The Finishing Touch - Vintage Jewelry - Removing Rhinestones from Vintage Jewelry

I love to mess with jewelry. Sorting, cleaning and doing simple repairs of jewelry gives me hours and hours of pleasure and it a great stress reliever for me. I've often heard this referred to as "jewelry therapy," and this name seems so apt and appropriate to me. Alas, my eyes are older now, so I'm not able to do much in the way of repair, but I can still manage to replace the odd stone or two.

I receive emails from customers all the time asking me how to remove old stones. Many are completely frustrated by what should be a simple task but which can sometimes prove to be a real challenge. I thought it would be fund to write an article talking about just this task.

Before attempting to remove rhinestones, it is important to understand that vintage jewelry has both glued in rhinestones and prong set rhinestones. The type of setting will determine the process needed to replace the stones, as well as the type of glue used. Remember to take your time and use some sort of eye protection so as not to damage your eyes. Rhinestones can splinter and shatter in the process of removal, so it is best to make sure that you are safely working.

For glued in stones, there are several techniques that work. Some people use a thin pointed knife, some use a pick (dental picks are great) and some try to use toothpicks. I've even used a sturdy hat pin. Whatever tool you use, make sure that you do not damage the setting or scratch the finish or metal plating. Sometimes, you can just hook the tool slightly under the stone and pop it out. If this works, you have this step easily done. Alas...repairs are not always that easy!

The hardest stones to remove are not the prong set stones, but those that are glued in. One would think that they might just pop out with a bit of pressure, but these stones can be very difficult to remove. My guess is that many of them have already been replaced, and the person doing the repair used the wrong type of glue. In this case, you can try putting acetone nail polish remover on a Q tip and moving it over the surface or the stone and around the setting. Sometimes they will just pop out. Count yourself lucky, in this case.

For tough cases where this technique will not work, soaking the whole piece in nail polish remover with acetone may be the answer. It will need to be soaked for about 30 minutes and you will generally find the stones in the bottom of the container of fluid. Be careful not to soak hand painted jewelry with rhinestones or those with pearls. The nail polish remover may remove the color or finish of the pearls. It generally does not damage the metal, but use with great care.

Sometimes, you'll soak a piece for a while only to discover that the stones are just as tight as ever. In this case, your only recourse is to try and crush the rhinestone in its setting and then to clean out the cavity. In all cases, the damage needs to be done to the stone, and not to the setting. Blunt nose jewelry pliers can work well for this task. Normally, you just need to get it started and then you can tackle the bottom of the stone with a pick to remove it. If you have to crush the actual stone, don't despair. It is unlikely that you will be able to re-use the original rhinestones. Most of the time, once they have been removed, the foil backing of the stone has been damaged and will look dead if it is reset, so you will need a new stone anyway.

To remove prong set stones, gently straighten the prong with a non metal tool, if possible, so that you do not scratch the stone. In some cases, you will be able to reuse a prong set stone, so you will want to try and protect it from any damage. (you may just want to clean under the area of the stone in the setting, not replace it, so you will want to be careful to preserve the stone) There are also special prong lifter tools available from craft or jewelry supply stores. Occasionally a stone may be both prong set and glue set, so you will need to follow the instructions above, and need an extra dose of patience. (In this case, you will likely be unable to save the stone.)

Most of the time, I don't intend to save the stone, so I use a very sharp metal tool. I have a pointed fish knife that works well, as well as my dental pick. Just insert the pointed part of the tool under one of the prongs. Lift slightly but not all the way. Do the same to the prong diagonallly across from it. Do the same to the other two prongs. At this point, you can go back and lift the prongs a little higher so that the stone releases. Be very careful. Prongs can sometimes be very brittle and will snap off if moved too far back. Sometimes, I can remove a stone with just two prongs lifted, which makes me a happy girl, indeed. In this case, after removing the stone, I can easily move the other two prongs. Just take your time and work slowly and carefully.

Now for the most important part of the job. When the stones have been removed, you must remove all of the glue in the setting area. If you leave any glue, you will not be able to reset the rhinestone smoothly and the finished repair will be unsightly looking. Use the acetone polish remover in the cavity and try to get the finish back to the original metal color.

So now, you have the rhinestones removed, and the settings cleaning out and don't have a clue how to set new rhinestones easily? Stay tuned...that will be my subject next month!

Carol Speake

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