Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rhinestones-The Sparkle Factor-Finding and Repairing Vintage Jewelry

We are drawn to rhinestones in jewelry.  They add sparkle, luster and quality -- if they are “Good”.  But that is the trick!  How do you know what to look for?
Some examples of Sara's handpicked rhinestone treasures
  • First, and most obviously, see that they are all there. Sometimes, with tiny stones, or many, you have to look closely! 
  • Are the edges of the stones crisp as if they have sharp edges?  These are table cut (TT) or even Swarovski.  If they are rounded, they are made in a mold and then fire polished.  They will not reflect the light well. Compare them to the TT and the flash is just not there.
    This is an example of a cut stone and a fire polish stone.  The blue stone is cut, you can see that the edges are sharper and cleaner.  The gold stone has smooth rounded edges.
  • AB, or Aurora Borealis, was developed in the 1950s.  It is an added layer of opalescent material to the surface of the rhinestone which will flash many and complimentary colors on the stone.  Sometimes the AB is poorly applied.  It can look thick, or be chipped. 
This is a beautiful example of Aurora Borealis stones. See the variation of the coloring in the stones and the slight mirror finish?
  • Are the rhinestones prong-set (better) or glued?  If glued, are they crooked, and is the glue slopped all over and is it yellowed?  Yuk. 
  • Finally, and most importantly -- look for Bad Stones. Those yellow or black rhinestones which mean the metal on the back of them have tarnished.  Sometimes you can see through the stone and part of it is OK but part is pitted or black. Still... “Bad”.  If most (or in my case, any) of the stones are Bad, you may want to move on. Not only do they look bad, make the piece look inconsistent, but they don’t reflect the light well which is the purpose of a rhinestone. 

For those of you who want to fix the piece

First determine if it is worth repairing. 
  • If it is a pierced earring with a couple dangles of rhinestone or a simple chain the item is really a dime a dozen. You can pass on something like this.
  • However, you may want to buy the piece even if it's in poor condition if it's and interesting brooch with a spray of stones, or a signed piece or a unique or hard to find one. If there are just a few Bad stones and the piece is solid and most importantly, if you like it, go ahead and buy it. 
Use your knowledge to bargain. If stones need to be replaced, point that out and if you can get a good price, go ahead and buy it.  I’ve re-stoned entire fur/dress clips and belt buckles because they are relatively hard to find.

It is easy to replace rhinestones. Just be patient.  Get a caliper to measure the stone and consult a size chart.
This is a caliper and a size chart. Necessary if you are going to replace rhinestones.

Larger stone are measured in millimeters, but smaller ones use a different scale.  Then check the type of setting. Most of the time  you will have a recessed area, but sometimes it will just be flat. If it's flat you need a "flat back" stone, if it's recessed, pointed or open, you need a pointed or faceted back stone.
These are examples of flat backed vs. pointed stones from Vintage Rhinestones on Etsy.
New old stock is vastly superior and will make your piece look like a million bucks. If you don’t have a store in town that sells rhinestones, you can find some wonderful old stock at Vintage Rhinstones on Etsy or similar places on the internet to buy a replacement(s).  I have learned to not use stones out of old settings. They are not worth the trouble to retrieve them and if possible, always choose cut stones over fire polished stones.

  • In the settings, if the stone is prong set, pry open the prongs, dump out the bad stone and put in the new one.  Its not fun to get it seated right, but the result is fabulous. Some people lick their finger and then hold the top of the stone in place like that.  Or you can find tacky sticks online or in a craft store. Another trick for really small stones is to use a piece of broken spagetti. Just lick the end and it should provide enough tack to pick up the stone but allow it to be released in the setting.
  • If it is glued, remove the old one by soaking it in acetone or fingernail polish. You may want to do this with a Q-tip set directly onto the stone so as not to damage any other part of the setting.  When I want all the stones out I put them in my handy dandy stone-detatcher jar: it is a former spice glass jar with a wide opening and tight lid.  I put about about an inch of fingernail polish in it and don’t change it until it is just too disgusting and gluey feeling.  Leave it in for at least 6 hours.  The and stones should just drop out. Clean up any sticky residue with acetone and dig out any remaining glue embedded in the settings.
  • The last step is to add all new rhinestones.  E-6000 or G-S Hypo cement both work well and are readily available in most hobby stores.  Use a very small amount,  you don't want it squishing out the sides. When you are all done, let the piece set for at least 24 hours. The glue may seem sturdy but it needs a full 24 hours to fully harden.  After 24 hours, make a final inspection. Give each stone a little nudge to make sure they are all well secured and then enjoy your beautiful new OLD piece of jewelry!!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for mentioning my shop and using my pictures! What a delight to be on a blog. Thanks.

    Here's a link to my ArtFire Blog with stone size charts and how to remove foil from the backs of stones if you want them transparent, etc.