lock bags work well for storing your sterling silver jewelry in and most jewelers store their sterling silver jewelry this way as well.  

Sterling silver, stored properly, can be worn often and with minimal cleaning required, making it very easy to care for and lots of fun to wear.

Although your jewelry is scratch resistant it isn't scratch proof, so we recommend that you store your jewelry so that it isn't rubbing up against other articles, like in a loose drawer or jewelry box.   Also, when storing remember that exposing it to air promotes tarnishing, so use the zip lock bags to protect from scratches and tarnish. 

Avoid storing your sterling silver jewelry directly on wood surfaces, because wood usually contains acids that can mar the finish.  Oak seems to be the worst for this.  Also, avoid storing your sterling silver with other metals, like pennies, and rubber, these too cause tarnish and damage.

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Cleaning your sterling silver jewelry

Type of cloth to use:

Clean your sterling silver jewelry with a soft 100% cotton (nub free) cloth or flannel cloth and gently rub off any excess makeup.  Remember silver is a very soft metal and you can scratch it if you aren't careful so don't rub it too briskly.  Never use anything but a clean 100% cotton or a special sterling silver cleaning cloth or very soft bristle brush, like a babies tooth brush or a horsehair silver brush.  Paper, polyester, and coarse fabrics often contain wood fibers or synthetics, that can cause tiny scratches in the surface of your fine sterling silver jewelry.  Dirt left over from previous cleanings can scratch the surface as well.

Types of cleaners to use:

For light cleanings:  To remove light dirt, fingerprints or makeup just use a small amount of mild liquid detergent to a 1/2 cup of warm water and rinse thoroughly with clean fresh water.  (Remember, be careful because too harsh of a cleanser could damage the polish on the stones.)  Dry it completely before storing it in an air tight zip lock bag.  I usually do quick clean ups of my sterling silver jewelry with little effort using the Sunshine Polishing Cloth.  Then just polish it up with a soft cotton cloth, an old cotton t-shirt works well.  Do not use the polishing cloth on your gemstones!  The best use of the polishing cloth is to remove light scratches from regular wear and tear.  It is great for that!  You would be surprised how quick it can return the shine.

Should you have a great deal of tarnish and need more cleaning than a polishing cloth can do, you will probably have to do a deeper cleaning using a silver paste cleaner or a silver polish spray, we recommend Hagerty's Silversmith's Spray Polish or Hagerty Silversmiths' Wash, for items with out gemstones or antiquing the Sterling Silver Flatware dip is great; and  for the gemstones we recommend the Hagerty Delicate Jewel Clean.  Be careful silver paste cleaners can damage gemstones like turquoise, so be sure to try and keep it off of your gemstones when cleaning your sterling silver.  If you use the Hagerty's Silversmith Wash we recommend you do not have to worry about your gemstones, this product is safe on porous stones and is made for this use.  It also has a tarnish retardant in the cleaner to slow the tarnishing process down.

For deep cleaning sterling silver jewelry with gemstones:  When thoroughly cleaning sterling silver jewelry a couple of factors need to be taken into consideration.  If the pieces have gemstones, this requires just a little bit more care. So we have divided this section into two categories, cleaning those with gemstones and cleaning those without.

Not all paste cleaners are recommended for soft, porous gemstones, so care must be taken to use the appropriate polish or cleanser that will not harm your gemstones.  We recommend the following:  Hagerty's Silversmith's Wash and Hagerty Delicate Jewelry Clean.  Hagerty's Wash is easy and quick and has a chemical retardant to put a protective barrier to help slow tarnish and really makes it shine!  It is ideal for cleaning intricate patterns work. You use it with a sponge, soft cloth or soft bristle brush.  

When using paste or dip cleaners, other than the Hagerty's Silversmith Wash here that we recommend, on jewelry that has gemstones such as turquoise take care to keep the cleaner off of the gemstones because it can cause permanent damage to the stones.  With Haggerty's Silver Smith Wash you can get it on the gemstone and it won't cause any damage to your stone.  The Haggerty's Silversmith Spray is not recommended for use on gemstones, but will not cause damage when used occasionally, however, over a period of time it can cause a dulling to the polished finish of your gemstones or discoloration.

