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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Back from Vacation and Metal Allergies

Well I'm back from vacation and somewhat rested. I think it was a good idea to take some time after my return from Martha's Vineyard off as well. It gave me a chance to ease back into things. As for the Vineyard we had some great (albeit hot) weather while we were there. It didn't rain at all. We had a wonderful stay at the bed and breakfast we stayed at: The Doctor's House and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to stay on the Vineyard. I think in the future I wouldn't stay quite as long. Neither Kathy nor myself are beach people so after about 4 days you run out of things to do there. But if you are into beaches there are plenty of pretty ones there. There were quite a few good restaurants we went to although it wasn't until near the end of the week that we found some decent bars as well. My idea of a decent bar may differ from most people's however as I look for my favorite drink, tequila, wherever I go. The picture is of me at the head of Aquinah on one end of the island. I think I look like I'm on vacation.

Now on to my topic of the day. I have been inundated lately (it seems) with people having allergic reactions to metals they are wearing. The reactions can range from mild irritation to serious scabbing. So let's discuss the causes of these problems.

The first thing is that many people confuse the problem they are having. People who wear wide bands often complain that they have a metal allergy but often it turns out that it is simply that things like soap, other cleaning agents, or dirt is collecting under the band (especially if there are bezel set stones on it in which case even more junk can collect in it) and it is this that is actually bothering people. If you seem to suddenly develop an allergy and you wear wide bands, I almost always recommend thorough cleanings (jewelers can do it better than you can but more on cleaning in a minute) first and then that you spend some time thinking about whether you have changed cleaning agents you are using, skin creams, perfumes etc. that may be impacting you because they are collecting under the band. If after doing this you are still having a problem then it may, in fact, be that you have a metal allergy.

Most people who have a metal allergy are in fact allergic to the alloys that are used when making gold into either 10k, 14k, 18k or 22k gold. The metal most people are actually allergic to is nickel. However, nickel is ONLY used in white gold. I routinely get people in who think nickel is used in yellow gold but it just isn't. As long as you are buying from reputable sources, nickel will never be used in making yellow golds. If you are having reactions to yellow gold then you are probably reacting to the copper or silver in the metal, BUT this is not always the case. Some people are allergic to gold as well. Platinum is the most hypo allergenic of metals on the market, but it is possible for someone to be allergic to platinum as well. Obviously if you are wearing base metals (costume jewelry) then the likelihood of being sensitive to it is very high.

Here is the other thing to remember: Our bodies change over time. You may not have been allergic to something when you were young but you may be as you get older. (Personally I never had allergies when I was young; now I can't make it through the spring without a lot of Claritin.) So if you have a reaction to wearing metal what do you do? Well if you are wearing white gold, I generally recommend that you stop and switch to platinum (although a good rhodium plating may help until the plating wears off) if you have to have a white metal. If you are wearing yellow gold, I generally encourage people to move up into higher karat golds. If you wear 10k (why anyone would want this metal I don't understand but that's just me I suppose) move up to 14k. If you wear 14k move up to 18k. If you're wearing 18k, and it is feasible for the design you want, move up to 22k (rings are not always durable enough in 22k gold). If none of these options work you may want to try platinum. For earrings there are hypoallergenic steel ear wires available if nothing else is working.

If none of these things help then you're just plain out of luck but it's worth trying them all first. If you are really enamored of white gold, some of us are now using a nickel free white gold which is colored with palladium (and zinc in some cases). Nickel in jewelry has actually been banned in a lot of the EU already and it would probably be a good thing if it was done here too, but don't count on it. Palladium white gold is more expensive than nickel white gold and that always means that manufacturers for the most part won't change their ways. I was actually somewhat instrumental in the reintroduction of palladium white gold into the US marketplace as a whole (due to my constant nagging of my gold supplier about how problematic the nickel white gold was to work with). I only sell 18k palladium white gold in my shop.

As for cleaning your jewelry at home here are my recommendations (because it always looks better and there is less of a risk of reaction to gunk collecting underneath rings). 1) Do NOT boil your jewelry. There is far too much of a risk of forgetting about it and returning to find your stones completely cooked after the water dries up. And yes, you can burn your diamonds. 2) I generally do NOT recommend home ultrasonic units. First of all they aren't as good as the commercial ones jewelers use. Secondly stones can break in them. 3) Do NOT use any of the commercially available jewelry cleaners that are profligate in the marketplace. I find they do more harm than good. 4) What you can do is take some ammonia (plain grocery store ammonia), Ivory Liquid (dish detergent) and warm water and mix it together. Any proportions will work, although obviously the more ammonia in the mixture the stronger it is. You can soak stuff in it for awhile and then use a soft toothbrush to scrub the stones, especially underneath them. This is where most of the dirt collects and it impacts the way a stone looks tremendously. Always scrub with plain water afterwards.

I would still encourage you to get your jewelry cleaned professionally at least twice a year. If you own a piece of jewelry from Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers I offer lifetime free cleaning on my work (and I'll do up to 6 pieces I didn't make for free too if you own something of mine----there are a few exceptions to this as some pieces can be major events and a charge will apply). Many other jewelers will clean jewelry for free as well, or have minimal charges (I charge $5 per piece---again with some exceptions---if the jewelry isn't mine). The advantage of bringing it to a jeweler however is that they can also check all the stone settings at the same time. You wouldn't ever drive your car for 2 0r 3 years without having a check up. Don't drive your jewelry for that long either without having a check up.