Fine jewelry in saltwater / chlorinated water?
January 6, 2011 8:52 PM   Subscribe

Fine jewelry: do you take yours off every time you enter a swimming pool / hot tub / ocean?

I've found a lot of advice online that one should do this, but what I'm not finding is a sense of exactly how damaging it is to expose fine jewelry to chlorine/saltwater -- in other words, I don't have enough information to decide whether the risk I'd be taking is more important than the pleasure and convenience (and symbolism, which I care about) of just always keeping the ring on my finger.

The ring in question is 18K solid gold with a bezel-set natural gemstone that's medium hard (7 on the Mohs scale). Worn 24/7, an engagement ring.

So what do you do with your engagement/wedding or other 24/7 ring when you go swimming?
posted by sparrows to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think most people take off fine jewelry before such activities to prevent losing it. Metal rings are especially not something you'd want to wear in a hot tub as metal expands when it gets hot and could easily slip off the finger.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:57 PM on January 6, 2011

I am engaged and my ring is set with a pearl, so I take it off whenever I do anything that could potentially damage it, water or otherwise. Though, I have been cheating by wearing my wedding ring, which is just an 18k 3mm flat band. I wear that everywhere and never take it off.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:58 PM on January 6, 2011

i always take all jewelry off. I live on Maui and it is amazing how much jewelry divers find! I think it is a bad idea to keep it on.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 8:58 PM on January 6, 2011

(Those are good thoughts too -- I'm thinking specifically about the damage to the stone and gold, each of which can potentially be dulled in different ways by chlorine and saltwater.)
posted by sparrows at 9:04 PM on January 6, 2011

I take mine off so I don't lose it. That's a reasonable amount of cash I'm carrying around on my hand, no way I'm taking the risk. I either carry around a small box to put my rings in or I just leave them at home on those days. But then I'm not terribly hung up on the symbolism, I'm just as married leaving that ring at home as I would be if I lost it, except the latter case isn't temporary.
posted by shelleycat at 9:05 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly the damage aspect never even occurred to me. It doesn't matter what condition my wedding ring is in if I've lost it.
posted by shelleycat at 9:06 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always left pearls and all jewelry with stones at home when I was engaged in any sports. I never took off my plain gold wedding band. With stones in rings, there is also risk of a loose mounting or damage to settings causing loss of a stone or of the ring slipping off your finger accidentally in the water.
posted by Anitanola at 9:07 PM on January 6, 2011

One of my diamond earrings is somewhere at the bottom of a lake because I didn't think about taking them out before water skiing. Hard lesson.
posted by tamitang at 9:13 PM on January 6, 2011

In my experience, rings slip off surprisingly easily with water.
posted by Hither at 9:17 PM on January 6, 2011

I wear two diamond rings 24-7 - one's got channel-set stones in 14K yellow gold, and one's got pave-set stones in 14K rose gold, so neither's as soft/pure as your ring's alloy - and have done so for a coupla decades now. Neither is suffering particularly - the diamonds are still in good shape, all present, and the gold's still shiny. (Well, okay, the yellow gold's in dire need of a buffing, but when I look at the inside of the ring, it's shiny, so not dissolving or anything.)

I chose to have the rings designed for long-term wearing, because I lose things, and if I have to take rings on and off I will certainly forget them somewhere or knock them down a floor drain or something. So we designed the rings not to snag, not to release the stones, and to fit snugly. Diamonds are really pretty tough, and the gold doesn't seem to suffer from pools, the ocean, or whatever other oxidizers I throw at it.

Some stones of similar hardness to yours (like natural amethyst and topaz) can lose their polish or change colors in chlorinated water or seawater. Partly because of that, I don't wear my other fine jewelry except for special occasions.
posted by gingerest at 9:46 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW, Jezebel recently ran a pretty gross story about what can happen when you don't remove your fine jewelry for a long enough time.
posted by Mchelly at 10:19 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wear jewelry in water or not depending on the jewelry. Plain silver or gold chains and rings are no problem unless they're loose enough that I fear losing them. Pearls are a definite no-go in any wet situations, and they're soft enough that I wouldn't sleep in them. I wore a pendant with a citrine butterfly nonstop for a little while, and although it was okay I think the stones got a little dull after a time. They could just have been dirty, however. Skin oils and junk will collect in the settings if you don't clean them out very often.
posted by that girl at 10:24 PM on January 6, 2011

Ever since I read this, I am a wholehearted believer that jewelry needs to be taken off and cleaned on a very regular basis.