The only dip cleaner that we recommend using would be Hagerty's Flatware Dip, but that is only on pieces that do not have gemstones or antiquing.  The Hagerty Delicate Jewel Clean is specifically made for cleaning delicate and porous gemstones, including cultured pearls.  This does not clean sterling silver or gold, it is a jewel cleaner only, but it will not harm your sterling silver or other precious metal.  This is why we recommend it's use with the Hagerty Silversmiths' Wash.  We recommend Hagerty's products because we use and trust them to clean our sterling silver and precious gemstone jewelry. 

For deeper cleaning sterling silver without gemstones:  To clean away excessive tarnish, clean with a soft cloth and a non-abrasive brand name liquid or paste silver polish to remove tarnish. Our silversmiths use and recommend Hagerty Silversmiths' Spray Polish because it is economical, non-abrasive, super easy to use, retards tarnish for months and really makes it shine! Using dip polish cleaners or pastes on sterling silver without gemstones is safe and will not harm your sterling silver.  I personally use the Hagerty's Flatware Dip for cleaning all sterling silver pieces without gemstones or antiquing, such as liquid silver necklaces or earrings, it cleans in seconds, just dip and take them out and rinse.  I do not believe that this has the tarnish retardant in there, but they clean so quickly I use it for these all silver items and keep all my jewelry stored in the jewelry bag or jewelry keeper to help keep them from tarnishing.

How to clean:  

Now that we have recommended what cleaners to use, there is a method that is recommended for using these cleansers.  Make sure you remove any trace of the polish from gemstones and rinse thoroughly with clean water. 

Rub with a lengthwise motion, never clean in a circular motion because this may cause scratches.  Many will leave the tarnish in the deep crevices to enhance the look of the piece.  However, if you want to remove the tarnish to hard to reach areas, use a very soft brush like a child's tooth brush or a jewelry horse hair silver brush.  A mushroom brush works well for this and can be found at most grocery stores.  After cleaning with a silver polish, use a clean cloth to remove any residual cleaner from your jewelry.

Remember that all metal cleaners have some type of small abrasive particles that help them to clean and will inevitably cause some form of fine scratches.  These are not that obvious and after a time will blend with the fine scratches just from wearing the piece and are not that obvious.  They will still have a beautiful soft sheen that is prized by many. 

Don't feel that you have to get every bit of tarnish from lines and crevices.  Leaving some of the tarnish in hard to reach areas just adds definition and an antique look.  In fact, many of our pieces are oxidized to give it that look.

If you wear your sterling silver jewelry regularly, your body oils help to keep the tarnishing down and cleaning to a minimum. 

Careful not to scratch the surface:  The polished sheen was produced by the skilled hands of silversmiths that spent time filing, sanding and buffing the sterling silver piece to a perfectly flat surface.  It is the light reflecting off this flat surface that gives it the shine.  If you put tiny scratches into the surface you diminish the sheen because the light isn't able to bounce off the surface as well as it once did.  So do protect your sterling silver jewelry from excessive scratches.  If you have pieces that have been abused and are terribly scratched, you should consult a bench jeweler to see if they can be re-polished to remove them and return it to it's original or close to original luster. 

Please use soft cotton cloth, soft sponges or soft bristle brushes to clean your sterling silver, if in doubt, test a small area in an area that isn't obvious and clean that area, and wipe dry.  Inspect it under a strong light to see if the brush you have chosen, left any scratches or not.  Top of page

Using a spray polish: 

Use a soft bristle brush, like a child's soft tooth brush, a mushroom brush, or jewelry horse hair brush, and a little mild soap like Dove. Clean well and then spray on the Hagerty's Polishing Spray or other spray polish. Let it dry for a couple of minutes then rub off with a 100% cotton, soft cloth, like an old tee shirt. If there is turquoise or other soft porous gemstones in the jewelry, be careful to keep the spray off the gemstones.  We would recommend spraying the cleaner directly on the cloth and rubbing the area around the gemstone with the cloth and cleanser to avoid spraying the gemstone.  Polish it to a shine with the soft brush or soft cotton cloth and buff to a shine.  This is quick and easy!

