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Why did my jewelry break?

By Brian Smith 2 years ago 384 Views No comments
Why did my jewelry break?

We explain some common reasons why jewelry breaks

So you paid thousands of dollars for a very nice piece of jewelry and over the years it has grown to be as much a part of you as the hair on your head. One day while wearing it the unthinkable happens – it breaks. But why?

Regardless of whether your jewelry is a custom-made designer piece, antique, or funky and eclectic, all jewelry is susceptible to damage and breaking. Many people are naturally upset and angered that their piece could or would ever break. Even worse, most jewelry stores rarely cover the ugly truth that even the most well-made, expensive pieces can be damaged or break.

Naturally, this leaves many people wondering why. “Why did my jewelry break?” Obviously there are many answers to this loaded question, so we'll go over some of the most common reasons why your jewelry could get damaged or break.

Older jewelry breaks more often

One of the most common reasons a piece breaks is because it is at the end of its life span. Many people are wearing pieces that should NOT be worn every day. Jewelry adorns the outside of the body and can take a lot of abuse that many people do not think about. Prongs can flatten, get snagged on things, and even break off. The shank on a ring can thin over time and eventually crack or split. Stones become loose and can even chip and break. (Yes, even diamonds can break.) Clasps on chains wear out, and where there is friction between two links on a chain, the chain can become so thin it can wear through itself.

These things take many years to wear out, but people come to us all the time with an item they’ve worn religiously for decades. The chain they’ve been wearing for 20 years or the ring that they never take off and haven’t since they’ve gotten married are showing some serious signs of damage and fatigue to the point of breaking. If your chain just fell off with no reason, that is a sign it is very worn and should be handled with extreme care. If it was pulled, there is a clear reason for the break: It broke at the weakest point.

If you do decide to wear antique or older jewelry, you can come into either of our New Jersey jewelry stores in New Providence or Morristown to get your jewelry checked and cleaned for free. We'll tell you if your piece needs repair and provide advice on preventative maintenance and wearing the piece safely.

Unfortunately, there is no solid rule on “if a piece is X years old, get it checked this often.” As a general rule, however, we recommend people get their jewelry cleaned and checked out every 6 months. This is especially true for both engagement rings and antique jewelry, particularly rings and bracelets. Since antique jewelry usually has a high sentimental value, it's vital to have it checked often to prevent any heartbreaking accidents. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Certain stones are more prone to damage or breaking than others

Just to be clear, the following information does not pertain to earrings or necklaces. These pieces aren’t exposed to the same wear and tear as rings and bracelets because they aren’t worn on a vulnerable area of the body. You aren’t knocking your ears on surfaces that you would knock into with your rings or bracelets. Therefore, even the softest stones can be worn as earrings every day. You just need to be careful taking them on and off and storing your jewelry because that’s when most breakage occurs. A necklace doesn’t usually get any wear either because it’s on your neck and you aren’t rubbing your neck on surfaces or knocking it on something as you walk by. Perfumes, lotions, and makeup are the most damaging threats to both earrings and necklaces, but that’s nothing a comprehensive cleaning by a qualified jeweler can’t handle.

There are many colored stones that should not be worn every day because, believe it or not, they are very soft. A diamond makes a great engagement ring because it is the hardest substance on earth and nothing can scratch it. Yes, diamonds can chip and crack, but that's an article for another day.

Ever hear of the Mohs scale of mineral hardness? It’s a great tool to use when determining the wearability of a stone and how careful you should be. The scale ranges from 1-10, with diamond being the hardest mineral and talc the softest. Diamond is at the top of the Mohs hardness scale by a wide margin, which makes it the best choice for everyday wear.

Why did my jewerly break?

Rubies and sapphires are corundum, which is number nine on the list and still OK for wearing every day in necklaces, rings, or bracelets. Emeralds, garnets, pearls, opals, and other semi-precious stones are NOT everyday stones and score 8 or lower on the Mohs scale, meaning these minerals may not be appropriate for your jewelry, depending on the type of jewelry and where it's being worn.

