The cold snap we had the first week of the year got me to thinking. One of my employees had burst pipes in his apartment complex from the extensive and extreme cold. Did you know a similar effect can happen to certain kinds of colored gemstones? Opening your sink cabinets and letting your faucets drip is sound advice; there are also some rules about wearing jewelry in very cold weather that you may want to consider.
First, I’ll tell you about the bad things that can happen. Then I’ll tell you how to prevent it. And please don’t read more into this than I’m saying. You don’t need to lock all your jewelry away for the whole winter. You just need to be aware of what can happen. Lump these suggestions in with not wearing your jewelry in the hot tub or pool, or while gardening or sleeping. Consider these practices as a part of responsible jewelry ownership.
More often than not, colored gemstones tend to be sensitive to rapid temperature changes, called thermal shock in the industry. Some gems are just structurally unstable or fragile. Others contain certain kinds of inclusions that do not fare well in long exposure to sub-freezing temperatures, or quick transitions from warm air to very cold air.
Stepping from the warmth of your house to an ambient temperature below freezing causes the rapid contraction of structurally unstable gemstones (like opals and emeralds), which can make the whole gem fracture, or even pop. Other gems known to have liquid or gaseous inclusions (like rubies and aquamarines) may suffer internal fractures as the inclusions expand or contract at different speeds than the gem material around them during prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures.
First, you need to know what gemstones you own are susceptible to thermal shock. I’m not saying every example of the following gem types is overly sensitive. Some specimens are extremely stable. Some are not. The point is to exercise a little extra caution in cold weather with the following gem varieties.
At the top of the list are opal, emerald, and tanzanite. Next are moonstone and aquamarine. Then it’s topaz, quartz, all of the garnets, and tourmaline. I’ve seen it happen to lower-grade rubies and sapphires, too. So be aware of the possibilities and consider the following advice.
On very cold days (use the freezing point as a reference mark), consider wearing a different piece of jewelry instead of those jewels you know to be sensitive. Abstinence is the best prevention in this kind of thing.
Finally, if you’re determined to wear susceptible jewelry on especially cold days, keep it covered up as best you can from the time you prepare to go outside to when you take your coat off indoors again. Keep pendants under your shirt, or at least under your coat. Keep rings in your gloves, or in an interior pocket if that’s uncomfortable. Keep earrings covered up under your hat, or don’t put them on until you reach your destination. If you don’t let the cold and wind get to them, they’ll stay safe.