Let’s start with this: I’ve managed to ruin my fair share of rings. I smashed one building our closet. I somehow cracked the band of a gold ring that is basically the only nice piece of jewelry I owned before this diamond ring. It was bad enough that it needed more gold to be welded and fixed. I lost my class ring before I graduated high school. I have a terrible history with rings. Basically I’m terrified of ruining my engagement ring.
In my determination not let that happen I’ve done a fair amount of research. Here’s what I found out.
[Remember that I have a chemistry background. And I was researching things that would damage engagement rings aka lots ofchemical reactions. You can expect a little science. It is my element after all. Get it.]
First off, insure that thing.
Your engagement ring is likely the most expensive piece of jewelry you own. Maybe even your most expensive possession, period. Get that thing insured!
For me it was as simple as emailing my insurance agent a copy of the receipt and appraisal. It was added in under my existing homeowner’s policy. Too easy.
What’s my ring made out of anyway?
Understanding the chemical and physical properties of your engagement ring help you understand what can damage it and how to protect it.
Natural diamonds were formed millions of years ago deep within the earth. A diamond is pure carbon. Graphite (pencil lead) is another allotrope, or form, of carbon. Yup that rock on your finger is the same as the stuff you wrote your chemistry homework with.
Anyway, deep in the earth there’s lots of heat and pressure which can force carbon to arrange its bonds into a diamond. Diamonds are the hardest natural substance on the planet, ranking at 10 (the highest) on the Mohs hardness scale.
Diamond Alternatives: Moissanite & White Sapphires
Moissanite has a similar chemical structure to diamond. It’s made of silicon carbide, SiC. Moissanite does occur naturally but it’s so rare that the stones used in jewelry are lab created. Those of you that remember a little high school chemistry might recall that silicon and carbon are in the same group. That means they have similar properties. Moissanite is the second hardest gemstone behind diamond, with a Mohs score of 9.25.
White sapphire does not contain any carbon, and instead is made of aluminum oxide, Al2O3. Impurities in the aluminum-oxygen structure are what cause sapphires to be different colors. White sapphires are rarer than other sapphires and are often lab created. They are the third hardest gemstone, with a Mohs score of 9.
Most jewelry metals, like gold, silver, and platinum, are referred to as noble metals because they resist corrosion. Pure gold is quite soft and easily dented. In jewelry, noble metals are often alloys, or mixtures of metals, rather than pure ones. The karat, or k in things like 14k gold, refers to how much gold is in the mixture.
Durability (along with cost) is one of the advantages to mixing gold with other metals. That’s also how white gold gets to be “white”, it’s mixed with other metals like nickel, silver and palladium. Most jewelry alloys are less than 5 on the Mohs hardness scale. While noble metals are more difficult to chemically damage, some of the metals they get mixed with are more easily corroded.
So avoid chlorine.
Pools and hot tubs are bad for your jewelry because of the high amounts of chlorine they contain. White gold is particularly susceptible because it often contains nickel that reacts with chlorine. These chemical reactions can cause irreversible damage, like discoloration, to your ring.
Bleach also contains chlorine and is a strong oxidizer (think of oxidizers as things that will cause rusting or tarnishing) which makes it horrible for your jewelry as well. Do not clean with bleach while wearing your jewelry. Hopefully you’re wearing gloves and not getting bleach on your hands anyway #safetyfirst. Your engagement ring setting can cause gloves to rip. Take it off before you begin cleaning.
Chlorine will not harm your diamond or moissanite stones but can harm other non carbon based gemstones, like sapphires. But no matter what stone you have, the metal its set in is likely at risk in chlorine.
While your at it, avoid salt water.
Salt water can cause jewelry to start to dissolve which will weaken its structural integrity. Rose gold is particularly susceptible because of the copper it contains. The ocean is also full of sand swirling around that can be abrasive to the finish of your ring, especially if it is plated. Keep those rings out of the ocean! (You may want to consider that sweat is basically salt water too and avoid wearing your ring at the gym.)
What about doing the dishes?
Most water supplies do contain small amounts of chlorine. Your dish water will not be as corrosive as the pool or the ocean. The chlorine levels are low enough to make water safe enough. The bigger concern doing the dishes is knocking your ring around causing the metal to scratch, dent, or loosen the prongs holding your stone(s). Stainless steel sinks have a Mohs hardness of 5, which is likely harder than your ring metal. That makes your engagement ring (especially ones with high profile settings) susceptible to damage from knocking it against the sink.
Given my history of knocking rings around pretty hard, I am not planning to leave my ring on while doing the dishes. I haven’t figured out a dish for my ring yet, but I will not keep it behind the sink. I do not want my ring passing over the drain to take it off or put it back on. Too many people have lost rings down the drain.
Other things to avoid
Common sense should tell you not to have your skin exposed to any of these substances. But just in case, avoid these coming in contact with your engagement ring:
glass etching creams
oxidizing household cleaners like oxiclean
Long Term Care
A common DIY jewelry cleaner is peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap. I’ve used that combo on a few pieces of jewelry – it worked wonders on a bracelet and tarnished a ring permanently. [Yet another ring I’ve messed up.]
There are numerous DIY jewelry cleaning recipes and I wouldn’t put my engagement ring in any of them.
Acids, if concentrated enough, will irreversibly react with metals. (Often producing hydrogen gas so you’d see bubbles.) Do not soak your ring things like vinegar or ketchup. Sure they might eat away at the grime on your ring, but they could also eat away at the surface of the metal. Any good jeweler (probably even bad ones) will clean your ring for free. There’s really no need to mix up a household concoction and risk permanently damaging your ring.
It’s a good idea to have your ring inspected once or twice a year. A jeweler can tell if any of your stones are loose before you would notice. This also is an opportunity to get your engagement ring appraised. You may need to adjust your insurance coverage over time as your ring appreciates in value. Lastly, white gold rings are plated with rhodium to give them a bright silver shine. Over time that coating can wear, and you may want to have your engagement ring “dipped” to replace the rhodium plating.
You may want to think about where you will need to store your ring so you can plan ahead. At night will you wear your ring or need a dish/box to store it in? Need a ring dish in the kitchen for when you’re doing dishes? I need a box to lock in my desk at work when I’m in the lab. You may need a box to stash in your locker at the gym.
The Bottom Line
If you have a diamond ring, your biggest concern for your stone is not any physical or chemical damage. Diamonds are pretty impervious to those. But the metal that encases your ring can have its physical or structural integrity compromised. That can loosen your diamond and put you at a risk of loosing it if it falls out. Just be mindful of your shiny new accessory and enjoy your engagement!
When in doubt, take it off and store it somewhere safe!