Using the a Silver Wash cleaner: 

Simply apply the wash to a soft sponge or directly to the item with your fingers and wash it like you would a fragile dish. I use a circular motion, which seems to work best for me.  It only takes seconds, it will work up into a foam, then when you feel you have removed the tarnish, rinse in cool water and polish to a shine with a soft cotton cloth.  It is really easy and quick.  This is my preferred method.  If it has jewels, you may want to clean afterwards with the Hagerty Delicate Jewel Clean, dry with the soft cotton cloth. Top of page

Using a sterling silver paste or liquid cleaner:  Always follow manufacturers directions, but basically you just apply it to all silver areas, avoiding gemstones, let it dry and then polish clean with a soft cotton cloth.  You may have to rinse it with cool water to help remove all the cleaner.

Cleaning sterling silver flatware:  Cleaning and caring for sterling silver flatware is basically the same no matter what form it is in.  Cleaning sterling silver flatware presents a bit more of a challenge because it is larger. Generally you would not clean these in your automatic dishwasher. It would be best to hand wash these items, make sure that they are dried completely and then store them in a tarnish proof bag.  There are different kinds of bags.  We offer these bags and have the small 6" bag listed below because we deal with mainly jewelry size pieces, but we do have them available by special order for all flatware and large serving bowls and utensils.  We even have special bags, that are designed specifically to store sterling silver pieces for up to five (5) years without tarnish.  This bag and material were originally designed for NASA for storing sterling silver wires and parts up to five (5) years for their space missions.

To use baking soda or toothpaste or not:  Using toothpaste or baking soda seems to be controversial.  I have been researching this and some say yes and others say NO!  The argument is that the baking soda and toothpaste are too abrasive.  Use at your own risk.  I say if in doubt . . . don't.  Therefore, I recommend against using them.  Stick to a trusted silver cleaner. You would hate to have to have your pieces professionally buffed and refinished.  I, however, have found that it dulls and scratches the finish in my tests, so I don't use it.  Our preference is the Sunshine Polishing Cloth and Hagerty's Spray Polish or Wash Foam Cleanser.  You can purchase them here:  Sunshine Polishing Cloth and other recommended silver cleaners 

However, if you wish to use backing soda here is what you should do:  Barely moisten your sterling silver jewelry with water.  Place in the palm of your hand and pour a liberal amount of baking soda over your jewelry and rub gently with your fingertips. Continue doing this until you remove all the tarnish. Rinse with cool water and dry.  Top of page

Toothpaste is mainly recommended for gold, not silver. Use an old soft toothbrush, dampen and scrub lengthwise as recommended to reduce the chance for scratches and marring the surface.  Rinse in cool water. Remember that toothpaste has abrasive material in it.

Remember that we do not recommend the use of baking soda or toothpaste methods, but many respected jewelers see no problem with it, so be cautious should you decide to try this method.  

Your sterling silver jewelry is a metal that is meant to be worn.  If you just leave it laying around, it will tarnish. To prevent tarnishing while your not wearing it, store your jewelry in a plastic zip lock bag or approved jewelry bags

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Cleaning sterling silver plated jewelry:

Note from Southwest Affinity owner, Beverley:  Since we do not sell sterling silver plated jewelry I contacted a jeweler friend of mine that is very knowledgeable.  Here is what she advises about cleaning silver plated jewelry.

By Nancy Janeliunas of Janeluinas Jewelry 

To remove tarnish from silver plate, use the same techniques or solutions that you would with solid sterling silver items. However use the least amount of polishing (or shortest exposure time needed to liquid dips) as necessary because any process that removes tarnish also removes minute amounts of silver on the surface. Over time the plate will eventually wear, some plates are thicker than others so a heavy plate will most likely last a lifetime with proper care.

