Leather Jewelry: Care and Storage Tips

Jewelry Care

Leather Jewelry: Care and Storage Tips

The statement genuinely speaks for itself. As soon as humans discovered how to make leather, the wearing of leather jewelry has always been associated with prestige, power, and even shamanism. Only the affluent and powerful living in Ancient Egypt could afford to wear leather sandals, cuffs, and necklaces. Egyptian kings are often depicted wearing leather cuffs in wall carvings and paintings discovered in the Great Pyramids. During the chaotic times of the Roman Empire, soldiers wore leather bracelets to indicate their rank. Those wearing the thickest and widest leather bracelets held the most authority and prominence in the Roman Empire's vast army.

Historians believe that Spartacus, the rebellious gladiator slave, wore leather wristbands to show his status as an ex-slave fighting against the oppressive laws of the Roman Empire. The Vikings, Mongols, and other barbarian tribes valued studded leather wrist and forearm cuffs as a way to flaunt status and to help protect them during battles with other tribes.

Today, leather jewelry still retains that quality of boldness, fearlessness, and authority. People wear leather jewelry because it is naturally beautiful and makes the kind of statement they want to complement their personality and wardrobe. However, preventing damage to anything made from leather, whether it's shoes, furniture, or jewelry, means learning all you can about leather jewelry care.

Is All Leather the Same?

All leather is the same when it comes to its fundamental composition--animal skin. The most common leather is made from cow or alligator skin. Leather can further be subdivided into full grain, split grain, bonded, genuine, and top leather. These terms refer to the number of layers comprising the leather and the volume of the original skin that remains in the finished leather product. Out of these five types of leather, the lowest quality leather is bonded and genuine leather. Leather jewelry marked as "genuine leather" tells you the product is not 100 percent leather but that the product does contain some leather. The highest quality leather is full-grain or top-grain leather.

What Kind of Oil Should You Use on Leather?

Leather oil protects leather jewelry fibers from drying out, cracking, and eventually breaking apart. Containing a variety of hydrating oils such as mink, coconut, safflower, or vitamin E, leather oil can also help restore moisture and waterproof leather. Leather oil comes in light to heavy viscosity, with heavier oils formulated to treat leather work boots, saddles, and thicker leather products. When purchasing oil for leather jewelry, makes sure it does not contain solvents, silicones, or petroleums that can discolor or otherwise damage leather.

What Happens If Leather Jewelry Gets Wet?

Moisture is one of leather's worst enemies. While a few raindrops or water sprinkles won't damage leather (as long as the water is wiped away as soon as possible), waterlogged leather demands immediate attention. If you accidentally drop something made of leather in dishwater or the bathtub, lay the piece of leather on a dry, flat, nonporous surface at normal room temperature and let it dry naturally. NEVER use a hair dryer, electric heater, or other heat source to dry water-soaked leather. Combining heat and wet leather results in shrinkage, cracking, and possibly ruining the leather piece.

Does Prolonged Exposure to Sunlight Damage Leather?

Yes! Sunlight is leather's other worst enemy. However, "prolonged" exposure to sunlight means leaving leather jewelry in direct sunlight for several hours. Damage to leather from heat and ultraviolet radiation is irreversible. Leather will dry out permanently. There is no leather oil that will restore suppleness and color to sunlight-damaged leather.

What is a Good Leather Cleaner?

Specially formulated, pH-balanced leather cleaners remove skin oil and mild stains on leather bracelets, anklets, watch bands, and other items that lay against the skin. You can also use a microfiber cloth and a tiny drop of mild soap to clean leather. Wipe off soap using a cloth dampened with clean water. Let the leather piece dry completely before wearing it. Finally, apply leather oil to soften and condition the jewelry.

What's the Best Way to Store Leather Jewelry?

If you don't plan on wearing your leather jewelry for a while, store items in a suitcase, wooden box, or other container that is not plastic. All leather types need enough oxygen to "breathe". Storing them in a stagnant, airtight container invites humidity and mildew growth. Leather jewelry should also be stored in a slightly cool, dry area that is not exposed to sunlight. If you are storing many pieces of leather jewelry, wrap each piece separately in white tissue paper. NEVER wrap leather items in plastic.

Is Leather Jewelry Care for Snakeskin or Alligator the Same for Cowhide?

Conditioning and cleaning of snakeskin or alligator leather generally follow the same instructions for conditioning and cleaning cowhide leather. However, when purchasing conditioners, oils, and cleaners for non-bovine leathers, make sure the product is applicable to the type of leather you want to clean or condition. For example, using a cleaner specifically formulated to clean snakeskin leather may be ineffective or damage another type of leather.

How Do You Remove Odors from Leather Jewelry?

