Taking care of Pearls
PEARLS ARE THE MOST SENSUAL AND FLATTERING OF GEMS. They beautify their owner, reflecting a soft glow that enhances the natural harmony of our features. It is therefore essential to maintain the gentle lustre that has been so painstakingly created by nature. Pearls improve their lustre when worn next to the skin as the oils of the person wearing them keep them moisturized.
Important points to consider in caring for your pearls
- Wear your pearls as much as possible.
- Wipe pearls after use to remove any trace of perspiration or perfume.
- Keep pearls in silk or chamois leather when not in use, away from diamonds or metal.
- Give your pearls an annual check-up - look for thread stretching, discolouration or fraying.
- If you wear your pearls often, have them cleaned by a pearl expert once a year.
Things to avoid
- Keep your pearls away from perfume, hairspray and fake tan.
- Don't wear pearls for aerobic exercise or swimming in treated water as they are damaged by excessive perspiration and chemicals.
- Do not test the genuineness of a pearl by biting it with your teeth.
- Never store pearls in a hanging position as it can stretch and damage the silk.
- A storage place that is too dry or airless, for example, a sealed plastic bag, will dry the pearl.
Further Information on Pearl Care
Pearls are the most natural gem that can be worn, created with a minimum of human interference. With proper care they will give their owner a lifetime of pleasure.
As pearls are alkaline, they are vulnerable to all acids including perfume and fake tan, hairsprays and cosmetics. If fake tan is applied to the skin make sure that pearls are not worn for at least 3 days after applying the tanning chemicals on the skin and that any residue of fake tan has been thoroughly washed off before wearing your pearls. On a daily basis it is advisable for the owner of the pearls to apply all make-up and perfume first, then wash her hands and put on the pearls as a finishing touch. After wear it is best to wipe the pearls with a slightly damp, clean, soft cloth using water only, to remove any residual perspiration or perfume which would eat away at the nacre. Lay the pearls on a dry cloth to dry out overnight. Do not be tempted to wear a strand of pearls when the string is wet, as the silk will stretch and leave large unsightly gaps between the pearls.
Acidity attacks pearls
Excessive or acid perspiration as produced by aerobic exercise can reduce the lustre of pearls. Contact with dish-washing liquid, vinegar or lemon juice can seriously damage pearls. Bathing or swimming in treated water has an equally damaging effect, as the acids and chemicals erode the pearl nacre, eventually leaving the pearl with no lustre, or worse still, with no nacre in the case of a cultured oyster pearl.
Swimming in seawater is beneficial to pearls that have grown in an oyster as it re-hydrates them naturally. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the string on which the pearls are held, as when the salt dries, it makes the silk very abrasive and shortens its life considerably.
Storage of pearls
When pearls are not being worn, place them carefully in silk or chamois leather to conserve their lustre. If pearls are carelessly stored in a jewellery box with other harder materials like diamonds or metal they will be scratched.
A storage place that is too dry, hot or does not allow air to circulate will eventually dull the lustre of pearls. If pearls are kept for too long in an airtight environment such as sealed plastic bags or safes, the nacre will eventually turn yellow, dry out and the surface of the pearl will crack.
Pearls should never be stored in a hanging position as this makes the strand slack and reduces the strength and elasticity of the thread.
It is advisable to re-string as soon as the thread discolours, stretches or frays. The point of most stress in a necklace is between the clasp and the first pearl, where the gimp is situated. (Gimp is a metal coil used to protect the silk). Keep an eye out for any sign of discoloration; if the gimp becomes green it is a sure sign that the silk is rotting underneath.
The concentric formation of the pearl layers makes them structurally very strong, yet their surface is approximately the same hardness as our fingernails.
Never test the genuineness of a pearl by biting or passing it across the teeth. The "tooth test" is not only unhygienic but also damaging to the pearl as it very easily scratches the surface, a more elegant way to ascertain if your pearls are natural or cultured as opposed to imitation, is to rub one pearl against another, the friction between both surfaces should feel gritty.
Remove earrings, rings and brooches by their setting, as this will prevent the pearl from coming loose and falling off.
To clean pearls
Never clean pearls with a toothbrush or scouring pad to remove a stubborn piece of dirt; rub the pearl with your fingernail to remove the offending article. Fingernails have the same hardness as pearls and will therefore not scratch their surface.
Do not attempt to clean pearls with detergents, bleaches, powdered cleaners, baking soda, talcum powder, milk, dish-washing liquid, or even commercial jewelry cleaners unless the packaging specifically stipulates that it is designed for pearls. This is because many cleaners contain ammonia, which can damage the pearl. Similar to the process of cleaning silver; when pearls are cleaned in the correct solution they lose one layer of nacre, this is not drastic as even low quality cultured pearls have many layers of nacre. However it is important not to leave the pearls in the solution for too long otherwise you might get a nasty surprise ! Pearl cleaning is best left to a pearl specialist and the perfect time to do this is just prior to re-stringing.
Pearls should never be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner, as this could shatter them. Steam cleaners could also harm pearls because of the degree of heat used.
It is best to have pearls cleaned by a reliable jeweller. A good time to do this is during their yearly check-up; this might involve re-stringing if the necklace is worn constantly. Coleman Douglas Pearls would be happy to provide this cleaning service free of charge at our shop located in 42 Beauchamp Place, London, SW3 1NX