As a collector and seller of vintage costume jewelry, it’s always a disappointment to come across a beautiful piece of vintage costume jewelry covered in green gunk. You know what I’m talking about…it looks like green mold and is usually clinging to the metal parts of the piece. This green gunk is officially known as verdigris.
Verdigris is corrosion of the metal caused by exposure to moisture, makeup or other contaminants. It happens over time and I see it when a bunch of costume jewelry has been stored for years, sometimes in contact with moisture and with other pieces of jewelry. It is possible to transfer the growth of verdigris from one piece of jewelry to another if they are touching for long periods of time. Some verdigris is easily removed and some is beyond bothering with. I always try to remove it but realize that sometimes the treatment is nearly as bad as the verdigris itself.
Below are my recommended methods to remove verdigris:
1. TOOTHPICK — Sometimes a toothpick is all it takes to scrape small amounts of verdigris from small spots on jewelry. I’d try this first.
2. DRY TOOTHBRUSH — Take a dry toothbrush and brush it across the gunk, removing as much as you can.
3. METAL POLISH — After brushing off as much as I can with a toothbrush, I might move on to try metal polish. There are metal polishes out on the market that are worth their weight in gold to me. Most can be purchased at any hardware store or big box store. I’m currently using a small tube of metal polish named Maas Metal Polish. These metal polishes are very slightly abrasive creams which will help you remove tarnish or dirt from metals. Squeeze a pea-sized drop of polish on to a clean, soft cloth and rub softly on the jewelry. After about 30 seconds of rubbing, check your jewelry out. Hopefully, some of the green is off the jewelry and on your cloth. Finish polishing your jewelry with a clean portion of the cloth. If metal polish has not worked satisfactorily, it’s time to move on to “home chemical treatments”.
WARNING: Some of the options below may work but I use them only as a last resort. Many times, even after the verdigris is removed, the metal underneath is no longer gold plated and may not match the finish on the rest of the piece of jewelry. Keep this in mind before you try the treatments below.
4. VINEGAR — Pour some white vinegar into a bowl or cup and soak your jewelry for about 20 minutes. Pull the jewelry out, then brush it off with the toothbrush. Rinse well, then dry well with a soft clean cloth. Do NOT soak certain types of jewelry in vinegar, especially jewelry with soft gems like pearls, fake pearls, rhinestones with foil backings, glued in rhinestones. If the verdigris is only on certain parts of jewelry, you could still try the vinegar but maybe soak some onto a cotton ball or paper towel and leave the soaked cotton ball touching the verdigris only. This will protect your stones in the jewelry.
4. KETCHUP — I’ve used ketchup in the past because it is acidic and stays in place. The warning about protecting soft gems and rhinestones applies to ketchup as well as vinegar. Lay the jewelry on a paper towel. Squirt the ketchup on the verdigris, wait about 30 minutes, rinse the jewelry well and dry thoroughly. If you can get over the smell and mess of the ketchup, it can sometimes work well.
Proper storage of vintage costume jewelry will prevent future damage. Try not to expose your jewelry to moisture and at least make sure that moisture or makeup is not present on the jewelry when putting it away. It’s best not to pile a bunch of jewelry together and leave it laying there for years. Just get your jewelry out and look at it once in a while. The sooner you catch that nasty green gunk, the easier it is to stomp out!