Leah's designs are beautiful and simple—perfect for everyday wear and special occasions. I must admit, I’m a fan and own several pieces! As someone who works with different types of gems, metals and stones daily, she is the perfect person to answer all our questions on how to keep jewellery looking its best and lasting as long as possible.
I became a jewellery designer more by accident than anything else. My background is in management, sales and marketing—specialising in the recruitment industry, but when we were fortunate enough to be transferred to Shanghai in 2005, I became so inspired by the abundance of pearls and stones I saw in the markets, I started to dabble in design. The storeowners were so patient, so willing to work with me and entertain all my ideas. At first I started to make things for myself, then as gifts for friends and family then I began to get custom orders and Stones that Rock was born in 2011.
I love jewellery and have always collected it. My father loved gold—as jewellery and as an investment. I would say he’s the one who got me started by giving me a few pieces when I was very young as well as an Omega watch when I was 10 years old. Jewellery is certainly a passion now and I’m fortunate to have two daughters to share my collection with.
We live in the tropics, is it different designing jewellery for a hot climate? Do you have to think about weight and style differently like a clothing designer thinks about fabrics?
This is a very good point. People here are very conscious of the weather and the weight of things and they often express concern that a style is too heavy for them to wear in the tropics. They are conscious of not wanting to perspire under a necklace or for bracelets to be too tight or too wide. I don’t design rings, but I know this is a concern for people as they can often develop skin irritations from wearing a ring in this climate.
For many customers, concern about the weight of a necklace means they are careful to select chain styles or lighter materials like crystals or short pearls rather than chunkier designs or stone pieces.
Should jewellery be cleaned each time you wear it? Do you clean pieces you wear daily differently to those you only take out on special occasions?
In a perfect, time-rich world I think it would be ideal to wipe down your jewellery with a soft cloth after each wear to remove sweat, dust and pollutants, but this is quite unrealistic except for the most organised wearer. Instead I think a regular fortnightly/monthly wipe down or gentle wash with warm soapy water and a soft toothbrush or cloth is adequate to keep your pieces looking at their best (sparkling and not coated with minute materials.) Some pieces may also benefit from a quick dip in an ultrasonic cleaner, but this is not recommended for all materials or metals.
I think pieces that we wear regularly should definitely be cleaned more often than stored items. However the problem with stored items is the possibility of metals tarnishing even if they are not exposed to the elements—so I recommend regularly cleaning silver and gold with a polishing cloth or having pieces professionally cleaned by a jeweller.
What is the best way to clean jewellery? Be specific — silver? gold? pearls? different types of stones? I’m guessing that each needs to be cleaned differently.
Gemstone jewellery responds well to warm soapy water and a soft brush.
An ultrasonic cleaner is not suitable for removing tarnishing, but can be very effective at cleaning metals and hard stones that have a build-up of pollutants, sweat, shampoo and lotions etc. By hard stones, I mean diamonds, rubies and sapphires, but ultrasonic cleaning is not suitable for soft stones like emeralds, opals, turquoise and lapis lazuli, which are more porous.
Pearls require extra care and attention to ensure they retain their colour and lustre. After each wear, try to wipe the pearls down with a soft, damp cloth to remove perspiration, body oil and any lotions. Do not use soaps, abrasives or an ultrasonic cleaner when cleaning pearls. It’s also very important to not sleep, shower or exercise while wearing pearls as this very definitely can affect their lustre.
What’s the best way to store jewellery? Is it different for our daily-wear pieces? Silver tarnishes easily, any tips for preventing that? What about pearls? And, then stones storage—do different types need to be stored differently—like diamonds versus a softer stone like an opal?
First of all, it’s important to store your jewellery in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight—definitely not in the bathroom! After that I suggest that all jewellery including metal, stone and pearl pieces be stored individually in their own plastic zip lock bag. Not only does this reduce the possibility of delicate pieces scratching one another when they are all stored together in a bag or jewellery box, but it also reduces the risk of metals tarnishing.
Strangely enough, pieces we wear every day are less likely to tarnish even in humid climates, but having them sitting in the open for weeks or months at a time on a jewellery stand will definitely cause tarnish. The name of the game is most definitely to wear whatever you have as much as possible!
Very often pieces will come in a jewellery pouch or box, this is great for preventing scratching, but I still think the zip lock bag is still the best way to prevent tarnishing.
Finally, what about restringing/resetting? How often is this necessary? Is it part of regular maintenance or just when you have that “ooops” moment with your favourite set of pearls breaking all over the dressing room floor?
I suggest restringing pieces only when you need to. Regular restringing of necklaces/pearls shouldn’t be necessary unless you see that a knot has slipped or the thread is getting thin. If done properly a necklace should really last a lifetime. However I add a rider to that in that, here in the tropics the humidity can accelerate the deterioration of some materials.
Again repairing metal or gemstone jewellery should only be necessary if the stones have come loose or broken, but otherwise, they too should have been made to last a lifetime.
As to resetting and redesigning stones and metals, I think this is very fun thing to do. As with everything, fashion and tastes change and you might just want to give a stone a brand new look with a new design. Redesigning pieces is also a good idea for jewellery you may have inherited that needs updating with a new, more modern setting. People often redesign their pieces after a relationship breakup—the new settings often help people move forward, enabling a tangible break to the past.
Anything else you want to add?
For me jewellery has always been part of my life, I enjoy wearing pieces which reflect who I am and where I’ve come from. I’ve got a wonderful collection of costume and fine jewellery that includes pieces passed onto me from my parents and given to me by my husband, as well as those I’ve chosen or designed myself. My jewellery box really tells the story of my life and I love that!