Care of Pearls
Remember that a Pearl is not a Rock
Pearls can keep their beautiful lustre for centuries if the generations of owners remember how these jewels of the sea differ from other precious gem material. Proper care of pearls is not difficult, and it is merely a matter of remembering that these gems are organic by nature, grown in water from the living cells of a living creature.
Like the oysters which formed them, they require moisture … but because they usually are worn on a silk string which will deteriorate when wet, the pearls will need to be re-strung more frequently if they are taken for a swim in salt or fresh water. Never expose pearls to chlorinated water. Like their “organic” owners, pearls are prone to damage from pollution and injury. They can’t stand the heat, and they should definitely stay out of the kitchen.
What to Do
- Store pearls separately from other jewellery in a cloth bag or jewellery pouch. Storage in slightly damp linen will help to prevent pearls from drying out in low-humidity atmospheres including central heating.
- Apply cosmetics, perfume and spray products first, before putting pearl jewellery on. Remember that although sun creams and insect repellents are good for you, pearls need to be protected from these protectors.
- Remove spills immediately if pearls come in contact with food acids. Use a soft cloth moistened in water to wipe them down and then dry with another soft cloth.
- Wipe pearls after wear, using a soft cloth.
- Re-string pearls regularly for the sake of the pearls as well as to avoid a broken string. Make-up, powder and grime will form a soft, gluey paste on the string, attacking both the silk and the pearls.
- Replace individual pearls when a competent pearl stringer recommends it. Pearls which always lie against the neck when worn will absorb acid from the skin and eventually lose lustre.
What to Avoid
- Perspiration and acids
- Make-up, skin creams, perfume, hairspray, insect repellent, talcum powder
- Dust and grit
- Soap and detergent
- Chlorinated water in shower or pool
- Safety deposit boxes in bank vaults over a long period of time
- Dehydration from being wrapped in cotton wool or from exposure to light and heat.
- The kitchen with all those acidic ingredients and the high heat used in cooking. Pearls will tolerate temperatures up to 1000C for a short time, but hot fat and stove/oven temperatures often reach a very damaging 1800C! For the same reason, pearls should not be stored near a radiator or sunny window
Queen Elizabeth I was probably the greatest pearl lover of all times, with more than 3,000 pearl-beaded gowns, almost 100 pearled wigs and chests filled with pearl strands and pearl jewellery. Five centuries later many of Elizabeth’s pearl treasures and also the diadems, jewellery and sceptres of other royal houses remain in excellent condition. Precious pearl museum pieces from as long ago as 300 BC still retain their lovely lustre today. Common sense care can assure that today’s pearl jewellery also becomes tomorrow’s heirlooms.
Pearls must be worn. The grain of the skin improves their lustre. Change the silk thread once a year, separating the pearls with a knot. Avoid exposure to strong light which dries the pearls. Rub them with a soft cloth and put them away alone in a box. Avoid all detergents, lacquer, perfume, make-up and sweat, as they tarnish the lustre. Pearls should be worn on clean, dry skin.