The inherent beauty of ivory is prized around the world. Due to this, it has been used for making various objects of decorative value for ages.
Commercially ivory is also used for manufacturing billiard balls and handles as well as items like piano and organ keys.
Ivory is also one of the most prized materials which are quite commonly used in jewelry making.
Presently it’s also used to manufacture specialized electrical equipment for airplanes and radar.
But for all the advantages, ivory is a porous organic material. This means that it absorbs moisture that might cause the ivory to become stained and discolored.
This aging process develops a patina, which goes toward the value of the ivory.
This means that if you remove the patina or change its color to something else, it will lower the value of the ivory item you own.
So, if you need to clean your antique ivory jewelry, you will need to be careful about the products you use along with how it is cleaned, particularly when you want to preserve its value.
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How to Clean Old Yellowed Ivory Jewelry?
Ivory that is not properly cleaned will become darker and can even turn yellow.
If it does not turn yellow with age, most probably the piece is not real.
When you want to clean your old yellowed jewelry made of ivory, the goal is to clean the ivory without affecting the patina or causing other damage, which affects the overall value of the jewelry itself.
This means that you will need the right products, take the right steps in cleaning, and know what to avoid if you want to ensure that your ivory jewelry is just as valuable tomorrow as it is today.
What Do You Need for Cleaning?
For the most part, the items you need to properly clean the ivory in your antique jewelry are inexpensive and quite effective at removing unwanted stains.
This means that you will need to collect the following;
- Cotton Swabs
- Distilled Water
- Ethyl Alcohol
- Paper Towels
- Soft Brush
- White Gloves
- Woolen Cloth
- Mild Dish Detergent: Not the Dishwasher type
All the items must be clean and ready for use.
The distilled water is more effective because it does not contain any unwanted minerals that might affect the color of the ivory.
If you do not want to use paper towels, then a soft cloth will work as well.
The white gloves are to keep your skin oils from affecting the ivory while it is being cleaned.
Steps for Cleaning Antique Ivory Jewelry
Test the cleaning agent
If you have never cleaned ivory jewelry before, then you should start with a small section when applying the cleaning product.
This will let you know if the cleaners are affecting the coloring of the ivory in an unwanted manner.
The best way is to start with the gentlest cleaner and work your way up if it is not enough to properly clean the ivory.
Start the cleaning process
Once you have tested the cleaner on the ivory, you are ready to start the cleaning process for the entire piece.
Start with doing the following;
Put on the white gloves that have been cleaned without the use of a fabric softener.
Once the gloves are on, you should dust the piece to remove any loose dirt or debris.
The soft brush will help to gently remove the dirt and other bits from the surface.
Once the loose debris is removed, dampen a cotton swab or soft cloth with the distilled water and gently wipe the surface.
This will loosen any debris or stains that the dusting did not get. Be sure to blot dry with a paper towel or soft dry cloth to remove the water.
You can start with a small area to see if any discoloration occurs.
If the piece needs more cleaning, mix in a little mild dish detergent with the distilled water.
This will break the surface tension of the water and, when applied with a cotton swab or soft cloth, will remove more of the dirt and debris.
Finally, if it is a tough piece and still needs more cleaning, this is when you apply one-part ethyl alcohol, and one part distilled water.
Put this on a cotton swab and apply it to a small area first. Stop if you see any discoloration.
Once completed, you can buff the ivory with a clean woolen cloth. And there you get your shining ivory back!
Alternative Ivory Cleaning Products You Can Try
It’s a sticky natural rubber product that can be used to restore and shine your ivory pieces safely.
You just need to use this non-abrasive and non-staining cleaner by rolling over a small area.
And as you roll, you will see it pulling out the dirt automatically from the surface.
Not only for removing the dust from ivory but also you can use it to clear a wide range of other foreign matters like carbon, charcoal, chalk, crayon, grease, oil, etc.
Make sure you use it first to test the smaller area to ensure that it’s not pulling out the natural patina of ivory.
White Vinyl Eraser:
If your ivory jewelry pieces have a speck of stubborn dirt to be cleaned, you can also use a product called a white vinyl eraser.
White vinyl erasers being very soft, are generally used by artists for removing pencil or charcoal marks/lines.
Since these are also free of contaminants and dye-based materials, it’s pretty safe to clean the ivory.
While using these erasers, make sure that you apply minimum pressure and clean over a small area first.
If you find it’s working, carry on cleaning the parts as well. After cleaning, clean up the left-out eraser guts using a soft paintbrush.
Tips and Precautions when Cleaning Ivory Jewelry
Remember that any dark lines in the ivory are natural, so do not try to remove them.
You can use a magnifying glass to help you see the small details of the ivory which will confirm the material when you clean it.
1. Do not use water:
Do not ever submerge the ivory in the water when cleaning – simply wipe the surface using a clean cotton cloth that needs to be cleaned.
If there is any glue, adhesive, or other stubborn deposits, make use of very fine sandpaper first to sand the ivory before starting the cleaning process.
2. Avoid using sonic cleaners:
Since water or other types of liquid are not allowed for cleaning, you should also avoid cleaning your ivory jewelry in ultrasonic jewelry cleaning machines.
These cleaning machines make use of ultrasonic cleaning solvents diluted in water which is harmful to your pieces.
Also, the cavitation process inside the machine due to which the microscopic bubbles are formed can ruin your sophisticated jewelry pieces within seconds.
3. Keep the ivory hydrated if it’s drying:
Ivory being taken from living creatures (such as elephants, walrus, and whales) becomes brittle as well as dehydrated over time.
To keep its tip-top shape, shine, and nicer looks, you need to clean and rehydrate it at least twice a year.
For re-hydrating, wrap your pieces in a dye-free white cloth (soaked in pure mineral oil) for about 8-10 hours.
After being soaked, wipe off the excess oil you see using another piece of clean cotton cloth.
Tips for Displaying and Storing Your Ivory Pieces Safely
Ivory is a porous organic material, which means that environmental effects like heat, humidity, and sunlight can affect its look in various ways.
When displaying or storing your decorative ivory pieces or jewelry, make sure that it’s not placed in a place that is exposed to direct sunlight.
This can cause them to get bleached and become more brittle fast.
It’s good to display them where the temperature is moderate, and the relative humidity remains at a normal range of 30% to 50%.
When storing your ivory jewelry (that you will not use for long), you can follow the following steps:
- Wrap your ivory piece in tissue paper or cotton cloth
- Put activated charcoal (for absorbing impurities) in a clean, unbleached, white cotton bag
- Put the wrapped ivory and the charcoal bag together in an airtight container or a zip lock bag
Overall, a little care goes a long way towards taking care of your old antique jewelry made up of elephant ivory.
This means using the right cleaning agents and soft cloths to do the job is highly important if you want to keep your items safe for long-term usage.
In case your piece of ivory-made jewelry is extremely dirty to clean or has mold on it, you should get in touch with a professional who deals in ivory.
If you do not find any reliable company in your area, you can call a local museum for help or any recommendation.
Hopefully, they can help get back the glory of your old ivory back.