Another factor when determining the cause of a broken stone would be how it is set in the piece of jewelry. A bezel-set stone (metal going all the way around the stone as opposed to prongs) and channel-set stone (metal on both sides of the stones, making a “channel” the stones sit in) are both well protected from bumps and knocks, which makes them more wearable. But even if the stone is completely protected around its edges, the stone will still scratch and abrade. The facets will wear down and your stone will start to look foggy and lose its clarity, and with that, its shine and brilliance. With a four-prong basket setting (a very common, classic type of open setting with multiple prongs and “claws” to hold the stone), the girdle of the stone (the outside edge, where the pavilion [bottom] meets the crown [top]) is almost completely exposed, making it a lot easier for the stone to chip and break.

Last but not least, how big is the stone? It sounds obvious but the bigger a stone is, the more vulnerable it is to danger, and structure-compromising inclusions increase the risk. A stone that has a big inclusion or many inclusions can be problematic. An inclusion is an imperfection in the stone and is actually a rift in the crystal structure of the gem. If the stone gets hit the right way, there is a greater chance of it breaking along the inclusion since, by nature, it is already compromised.

Why does jewerly break?

An example of channel set diamonds in an engagement ring.

Jewelry location on your body matters

The location of your jewelry on your body is a huge factor in why it broke. Rings, anklets, and bracelets are some of the most common types of jewelry repair we do simply because of where they're worn on your body.

Rings are common because you wear them on your hands and everything your hand touches, your ring touches. A ring sits on the outside of your hand, so it is very easy to scrape or knock it on something without you even realizing it. The bigger the ring, the more vulnerable it is to knocks and bumps. Fortunately though, most rings can take a lot of abuse.

Just like your hands, ankles and wrists are very active areas of the body. So not surprisingly, anklets and bracelets are both susceptible to damage and breaking.

You may think the same is true with necklaces, but that's not the case. A necklace might swing into things every once in a while, and even the shortest chains can be snagged, but for the most part you don’t see the wear on necklaces less than 24" long that you would see on a ring or bracelet. Longer necklaces can be problematic, however, because the longer chains have a greater chance of catching on something and damaging or breaking the chain.

Some broken jewelry cannot be repaired

When it comes to fine jewelry, most gold, silver, and platinum chains can be repaired because that's what they're made of.

By contrast, costume pieces usually cannot be repaired because they're made of base-metals and other metals that cannot be soldered. If we were to try to solder these metals with our laser machine, the soldering would create a very brittle seam and the costume jewelry would most likely break the next time you wear it. That is, of course, if we can get a seam, which most of the time we cannot.

The one non-precious metal jewelers can solder is stainless steel. There is a certain set of requirements that must be met to call a metal “stainless steel,” meaning that most jewelers should be able to repair stainless steel jewelry.

Also, just because a piece is expensive does not mean it’s made of precious metal. Necklaces from companies such as J. Crew can cost $200, but if it’s a base-metal and it breaks, many jewelers cannot fix it.

To save time and production costs, costume chains and chains not made of precious metals are not soldered closed. When your costume chain breaks, it may be an easy fix and you just need something hooked up, or an item called a jump ring could be attached. When in doubt, bring your piece into most jewelers for examination. For instance, you can always bring your broken or damaged jewelry in for us to look at if you are unsure. We might even be able to work with pictures in an email, as well. In fact, if you have broken jewelry now, reach out to us online at repairs@braunschweiger.com and see if we can’t help.

Caring for your jewelry can prevent it from breaking

Many people do not take care of their jewelry the way they should, and this also causes jewelry to break. A good way to keep your jewelry in good shape is adhering to this simple rule:

Don't sleep, swim, shower, or play sports with your jewelry on. This is known as the “4 S's.” Also, please wipe your item down with a cloth or a soft toothbrush every once in a while. This will do wonders toward keeping your items clean and in better shape.

Too often we hear of people sleeping with their earrings in, showering with their bracelets and watches on, or even going to the gym with their diamond rings. We get the dirtiest jewelry in and we cringe not because it’s gross, but because once a piece of jewelry is dirty, it gets in the hinges, joints and friction points and acts as a sandpaper and can prematurely wear the piece out.

Engagement rings are pieces of jewelry that people should place extra emphasis on caring for since they are costly and have a large sentimental value, as well. Bring your engagement ring to the store every 6 months so we can check the stones and setting and clean it for you; there’s no charge and we can do it while you wait.

For a no-obligation check and cleaning, visit either of our New Jersey jewelry store locations in Morristown or New Providence to see for yourself and talk to any of our expert jewelers. If you’re already dealing with a piece of broken jewelry, simply fill out our contact form and we'll answer your questions quickly.