Even before that, I would not recommend wearing rings in saltwater or chlorinated water, as I ruined many a nice piece of jewelry that way.
posted by Fuego at 10:25 PM on January 6, 2011

Dagnabbit, Mchelly beat me to it. Shoulda previewed.
posted by Fuego at 10:25 PM on January 6, 2011

I wore an 18ct white-gold diamond solitaire for four years without taking it off once. I wasn't swimming in chlorine, but I did a lot of saltwater swimming, and I had jobs where I was in contact with cleaning chemicals. The ring is still in decent shape (it will need replating soon as it's beginning to look dull on the underside), but I don't know if this would be the case if it were something other than a diamond. Taking off your jewellery one of those things you know you probably SHOULD do, even though it's a pain. Although, if you find you've gotten all the way to the beach and realised you forgot to take it off, it's probably better to wear it into the water than to take it off/leave it in the car and risk losing it (unless it's loose enough to slip off underwater).

As an aside - after I read that Jezebel article Mchelly and Fuego linked to, I tried to take the damn ring off to get it scrubbed/fumigated/disinfected (that article was gross!), but I'd gained weight so it took a long time (and a lot of lube) to get it off. Then I soaked it. Then I scrubbed it. Then I couldn't get it back on, and it's still in my jewellery box, waiting to get resized and replated. Damn you, Jezebel.
posted by jaynewould at 11:39 PM on January 6, 2011

I have a plain 9ct gold wedding ring (OK, probably not "fine") and I always take it off when I swim, just because if the water is a little cold, my fingers shrink and the ring is in danger of falling off. But then my ring is a little big for me and YMMV. I never considered it might be damaged by the chlorine.
posted by altolinguistic at 3:52 AM on January 7, 2011

I've never taken my platinum and sapphire rings off to go in the ocean/pool/hottub but after reading this thread I'm going to try to remember to do it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:04 AM on January 7, 2011

Always take pearls off before going into salt or chlorinated water, let alone a shower or bath. Pearls can be "killed" really easily--if the nacre (shiny coating) gets damaged even a little bit, the whole pearl loses its luster.

If your ring is an amethyst (as was my original engagement ring), my anecdata is that 10+ years of wearing it into the ocean/shower/hot tub didn't do anything to damage it. I also wear my white gold/diamond wedding set into the ocean/shower/hot tub, and it seems to be perfectly happy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:24 AM on January 7, 2011

Pearls and amber (gemstones that are organic and not actually stones) should not be worn in those circumstances, but any other stone is going to be fine.
Your biggest risk, as others mentioned, is losing the ring.
Your setting might get some crud or salt buildup in it, but nothing that can't be cleaned.
posted by rmless at 9:13 AM on January 7, 2011

I was warned to always remove jewelry before scuba diving because sea creatures can be attracted to shiny things and want to eat them (and therefore also your hand/ear), so that's another reason to take off jewelry before getting in the ocean.
posted by momus_window at 9:17 AM on January 7, 2011

I confess to only rarely removing my engagement/wedding ring set (rubies and diamonds and yellow gold) and/or anniversary ring (blue/purple spinel and diamonds and yellow gold) but I do clean them both regularly, and all other jewelry comes off for activities, including swimming, hot tubbing, and ocean sports.

Be especially careful with the soft stones like pearls and amber and opals, and very cautious with stones that chip easily like emeralds.
posted by bearwife at 9:50 AM on January 7, 2011

I kept my (gold and diamond) wedding set on for fifteen years so I would NOT lose it. Took it to the jewelers once a year or so for cleaning/inspection. Scuba diving, cleaning, gardening ... never a problem. That jezebel story probably has some truth but hyperbole, much? It depends on the gems of course ... pearls are notoriously delicate.
posted by cyndigo at 11:24 AM on January 7, 2011

I wore my (diamond and sapphire) engagement ring and wedding band (both white gold) in a hot tub on our honeymoon. Although I still think it was most likely from the bar soap in the bathroom, the jeweler insisted it was the chemicals/chlorine in the hot tub that made the white gold parts of my rings turn a brassy color. The good news: the jeweler was able to buff the discoloration off and have them good as new in under an hour.