Since leather is naturally porous, it will absorb odor molecules from perfume, smoke, sweat, and other odors. Leather cleaners are available containing special odor-eliminating chemicals. You can also try DIY hacks that won't damage leather but may or may not work. Try wrapping a piece of smelly leather jewelry in newspaper and leaving it wrapped for a few days. Newspaper is more porous than leather so, in theory, newspaper should absorb odor molecules emanating from leather. According to anecdotal evidence, sprinkling a thin layer of baking soda on leather and placing the piece in a sealed container for no more than 24 hours may also help deodorize smelly leather. Always perform a spot test before trying any DIY leather cleaning hacks.

Can a Small Tear Be Repaired in Leather Jewelry?

Leather repair kits contain paint, glue, a leather patch, and other items to repair small rips, tears, or holes in leather products. The patch can be cut to fit the size of the tear. A leather adhesive adheres the patch to the piece of leather being repaired. Most leather repair kits come with a variety of paint colors that can be blended to match (or closely match) the color of the leather being repaired.

Can Mold and Mildew Be Removed from Leather?

If the spots are small and fairly new, it is possible to restore leather items that have suffered mold or mildew damage. First, you will need to eradicate all mold spores on the item. Mix equal parts isopropyl alcohol and water and wipe down the item using a clean cloth. Let the item air-dry in a cool, dark room. Next, use a mixture of leather saddle soap, mild dish detergent, and warm water to remove dead spores and alcohol. Then, dip a dry cloth in clean water to remove residue. Finally, apply a leather conditioner to the item to restore moisture content.

Can You Use Baby Wipes to Clean Leather?

Highly alkaline baby wipes can harm leather and should not be used to clean leather jewelry. It may be tempting to wipe off a spot of ketchup that accidentally dripped on a leather bracelet with a baby wipe, but don't do it. Use a dry Kleenex or napkin to wipe substances off leather jewelry if necessary.

How Can I Tell If Leather Jewelry Is Made of Real or Genuine Leather?

Items labeled "genuine leather" are made from real leather, but the quality is the lowest grade of leather. Genuine leather jewelry is composed of multiple layers of reduced quality leather that have been fastened together with adhesive and tinted to exhibit color uniformity. In fact, genuine leather is produced from leftover pieces of higher-grade leather items.

Leather labeled "full grain" indicates the highest quality leather available. Full-grain leather products may even show visible imperfections of an animal's skin, such as scars or branding marks. Although full-grain leather jewelry is more expensive than genuine leather jewelry, it is more durable, less likely to suffer damage, and retains a naturally beautiful appearance longer than genuine leather.

Before cleaning or conditioning a leather item, it is important to know if the leather is real or genuine. Higher-grade leather requires higher grade cleaners and conditioners. Also, never try a DIY hack on real leather. When there's no tag indicating the type of leather, use the following tips to help determine the leather's composition:

Is There a Visible Patina?

Real leather that has been worn frequently for many years will develop a patina, a shiny, worn appearance due to the veg-tanning process that is exclusive to higher quality leather.

What Do the Edges Look Like?

The edges of genuine and lower-quality leather items remain appearing new or almost new as long as they are not damaged by water or sunlight. If you have a piece of leather with edges that are frayed or faded, it probably means that is a piece of real leather.

What Does the Back of the Leather Look Like?

The inside of a real leather bracelet, necklace, or watchband should be the same color as the natural color on the outside of the jewelry. Other types of leather often present different shades of color on the front and back.

Does the Leather Wrinkle?

Using your fingertip, press on the leather for a few seconds. Does the area around your fingertip crease into wrinkles? If so, you are pressing on a piece of real leather. Fake or lower-grade leather will not wrinkle when you press on it. Fake leather may also show a "blemish" or discoloration when pressed by your fingertip.

Summarizing the Dos and Don'ts of Leather Jewelry Care:

  • Never wash leather in a washing machine.
  • Never tumble-dry leather in a dryer. Leather will also shrink in dryers set on no heat.
  • Never iron leather on any heat setting
  • Remove stains immediately to avoid permanent discoloration. The longer a stain remains on leather, the more difficult it will be to get rid of it.
  • If you tend to keep leather jewelry in a drawer, air them out at least once a month by placing them on a dry, nonporous surface away from sunlight
  • Store leather items in breathable containers like dust bags, small suitcases, or wooden boxes to prevent mold and mildew damage
  • Perform a spot test before applying a leather-cleaning solution to your jewelry
  • Use leather conditioner regularly to keep items supple and hydrated
  • Never store leather jewelry in direct sunlight or a hot environment, regardless of the container type in which leather items are being stored.
  • Never store leather items in plastic bags, plastic containers, or other airtight box.
  • Never put leather jewelry next to heat sources for any reason
  • Repair small holes or tears as soon as possible with a leather repair kit

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