To advise which is better using a chemical dip tarnish remover or a polishing cloth.  I would first say that depends on the item. If there is porous stones (Turquoise, Lapis, Malachite, etc. or pearls) in your jewelry do not use the liquid dips. I prefer these dips Tarn-X in particular for quick removal of a heavy tarnish as it will remove all blackness within seconds. I do not leave parts in any longer than necessary. Then a light rub with a polishing cloth puts on a nice shine as the chemical dips leave a dull finish. Polishing cloths are my second choice (or first if my jewelry has porous stones), the Sunshine cloths in particular are the best. They are not abrasive and remove tarnish without a lot of pressure and rubbing. A last resort is tarnish removing paste or polish as it is highly abrasive and would remove too much of the plating with each polishing.

My best advice though to extend the life of a plated item is too use techniques that minimize or slow down the build up or exposure to tarnish in between wearing. The less you have to polish the longer life your item will have. Store in plastic air tight zip lock bags with anti tarnish paper, anti-tarnish cloth jewelry bags, or at least in an air tight, low humidity environment. Do not place in a card board box or on paper as they have sulfur producing compounds in them that increase the rate of oxidation.  Top of page

Cleaning sterling silver flatware or all sterling silver jewelry:

Many of you have come here looking for help with cleaning your sterling silver flatware and other sterling silver serving dishes, utensils and platters.  Because they too are sterling silver these items should pretty much be treated the same as jewelry without gemstones, however, you have the added element of food.  I am not a self-proclaimed expert on serving dishes and flatware, but I have talked to the experts and they have told that me that it is pretty much the same.  They do not recommend dishwashers for these items.  They should be cleansed by hand, with a mild dish detergent, dried thoroughly with a soft cotton cloth and then stored away in tarnish proof bags to help prevent tarnish and damage.  We do provide these at special request.  The tarnish proof bags for large items can be ordered by emailing us and we can special order these for you.  You really should not leave these items out on display unless you don't mind cleaning them often.  We also have some bags available that will keep silver pretty much tarnish free for up to five (5) years.  These bags are not fancy, they are made from a special material that was designed for NASA to store silver parts and wires in their space exploration.  They don't look pretty, but they work.

For cleaning flatware we have a great sterling silver flatware dip with the basket that cleans them in seconds.  It would be a bit difficult for the large serving trays and ladles, but there is a nice paste available for those items that cleans just like you are washing the dish.  It is not offered for sale here, but we can get it for you at special request.  We offer the flatware cleaner, because it is great for cleaning sterling silver jewelry that does not have any antiquing or gemstones, such as liquid silver necklaces, earrings and pendants without gemstones.  Just dip, rinse and go.  I use it a lot for these pieces.  We also have available silver keepers for dinner ware and flatware, including bags that are designed by NASA to keep silver from tarnishing for up to five years. Please contact us for more information about other metal cleaners and keepers, as well as as keepers for other silver components.

Cleaning sterling silver with an ultrasonic cleaner:

If its just a silver piece and doesn't have any stones it is ok to use an ultrasonic cleaner, however, if the piece has turquoise or other semi-precious gemstones the stones very likely will crumble away to nothing or will sometimes turn black in the ultrasonic cleaner.  Top of page

Long term care of your jewelry adds to the life of the piece:

Unfortunately, everything changes with time, use and wear.  I need only to look in the mirror to be reminded of that fact.  Your sterling silver or beaded gemstone jewelry is no different.  There are several things we recommend doing to help prolong the life of your jewelry.

  1. Keep them clean.  It is much easier to remove tarnish and soil when it is minimal.  If you allow your jewelry to turn black with tarnish, it may damage the metal.  The longer you go between cleanings the harder it is to restore it to it's original luster.  So best to keep it clean with a polishing cloth and to store in an air tight back, such as a zip-lock bag, to keep tarnish down.  Or better yet wear them, this helps keep tarnish down.  See the care and cleaning section above.

