Wednesday Wonders: Handle With Care

Wednesday again already? That means it’s time for a glimpse into our awe-inspiring collection of fine jewelry.

With so much to talk about, we thought today we’d focus on one question: how do we care for these unique items?


The collections department at the UMFA maintains high art-handling standards for every item in our collection, of course, even if it’s not made of gold or diamonds. The role of caretaker entrusted with objects from the human record is one we take seriously around here!

But every  item presents unique challenges, and the jewelry is certainly no exception. Says Jennifer Ortiz, our Collections Manager: “Because of the nature of our jewelry items, we had to contain them in boxes by type (i.e. rings with other rings, brooches with other brooches) as we were handling and photographing them to not only keep track of everything but for their safety as well.”

Collections staff aims to limit direct handling of all of our objects, and the jewelry was often kept in these boxes to be moved around without having to touch each piece.

“These objects are stored in a way that is safe but also easily visible,” says Ortiz. “Objects were arranged in a tray and then stabilized with foam mounts.” These mounts are then stored in covered boxes.


On far right: A match safe (a container to hold one’s matches) dated from 1875-1899

One of the challenges with precious stones is keeping them clean. This sort of cleaning is not done on site, and because of their composite nature (i.e. stones mounted in gold, multiple different kinds of stone with multiple different metals) it may pose a challenge for long term care.

But precious metals do not tarnish, which is good news for this collection of jewelry. Says Ortiz, “Mishandling is the biggest hazard that jewelry faces; if a piece of jewelry is dropped or improperly handled, it faces potential breaks.”


My own personal jewelry collection seems to be stored in a single tangled knot at the bottom of a jewelry box, so I’m very impressed with the UMFA’s efforts, and inspired to go home and maybe do a little cleaning of my own.

The UMFA is a proud custodian of this collection of jewelry, and look forward to ensuring its beauty will last.


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