Guides & Shopping Advice

How to store antique jewellery

While I find the idea of digging my hands into a huge jewellery box and lifting them up filled with gold and gemstones laughing maniacally oddly appealing(I’m not the only one, right? Right?), neither old nor new jewellery benefit from being stored in one big container.

We may have different preferences, budgets and space options, but any good jewellery storage solution provides at least two basic functions:

  1. Protection from tarnishing
  2. Protection from physical damage/wear

Now, the tarnishing part is fairly easy. While some air is likely to get into any sort of jewellery box or casket, any container with a close-fitting lid is likely to provide fairly good protection for your silver jewellery, old or new. Old jewellery caskets made from glass are an inferior alternative to pretty much all modern boxes, so while they may be very attractive, they are more suitable for gold jewellery. I would also stay away from anything with drawers, unless they are very snug fitting.

Tiny boxes like this are cute, but they shouldn’t be used to store more than one single piece of jewellery. The lining on the inside of the box and the lid does provide good protection against tarnishing.

Physical damage is more complicated. You’ve got the rubbing of metal against metal, stones against stones or stones against metal, which is likely to lead to scratches. Then you’ve got bending that in time can lead to breaking, most likely in necklaces or bracelets that are being stored in a compartment that is too small, so that too much strain is put on the links.

In addition to these two main concerns, you may want a solution that provides a good overview over your collection (regardless of size), one that is easy to bring from place to place, or perhaps something that fits your #aesthetic. The important thing is to consider your needs before you run to the shops to get yourself a spanking new jewellery box.

When I got my box for my antiques, I quickly realised two things: Jewellery boxes can be absurdly expensive, and they’re not made to fit my needs. What I want you to do, is avoiding coming to that realisation after having purchased a huge chest that can hold 15 pairs of earrings that you don’t have or want, but no bangles, of which you have a dozen.

This is why I love my jewellery box from Stackers: It’s a box made from stackable trays with different configurations, so that you customise your box to fit your needs. It’s not cheap, though, at least not if you have a sizeable jewellery collection, as each tray will cost you £15-35, depending on the footprint of the stack. If you need a lot of different trays, your jewellery box will soon look more like a weird jewellery tower, and since they trays are just stacked on top of each other, it’s not really a box, and it’s not too easy to move around. However, having the luxury of a tray with compartments for individual pendants is really important to me, not because I have all that many pendants, but because I do not want them to rub against each other.

Here’s an example of why getting the perfect fit is difficult: this one silver brooch is too big for most compartments, so now it takes up a third of this otherwise empty tray.

If you would like the Rolls Royce of jewellery boxes, you should check out Wolf. I’m sort of happy that their boxes didn’t fit my needs, as I otherwise probably would have managed to convince myself that I absolutely needed a £699 Caroline extra large jewellery case. Because of course, right? The comparison did make my Stackers purchase, including international shipping and customs, seem very affordable and sensible, though! Joking aside, a Wolf box or any other box with a set layout may be perfect for you, just make sure that it actually fits your needs.

There are some features that all good jewellery boxes have in common, and these are:

  • Soft lining that protects the contents.
  • Sturdy build, but not too heavy.
  • No compartments where jewellery can get lost, like earring holders that can be pulled out half the way.
  • Enough space between the lid and the ring rolls for the rings not to leave marks on the inside of the lid.
You don’t want the inside of the lid to look like this!

A lot of jewellery boxes come with a lock and key, but really, how useful is that? Unless you actually hide the key or keep it on your person, and there are people with access to your home that are likely to steal your jewellery (but not the whole box), it serves no purpose at all. Some boxes also come with a small jewellery box meant for travels, but these boxes just take up valuable real estate inside your actual jewellery box, and while you can of course choose to store that smaller box somewhere else, the compartment is unlikely to be very useful, since it will just be a fairly big and deep square.

Assessing your needs

You may not know how your collection will grow or what sort of jewellery you will fall in love with in the future, but you probably have a fairly good idea about what you like, and a charm collector’s needs are very different from those of a lover of chunky brooches. Not only do you need a box that provides storage space for what you own and will own, you probably want something that won’t wind up taking up a lot of space on your vanity while being half empty, either because you misjudged your needs or because the box is tailor made for someone else’s needs.

