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David Geller

How to Safely Take In and Clean Jewelry From Your Customers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Keep your staff and clients safe from illness by following these guidelines.

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JEWELERS HAVE BEEN concerned about touching people’s jewelry in today’s environment. Of course, for years we’ve watched people lick their fingers to pull off a ring from a finger and then hand it to us. Cringe.

Let’s address “licking.” People do this to lubricate their finger for easier ring removal. Windex solves everything, and in fact, Windex has a lubricant in it. So have on the counter some Windex and paper towels. And if a customer starts to lick their finger, nicely say, “Hold ON!” Grab a paper towel, ask them to stretch out their hand, hold a piece of paper towel under their hand and squirt their finger. The paper towel is to keep from spraying Windex all over the counter. The ring will slide off easily.

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Now let’s talk about taking customers’ jewelry from them. Assuming most people ware washing their hands or using sanitizer with their rings on their fingers, their rings will get “slightly washed” as well. But of course we know what usually hides underneath the ring and inside the holes behind diamonds. Other jewelry items that don’t get washed because they aren’t on a hand (i.e., bracelets, necklaces, etc.) need extra precaution.

As a longtime jeweler, I know all about cleaning jewelry before working on a piece, but today we’re more concerned about your staff’s safety. There are three things to think about here.

  • What treatment and chemicals will kill a virus on jewelry?
  • Is it safe to use on jewelry?
  • Can it be safely left on or behind the counter?

I researched on the CDC website along with EPA and OSHA as to what could kill the COVID-19 virus, and it goes from usable to extreme. I won’t bore you with this, but soaking jewelry in some of the solutions could potentially harm it if left to soak for long periods of time. Examples: Clorox bleach from a bottle, isopropyl alcohol, ammonia and hydrogen peroxide. Chlorine used in pools will as well, but you’ve seen how it affects prongs. Many of these will harm emeralds, opals, pearls and such. Metals, diamonds, ruby, sapphires and some others can take them for a “wash”. Hopefully you can still buy these someplace. If not, see if your staff has “extra” at home and can bring some in “for the team,” but read further on what I suggest at the counter for the staff to do.

One site I read said the hand sanitizer is a “stop gap” measure until you can wash your hands properly. I have a niece who is a nurse, and she told me years ago in nursing school that they learned that just using hand sanitizer once was not enough to kill all germs; you had to use it multiple times. That’s why washing with soap and water is the best.

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Some of my jeweler friends have said to have a jar of alcohol to pour into the lid and let customers drop their own jewelry into it before you begin. Then have tweezers available to retrieve, dry and then go about taking in the repair. Others have said the “pickle pot” in the shop would kill any virus, but that’s nasty stuff and can’t be placed up front. A trained jeweler will know what stones can take alcohol and pickle and which can’t. Sales staff may not have this expertise, so below is my suggestion for the front staff.

  1. Easiest and simplest is to have a handy supply of zip-lock bags. I know you have a gazillion of the 2” x 3” ones that jewelers use. Buy the larger sandwich-bag-sized ones from the grocery store as well. When a customer hands you their ring, ask them to drop it into the open zip-lock you’re holding wide open for them, then seal shut. For most inspections, you can see through the zip-lock to use an eye loupe. Explain that your jeweler will thoroughly clean and sterilize the ring before they work on it (and they will). The large zip-lock is for bracelets, pearls, necklaces, watches and such. Speaking of watches, for the next month, I would stop installing batteries while the customer waits. Deliver them another day or afternoon. Place in the zip-lock bag and let someone else change the battery on a non-rushed basis.
  2. The CDC and EPA say that disinfectant wipes like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes are the best to use. If you have to handle a piece of jewelry not in a zip-lock, use one of these to wipe down the jewelry as best as possible. This is also an excellent wipe to use all over a watch for handling a watch battery change. Because supply is low, I’d keep a zip-lock bag handy, and after using your disinfectant wipe, place it in the zip-lock bag so it doesn’t dry out and you can use it again. Replace daily.
  3. For years, fine jewelry stores have used a pair of white gloves to handle customers’ jewelry and show items from the case. Customers won’t be offended if you use rubber gloves or surgical gloves. Kitchen rubber gloves are unprofessional-looking but can be used in the back room, out of sight of customers.
  4. Have a regular tray on hand with a paper towel or other washable towel in the bottom for protection. If you need to clean their jewelry and hand it back to them, have them lay their items in the tray and explain that you’ll clean it in the back at the “cleansing area”.
  5. Most stores have a sink, ultrasonic machine and steamer. At the sink is the time to use the rubber kitchen gloves. If the stone is safe for ultrasonic, use tweezers to place the items in the ultrasonic as usual. I’d suggest an ammonia-based solution, then I’d add an extra step: Using the kitchen gloves with real soap and a brush or toothbrush, lather up with gloves on and clean the ring, rinse, ultrasonic for a moment, rinse and steam. Then wash the gloves on your hands with soap and set aside. Then, using a cleaner piece of paper for your tray (even printer paper will do), place the items on it and present to the customer, letting them pick up their items from the tray. [Note: Vance Kessler of GemOro advises that if jewelers wish to use ammonia-based cleaners to disinfect jewelry that they should do this in a beaker as a separate step before putting into the ultrasonic — as ammonia-based cleaners can damage ultrasonic devices.]
  6. A note on pearls. Almost anything done to a strand of pearls means they have to be restrung, and most restringers will soak them in Dawn Dishwashing Solution (it’s mild) and wash them, then remove the string and restring them. I can’t imagine anything you’ll do to pearls for a customer other than restringing and clasp replacement, so don’t wash them, just place in a zip-lock bag and let the stringer do that.

Lastly, during this uncertain period of time (let’s all assume two to four weeks), I’d offer to clean people’s jewelry at no charge. Now’s the time to help generate traffic and hopefully take in repairs/custom work and sell from the case.

David Geller is a 14th-generation bench jeweler who produces The Geller Blue Book To Jewelry Repair Pricing. David is the “go-to guy” for setting up QuickBooks for a jewelry store. Reach him at [email protected].

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