Pearls are my favorite gemstone. I know many women who feel the same way, and equally as many who don't understand the allure of pearls at all. For those who love pearls and know that a woman can never own enough, the following is a primer on how to properly care for these beautiful, organic gemstones.
PEARLS ARE TRULY ORGANIC
While there is tremendous confusion in the food world over what constitutes an organic vegetable, no such questions exist in the jewelry world. Organic gems are classified as those created by an organism that is living or that was once alive. Cultured pearls are created inside the shells of oysters and mollusks by living creatures, with an assist by man. Other organic gems include coral and amber. None of these are minerals, which are formed in the earth.
YOU SAY LUSTRE, I SAY LUSTER
The most desirable asset of a cultured pearl is its luster. Caring for your pearls properly will help preserve this luster. It is formed by the layers of nacre the organism excretes onto an irritant placed inside its shell. In general, the thicker the nacre on the irritant, the more lustrous the pearl will be. Nacre is a soft substance that can be cracked or chipped if the pearl is dropped onto a hard surface. It can be dissolved permanently by chemicals, never to be restored. Maintaining a pearl's luster is the most important consideration of its care.
SEPARATE, SEPARATE, SEPARATE
Store your pearls in a soft pouch or in a fabric-lined divided container to prevent them from being scratched by the precious metal components of other jewelry, such as earring posts or prongs. Each necklace should be kept in its own pouch. Ideally, earrings should be separated from each other. Once nacre is scratched, it can never be restored to its original luster.
PEARLS GO ON LAST
Hairspray and perfumes contain alcohol, which attacks a pearl's nacre. Once alcohol evaporates, it no longer presents a danger to pearls. When you are dressing, apply all of your makeup, scents, and hair products first, with fine jewelry going on last, after everything is dry. This is especially important with pearls.
AT THE END OF THE DAY
Don't sleep in pearl jewelry. Before going to bed, remove your pearls and give them a gentle wipe using a soft cloth, such as flannel. This will remove skin oils and help maintain their luster. Then store them in a soft place. Plastic bags are convenient, but not a good choice for pearl jewelry because they are not absorbent. A fabric or suede bag is a better option. Don't expose pearls to excessive heat or cold.
NO PEARL STUDS IN THE SHOWER PLEASE
Pearls are set onto earring mountings by drilling them halfway through their diameter and then gluing them onto a precious metal peg. This glue is strong, but if it is repeatedly soaked with water while shampooing or swimming, the glue will soften and the pearl will fall off of the peg, probably never to be seen again.
RESTRING AS NEEDED
If you wear a strand of pearls frequently, the knotted silk thread on which the pearls are strung will stretch and fray over time. Take them to your jeweler to be checked and if she suggests it's time for restringing, do it. To restring an 18" strand of pearls should cost about $75 or so, and it's well worth the expense. If your necklace were to break and you were to lose even just one pearl, matching the color, size, luster, and shape of the pearl could prove to be expensive. It's better to be safe than sorry in this instance.
As tempting as it may be to scrub your pearl strand with soap and water to get them clean, it's not recommended. Once the silk or cotton thread becomes wet, it can rot. It would be better to use a damp, soft cloth to gently rub the pearls one at a time to clean the strand. If you managed to get a blob of bright red lipstick on some of the knots, it's time to restring your necklace.
If you would like to know more about cultured pearls, the Gemological Institute of America and the Cultured Pearl Association offer vast educational materials on their websites.For a personal lesson in how to purchase and evaluate cultured pearls, please contact me.
Golden South Sea pearl and diamond earrings by Valentin Magro