So, here are some ideas suited for different collectors’ needs:

The minimalist

I say this with all the love in the world: most of us are basic bitches. We buy a couple of nice antique pieces within all the categories of jewellery that we normally wear (or maybe just some of them!), and so our collection stays fairly small and balanced. A couple of pendants, a ring or two, a pair of earrings. If this feels like you, you’re lucky! You probably don’t need a huge jewellery box, and may actually benefit from looking into smaller alternatives meant for travel or kids’ jewellery boxes (nice ones from a jeweller, not from the toy store!). If your collection grows, you can always invest in a bigger box.

The savvy saver

Not too keen on spending your cash on a box when there are so many nice pieces of jewellery available? I hear you! And your jewellery box doesn’t need to be expensive at all. Get yourself a plastic food container or any other sort of box with or without smaller compartments that closes tightly and some small drawstring pouches (you can get those on ebay, amazon, aliexpress, etc.), and put each piece of jewellery in its own pouch. If your pouches aren’t see-through, you can add labels to the drawstrings and fill up your box.

A few notes, though: This solution is only suitable for pendants, rings and charms – basically pieces that are unlikely to rub against themselves or be damaged by bending or twisting. You may want to use ziplock bags instead of fabric to make it easier to see the contents, but make sure that you get some heavy duty ones that provide a bit of protection. If you have one of those small chests of drawers that are mostly used in workshops for storage of bits and screws, it can absolutely become your new jewellery box, but without a tight fitting lid, it provides absolutely no protection against tarnishing, and you need to keep your jewellery inside bags or pouches since these drawers aren’t lined.

The capital C Collector

There are collectors and then there are Collectors. If you should be counted amongst the latter, you probably either have a LOT of jewellery in general, or you have fallen into a very specialised rabbit hole and own something like 87 cameos. In both cases, you need something that can accommodate your ample collection, and I would recommend looking into Stackers or other tray-based solutions. If your jewellery is particularly difficult to store due to size or dimensions, individual boxes (premium ones meant for resale) may actually be your best bet.

The show-off

This is the category for those that either decide to part ways with what they’ve previously have bought (and who need to bring their collection to shows and fairs or show it off online) or who just like to flaunt their collection and feel like they’re walking into a jewellery store. Absolutely no judgement her, I wish I had the space for it myself … And honestly, if tarnishing isn’t an issue, open air storage may in some cases be ideal, especially for bangles and certain kinds of intricate earrings that may recreate the Gordian knot all by themselves if you turn your back on them for a moment.

The solutions here are many and so are the providers, and if you need to store a bunch of rings, earrings or bracelets safely, a board or insert made for lidded cases can be found in plenty of places. I ordered some from Fire Mountain Gems back in the days for a very different purpose, but they still have a nice assortment, and you’ll get an idea of what solutions are out there. They also stock display units for your real or imagined jewellery store!

Do I need anti-tarnishing strips?

While gold doesn’t really tarnish (unless the alloy contains metals that do), silver does. To avoid tarnishing altogether or at least delay it, you can buy strips of anti-tarnish paper from several sources and place them in your jewellery box. These strips react with sulphur in the air (the sulphur binds to the silver, creating silver sulfide (tarnish), and basically neutralises the air. As anyone who has to polish flatware can attest to, tarnishing is really annoying, but if you have a good jewellery box, I don’t really see the need for it. I have silver jewellery I got as a kid that has yet to darken, even after 25 years, because the majority of that time was spent in a tight box where little air (and very little sulphur) got in. That being said, your needs my be different from mine, and if you live close to the ocean where the air is salty, you may have a much bigger tarnishing issue than I have, because salt basically breaks down everything (which is why you need better rust protection on screws and bolts along the coast than inland). I would also recommend getting strips that protect against tarnishing if you have plated silver in your collection, because polishing plated silver will at some point break down the plating and leave you with just the basemetal (this is why I only use strips with my plated silver). Note that these strips have a limited lifespan, and that most will need replacing every 6 months, so if you know in your heart of hearts that you’ll just forget to replace them, don’t bother getting them at all.

Can I store my jewellery in the box it came in?

Most likely yes. If the box closes fairly tightly and doesn’t put any strain on the piece inside, and you don’t worry about losing your favourite ring amongst 8 other black leatherette boxes, you can safely go ahead. As a bonus, you’ll save money and put no additional strain on Mother Earth. Yay you! I would also recommend keeping any bigger boxes you get, like ones that can accommodate a larger necklace or a bangle, as they can turn out to be lifesavers if you in the future get the perfect necklace or bangle, but have no good place to put it.

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