FWIW, I've worn my rings in hot tubs, pools, and the ocean since then and haven't seen any evidence of harm or discoloration again. I will, however, take them off if they're feeling lose and the water is cold, for fear of having them slip off my finger.
posted by geeky at 11:28 AM on January 7, 2011

I normally wear my wedding ring everywhere... except for in a hot spring. I don't know if gold would turn color, but silver turns black in hot springs waters. All jewelry gets left at home for those trips.
posted by northernlightgardener at 11:13 PM on January 7, 2011

Formerly, I worked as a jeweller, and cautioned people to take their jewellery off when swimming in any kind of water for these reasons, which I will mention here explained as simply as I could to my clients, though IANYJ:

"Stones" or "Jewels" like amber and turquoise or lapis, and pearls and such will be degraded by the chemicals in the water, especially the chlorine in swimming pools, rather quickly - and it's not like saltwater and ponds aren't polluted. And even tap water will leave some residue on them. Regardless of their "hardness", other stones, like emeralds and opals are routinely oiled and can also be damaged, though it will be more visible only over time. Opals especially have fractures in them (that's what makes them beautiful) that can expand and contract in hot or cold water and they will shatter. Other stones have fillers to minimize the visibility of inclusions, and the fillers can be affected.

And although Gold and Platinum are "noble" metals and only certain acids have an immediately damaging effect on them (such as when being tested on a touchtone), the alloys used in making the metal into jewellery will be more affected, usually gradually. When you look at the ring of someone who's been swimming in chlorinated pools regularly under a microscope, you can see the metal setting's more porous. It's not visible to the naked eye, so of course everyone thinks they're fine. Your 18K gold is not "solid" - 750 parts out of a thousand gold, and the rest is alloy, such as silver, copper, zinc, nickel or what have you.

Because the prongs and bezels holding stones are thinner than the band, and get worn down just by everyday wear and tear, the added damage from swimming while wearing the jewellery can be what causes the prongs and bezels to loosen, and then eventually, the stones go missing.

I cannot tell you how many times someone would come in with a ring that had lost its stone, telling me it was a surprise because it was fine for years and years and years, and I'd look at the setting under a microscope to check its suitability for replacement and then ask if they'd been swimming in it. In almost every case it was true; and for the record it's VERY hard to find a loose diamond in water - they seem to disappear due to the refraction. And in a few cases, the emeralds or pearls had just crumbled to pieces from being struck against a railing or the side of a pool.

In short, care for your jewellery with prevention and maintenance. Buy a loupe and get comfortable looking at your jewellery with it. A higher magnification is needed to really examine it, but even 10X is what many jewellers use.

Many jewellery stores will offer a free cleaning on the spot in their ultrasonic cleaning machine (though certain stones like opals and emeralds should never every go in them), and they'll check your setting for you. This should be done at least yearly. You can make a good cleaning solution yourself from warm water, a little dish soap and a little ammonia. The warm water softens gunk, the ammonia breaks up the greasy bits, and the dish soap encapsulates it and carries it away. Use a soft brush to get the underside, always cleaning carefully around any prongs so as not to snag them. But

The Jezebel article was spot on - and I've had to cut rings off the fingers of old ladies who've made pastry in them for years -- eeesh --- and having your own loupe and intimate knowledge of your jewellery will help to alleviate insecurities over common fears like switching stones (which almost never happens - but if you know your stone's inclusions and identifying factors then you can trust your own knowledge).

But, really - don't wear your precious jewellery in chemically fluids, though once or twice won't be a disaster. It's the damage over time that counts.

Speaking to the symbolism, as you'd asked: You're not married to the ring. If you're valuing the ring as a symbol of your marriage, caring for it by not damaging it deliberately would be most respectful.

Personally, I have only a wide, facetted, hand-engraved platinum band. Platinum is pure in jewellery form, so it's more impervious to damage and wear, especially by chemicals. Though its surface is "softer", the metal is denser, so it takes a finer network of scratches and has a nicer patina over time, and always is a true white metal, unlike white gold which is yellow with the same percentages of alloy (usually palladium these days, though in older rings it's more nickel and zinc) and usually a platinum (rhodium) plating that comes off (rather too quickly, I think). My band rarely ever comes off for activities - unless I'm doing gunky things like meatloaf or working on the car - though I do slip it off and clean it frequently. I wear gardening gloves to protect it from being lost, getting dinged with stones, or disrespectful feral cat poo on it when I'm working in the yard. When we're on vacation, which is the only time I swim, really, I'll jump in the pool or ocean with it - but that's once a year. I find that to be a good balance between being one of those little old ladies with a withered finger under a band she'll be buried in, and being respectful and careful of what is my most prized possession.
posted by peagood at 7:53 AM on January 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

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