  2. Always remove your jewelry before using any product that contains bleach, ammonia, alcohol, fingernail polish removers that contain acetone, and turpentine. Some of these can cause a breakdown in the metal alloys leaving the your jewelry beyond repair and dull or even pit the surface of your gemstones. 

  3. Clean before storing and store in the proper manner.  See instructions on storing above.  Avoid storing your sterling silver jewelry directly on wood surfaces, because wood usually contains acids that can mar the finish.  Do not place in a card board box or on paper as they have sulfur producing compounds in them that increase the rate of oxidation.

  4. Keep tarnish to a minimum by storing properly and cleaning before they get overly tarnished.  When your jewelry needs to be cleaned follow the recommend cleaning methods above.

  5. Check for loose stones or parts and have them repaired right away so as not to loose any stones or parts.  With normal wear and tear, stones may loosen over time.  If a stone rocks in its setting you will need to tighten the bezel around the stone to prevent loss of your precious gemstones.  You can usually tighten these yourself, if you use special care.  The back of a spoon works well to run it a long the bezel to press it down on the gemstone and tighten it again.  It is always advisable to consult a local jeweler to tighten the bezel to be on the safe side and doesn't cost hardly anything.

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How your sterling silver jewelry will arrive

When you receive your jewelry it will arrive in a tiny zip lock bag.  Our jewelry is shipped and stored in this air tight bag for a reason.  You see dampness, air and direct sunlight can be damaging to sterling silver, therefore to keep it away from the air and dampness, we keep it in an air tight plastic bag during storage and shipping so it doesn't arrive tarnished. Even a light bulb that shines directly on sterling silver (usually silverware) will cause it to tarnish faster than if it were stored in a dark, dry environment. 

Please keep in mind that detergents and lotions can slowly erode finish off your gemstones and cause your stones to become dull.  Keep your sterling silver and precious gemstones away from chlorine bleach and all household cleaners.  These will cause damage to the silver and stones.  I always remove my jewelry before swimming and washing dishes.   Sterling silver is not difficult to take care of if you just follow a few simple precautions.  If your stones should dull see your local jeweler about having them re-polished.

Just follow these simple rules:  Take it off when cleaning up, avoid strong chemicals, hairspray, makeup etc. and if you plan to play rough, you might want to put it up.  Jewelry is meant to be worn.  Your body oils will slow the tarnishing process.  I touch my jewelry a lot.  I know it sounds funny, but I don't have to clean them very often at all and when I do, I use a cleaning and polishing cloth.  Just takes a few minutes! 

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More information on the cleaning products suggested:

These products are available through former owner, Beverley Jones, through her current business website located at http://fancysgarden.com

Hagerty Silversmiths' Wash

Recommended for our Native American sterling silvers jewelry with gemstones.  It rids silver and gold of tarnish with simple washing action in one rapid, convenient application . . . establishing a tarnish resistant barrier that lasts and lasts. Recommended for any silver or gold item that may be immersed in water.  (8 oz.)

How to Use: Wash silver lightly but thoroughly with Hagerty Silversmiths' Wash, using a sponge dampened with warm water. Rinse in clear, warm water. Dry to a rich luster with a soft, dry cloth.

 

Hagerty Silversmith's Spray Polish

An economical, non-abrasive spray designed for optimum polishing convenience. Simple to use . . . spray it on and buff tarnish away!  Leaves a illustrious "showroom bright" shine on display silver while retarding tarnish for months.  Ideal for cleaning intricate pattern work. 

How to Use: Shake can well before using. Hold container about 6 to 8 inches from surface and apply an even coating of polish to tarnished area. Let polish dry to a pink, powder like texture (approximately 30 seconds), then buff with a clean soft cloth. Your silver will shine brilliantly and remain tarnish-free for months!

