How to look after Gold and Ormolu

11 June 2018

When you invest in stunning ormolu tazzas, an ormolu mantle clock or any other item containing gold you want to make sure it always looks its best, so how do you do that? Here are some top tips to ensure your items are kept looking as magnificent as possible.



What is Ormolu?


Ormolu is a coating which is used to imitate or add gold detailing to a piece. Antique pieces with traditional ormolu detailing are very rare, due to this, it can be uncommon to find items that have been well preserved and are of a high-quality. It was a popular method of increasing the aesthetics and decorative detail of furniture and other more intricate items during the 18th century. The technique and process of ormolu can refer to several methods; the earliest was the application of ground gold, the later was the use of copper and zinc to replicate gold.


Gold


Gold, in its purest form, is one of the least reactive substances out of all the elements. Oxygen, along with moisture, has little effect on its appearance. The purer the gold used on the antique, the less likely it is to tarnish. It is very unusual to have antique furniture or jewellery that has any pure gold (24 karats). This is because gold in its purest form is much too soft to work with, for this reason other metals are usually added which affects the reaction of the elements when exposed to oxygen or moisture. When an item begins to tarnish, it is not the gold that is being affected, but the other metals that it is combined with.


It is not only oxygen and moisture that can cause gold or ormolu objects to tarnish. Exposure to the chemicals in perfumes, hand and body washes and household cleaning products can all speed up the effect.


Your jeweller, or a trusted and recognised antique dealer, such as Patrick Sandberg Antiques, will be able to provide you expert and professional advice on how to take care of and ensure your pieces are kept looking their best.


Cleaning


While any chemical treatments should be left in the hands of a specialist, there are some things you can do to maintain your valuable ormolu items. Due to the nature of gold and ormolu, it is possible to clean away the precious and sensitive elements, which damages the appearance of the item and will considerably affect the value. All the following advisories must be completed with great care and experience to avoid compensating the piece.


By simply dusting any ormolu items gently with a soft brush, you can ensure it remains clean, while using a swab moistened with methylated spirits to gently rub your valuables can enliven discoloured surfaces, although the later method should be completed with great caution.


If that doesn’t work then a swab moistened with either spit, or distilled water, can be effective. Both liquids are safe to use as they are neutral and neither are too acidic or too alkaline.


Another point worth noting is that cleaning ormolu in the traditional way, by brushing or dipping the ormolu in an ammonia solution, will cause considerable damage to the item. It was a method that was once believed to efficiently remove corrosion, but the ammonia not only removes the corrosion, but also the precious metals fused to the piece. Ammonia treatment will also leave the piece considerably duller or with a pink tinge to the surface. The risks linked to the use of ammonia to clean ormolu is far higher than the benefits gained from cleaning the item.


Gentle, non-abrasive cleaning methods can safety be completed by an amateur within the home, although if you are wanting a thorough and polished finish, it is a best to seek the advice and expertise of a professional.