Let’s talk about jewelry boxes. You know the ones. The fancy little satin or leather or velvet cushiony ones with the hinge opening? They are so cute. The robin’s egg blue ones can cause heart palpitations. Because of the hinge, it takes some strength to open them, almost as if they are reluctant to show their contents, and this trait is probably on purpose. The closure of the box, the way it snaps closed, is a bit loud, and sort of dramatic and satisfying. Almost everyone has these little boxes stowed away in a drawer somewhere, oftentimes full of jewelry. Why would anyone keep those things? Well, duh… it’s what the jewelry came in. That ring came in a ring box, hello! And the earrings have their special box and the bracelet and the pendant, and Mom’s pearls and Dad’s tie tack. Those jewelry pieces are special. And they have special boxes. So, most people keep them. Whether it’s because they want to remember the moment, or they’re proud of where the jewelry came from, or whatever.
But there is a problem with those cute boxes. They can literally ruin your jewelry. Yes. It’s true. Even gold. Those little things are killers. Of solid metal, let alone plate or filled metal or coatings. And they can eat away at anything porous like a pearl, a cameo, opals, turquoise, coral or other soft stones. But don’t hate on the boxes. It’s not their fault, not really. There are two things working against your jewelry in there. 1) Those boxes are held together and upholstered with all sorts of glues and resins and chemicals, and 2) Those hinges and the design make sure the boxes are almost completely air-tight. Air-tight means that your jewelry cannot breathe, and so, none of those toxic gasses can leak out. Meaning, they are free to do their damage until the next time you open them. Combine those facts with how most people put jewelry in the back of a drawer and forget about for long periods, and you have a truly toxic situation.
The glues can contain hydrochloric acid and nitric acid (which combine to make a substance alchemists called aqua regia, which dissolves gold), as well as borates and other solvents which can not only tarnish silver, but can also eat away at it. A jeweler I talked to once told me that he’d finally cleared out some 30-40 year-old abandoned layaway and repair jewelry from the back of his shop. Some of the pieces (all in their nice little sealed boxes) had actually crumbled into dust. Now, will your jewelry disintegrate during the time it’s in the drawer? Probably not. But why risk it? Maybe the silver is just tarnished, or the gold looks a little dull, or has an odd film on it. Perhaps your stone looks less polished or your pearls lose their color play. Some people believe that these changes are the result of “drying out” but more likely, this dulling is an indication that the chemicals in the glues, which are absorbed easily by the materials inside the boxes, are doing harm to your treasures.
The solution? Let your jewelry breathe! Fancy presentation boxes are fine for presentation, but they shouldn’t be used for long-term storage. For this reason, Ann Summers Jewelry encourages our clients to keep their jewelry and get rid of the box. After all, the jewelry is meant to last. The jewelry is the reason for the box in the first place, not the other way round. At ASJ, we present and ship all of our jewelry in nice, recycled, linen-look, cardboard boxes that you can reuse or recycle as you like. The boxes are gift-ready, wrapped in a luscious satin ribbon with a wax seal. Our packaging looks lovely, but it isn’t meant to be kept. Inside the cardboard box you will find a little satin bag that cushions your jewelry. Keep it, or use it for something else. But even if you kept the whole thing, cardboard breathes and so does the little bag. That air flow is crucial to keeping toxic fumes left over from any manufacturing process from building up in an airless environment and eating away at your jewelry.
What is the best way to store your jewelry? You can certainly buy a jewelry box, or a cabinet made for jewelry storage, but sometimes even those expensive items don’t provide enough air circulation, particularly if you don’t open them often. An easy and cheap solution is to assign a drawer or upright cabinet and store your sparklies in there. My sister turned a bathroom vanity cabinet into jewelry storage, with lots of hooks for dangles and bangles, and little trays for earring studs and pins. I bought some inexpensive lined trays with separated areas from a large online retailer, and those worked well for years. Until I got a new dresser. Then the little trays didn’t fit in the new one, so I ordered some adorable little felt boxes and cups in different sizes and shapes that I can in fit however I like into the drawers of my new dresser. Small ones for earrings, longer ones for necklaces and bracelets, square ones for bangles. It works a treat, and even more importantly, cabinets and drawers breathe and provides plenty of air circulation.
Probably more importantly, an open storage method like these allows you to see your jewelry all at once. The fuller view (rather than looking at little closed boxes) makes arranging and organizing simple. And this setup also makes the jewelry so much easier to see when deciding what to wear and quick to put away when you take it off.
Some might argue that airtightness keeps jewelry, particularly silver from tarnishing. But it doesn’t really make much of a difference, unless you have those little anti-tarnish strips in there. You can buy those as well and put them into your drawer along with your jewelry. But I keep, in airtight and chemical-free containers, a large stock of fine and sterling silver and gold (in the form of wire, scrap, flat stock, and granules). And it still needs to be cleaned before I use it. Jewelry just tarnishes. Gold and platinum, not so much. Rhodium plated jewelry, not so much. But my advice is to store your pieces with good air circulation and wear them regularly. Occasionally, you’ll need to clean them, which I talk about in another blog post called “How to Clean Your Jewelry Without Ruining It.”
So keep those little boxes if you like them. Collect them, even. Use them for gifting or decoration. But don’t keep your fine jewelry in them. In the end, there is nothing that can keep your jewelry, either new or heirloom, as safe as letting it out of those boxes and letting it breathe.