 

Hagerty Flatware Silver Dip

A very effective silver cleaner for all sterling silver items without gemstones or antique blackening in the design.  This special dip is specially designed to care for your sterling silver flatware, but is great for all sterling silver jewelry without delicate and porous stones. I have even used it on them once or twice without any ill affects, but I don't recommend it.  Just dip and remove and it is unbelievable how quick and well this cleans.  Rinse and dry with soft cloth and you are done!  Handy dipping basket included.  (21 fluid ounce) Also available in an 8 fluid ounce size.

How to use: Place jewelry in the dipping basket and agitate gently for a second or two. Remove, rinse with warm water. Carefully wipe dry with a soft cloth.

Available in two convenient sizes.  The 8 oz size will work for most individuals and last quite a long time.

 


Hagerty Delicate Jewel Clean

A very gentle, yet effective liquid specially designed to care for your delicate and porous stones, including natural and cultured pearls.  Handy dipping basket included.  (7 fluid ounce) This is a jewel cleaner only and doesn't clean sterling silver or gold, just the gemstones.  It is not harmful to sterling silver or gold and should be used with the Hagerty's silversmith wash below.

How to use: Place jewelry in the dipping basket and agitate gently for a minute. Remove, rinse with warm water. Carefully wipe dry with a soft cloth.

Large Jewelry Keeper

Stores, protects and organizes your jewelry at home or on the go.  Hangs in your closet or on your door.  Anti-tarnish material protects your jewelry from tarnish and scratches.

35 pockets in various sizes, includes detachable, swivel hanger, front and back shown in picture.  Can accommodate a wide variety of items, and there is no need to repack for traveling.  18 1/2" wide X 21 1/2" high.  This is a great little organizer and storage for your valued sterling silver jewelry and helps keep it organized and drastically reduces tarnish keeping it to a minimum.  You can get a lot of jewelry in this thing.  We highly recommend it.

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Anti-tarnish Cloth Jewelry Bags

Tarnish-preventing silversmiths' cloth jewelry keeping bag

6" x 6" Tarnish Proof Jewelry Bag with closing Zipper.  This bag is a 6" square made of soft tarnish preventing silversmiths' cloth with a zipper closure on the end to store your sterling silver jewelry in or for use in traveling.

 

 

 

Sunshine Polishing Cloth:

Sunshine � Polishing Cloths are easy to use cloths that have been impregnated with special chemical cleansing and polishing compounds and non-scratching micro-abrasives.  Can be used to clean tarnish from sterling silver, gold, brass, and copper leaving a deep, long-lasting luster.  Also great for polishing out surface scratches and marks.  Great for those quick touch ups and to keep tarnish from building.  Not recommended for heavy tarnish removal unless your prepared to use several of them.  Size: 7-3/4 inches by 5 inches.  Do not use on your gemstones, it will cause dulling of the finish.

To use: Be sure the item is free from dust and other abrasives before cleaning. Gently rub the surface to be polished, can place on table or counter and rub jewelry against it for a tougher job.  To remove minor surface scratches it requires a lot of elbow grease, but well worth the effort.  You may have to place the item on a hard surface and rub the area with the scratch so there isn't any resistance, put as much effort as the piece will allow, obviously you have to judge for yourself how much pressure your piece can take.  Keep at it and you will see scratches lesson or be removed completely.  It works great!

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Steps to clean Native American jewelry with our recommended Hagerty products:

Steps for cleaning Native American jewelry with gemstones using our recommended Hagerty's products:

Clean the piece with Hagerty Silversmith Wash using a sponge or soft child's toothbrush. Rinse with cool water and dry with a soft cotton cloth like a T-shirt.  Then dip it in the Hagerty Delicate Jewel Cleaner, it is formulated especially for porous gemstones like turquoise to clean the gemstones.  Follow the directions for the jewel cleaner, rinse and dry with the clean T-shirt to polish it dry.  They will sparkle when done and it only takes a couple of minutes. 

Have more questions?

If you have more questions regarding cleaning sterling silver, please feel free to contact us.

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